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Haftarah Companion for Noach

Haftarah Companion for Noach

For an informed reading of the weekly Haftarah - Isaiah 54:1-10

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One reading, two occasions

The text of this haftarah is usually read twice each year, in connection with the weekly Torah portions of Noach and Ki Teitzei. The reading is taken from the uplifting verses of consolation at the end of the book of Isaiah. In it the prophet poetically directs his comforting words to the city of Jerusalem, personifying her and addressing her as a loving wife and devoted mother.

Ki Teitzei is read five weeks after the 9th of Av, so this haftarah is one of the “seven haftarot of consolation” read during this period.1 As for Noach, the connection to that portion appears towards the end of the reading. After the Flood, G‑d made an oath promising never again to bring a flood to destroy the world. G‑d takes a similar oath here, promising never again to allow Jerusalem and its people to suffer the way they had before the redemption. Jerusalem will dwell in peace and prosperity forever after.

Overview

The Jewish exile would leave Jerusalem desolate and alone. So barren would it be that its former glory would be barely imaginable. The cities of her enemies would be filled with masses, as if they were married women with many children. But Jerusalem could be compared to a mother who may well be taken as being childless, so lost are her children to her. Moreover, the Divine Presence that continually rested within in her midst would now be gone. As such, the pain would be double, now also likened to a wife whose husband abandoned her, leaving her feeling as if she has been widowed.

But Jerusalem will yet see her children return. Her numbers and joy will far surpass those of her adversaries. No more will she need to remember the shame and mortification of her early days of loneliness. Jerusalem and her neighboring towns and villages will now flourish with multitudes; bursting forth beyond its boundaries. As such, she is encouraged: “Prepare! Strengthen yourself! Your children are coming home.”

The departure of G‑d’s presence will feel as but a temporary and fleeting moment. Much like a husband is devoted to the wife of his youth, so will G‑d never forsake His beloved land and people. The sinfulness of the city caused G‑d to depart from it for a time, leaving it alone and saddened, but now He will return to it with such intensity that the entire negative experience will be lost and insignificant.

The fulfilment of this prophecy, and many others like it, will be realized with the coming of Moshiach—may it be speedily in our days.

“Sing, you barren woman who has not borne… for the children of the desolate one are more than the children of the married woman”

The simple meaning of the verse has been illustrated above: the earlier part of the verse is a reference to the time of the exile, and the later part refers to the time of the redemption. The wording of the verse, however, seems peculiar, as it all reads in present tense: the woman who is barren and desolate has many children. As an explanation, the Talmud relates the following episode:

Once, a certain heretic said to Beruriah, the wife of Rabbi Meir: “It is written, ‘Sing, you barren woman, who has not borne.’ Because she did not bear, is she to sing?” She replied to him: “You fool! Look at the end of the verse, where it is written, ‘For the children of the desolate one are more than the children of the married one.’ What, then, is the meaning of ‘[Sing, you] barren [woman] who has not borne’? Sing, O community of Israel, who resembles a barren woman, for not having born children like you, who are destined for Gehenna (purgatory).”

As with every part of Torah, this Talmudic passage has its meaning in the spiritual realm.

“Children” is a term often used to describe an emotional arousal which is borne out of a realization in the mind. In the realm of holiness, we are enjoined to “love” and “fear” G‑d. Through delving into and absorbing what G‑dliness is all about, we will hopefully create, or “give birth to,” the emotion that should follow this realization. The thought and realization of the distance of G‑d and the insignificance of all else is the cause of the feeling of awe, or fear, of G‑d. The realization that this very G‑d has made Himself close and completely accessible to us should arouse a feeling of closeness to, or love of, G‑d.

But since G‑d chose to create the world in a way that there will be choice, the same process is replicated in the unholy realm as well. When a person visualizes and thinks about the various physical pleasures, he or she develops a feeling of love and closeness to to them. When thinking worrying thoughts about falling short financially and the like, this creates an unholy feeling of fear and anxiety within us.

In the words of Beruriah: “Sing, O community of Israel, who resembles a barren woman, for not having born children for Gehenna.” Not facilitating “birth” to an unwanted place is surely a cause for joy.2

“For but a small moment have I forsaken you”

Twice in our haftarah we encounter this idea. The prophet states that our endurance in a state of suffering and exile will be just for a short time, and not all that painful: “With a slight wrath did I conceal My countenance from you for a moment, and with everlasting kindness will I have compassion on you.” Now, this is rather difficult to understand in view of almost two millennia of an exile that came with an unparalleled intensity of suffering.

The biblical commentaries unanimously understand these verses in light of their ending: “…and with great mercy will I gather you”; “with everlasting kindness will I have compassion on you.” On a quantitative level, the bliss of the messianic era will be eternal and everlasting. By its very definition, contrasting eternity with any length of time renders the latter “a small moment.” Similarly, on a qualitative level, the intensity of the “great mercy” that will come forth will totally eclipse even the darkest moments of suffering and persecution.

Chassidic teachings point out that this idea encapsulates what the coming of Moshiach will ultimately mean. One of the limitations of our finite world is time. As years and experiences accumulate, the weight and gravity they seem to have also increases. But this is all in a setting where G‑d is, on one level or another, concealed. At a time of true revelation, when G‑d in His true and infinite self is fully open, there can be no significance to any finite and worldly experience, however great it may be have seemed in a limited world. Everything, even our intense suffering, will pale into insignificance in light of G‑d himself.3

Footnotes
1.
See Haftarah Companion for Va’etchanan.
2.
Torat Menachem, vol. 21, p. 183.
3.
Likkutei Torah, Rosh Hashanah 61a.
Rabbi Mendel Dubov is the director of Chabad in Sussex County, NJ, and a member of faculty at the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, NJ.
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