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Eikev Haftarah Companion

Eikev Haftarah Companion

For an informed reading of Isaiah 49:14–51:3

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Overview

The haftarah of Eikev is the second in the series of seven haftarot of consolation read in the weeks after Tisha B’Av.1 The first half of the reading speaks of kibbutz galuyot (the ingathering of the exiles), the time when the Jewish people will return to the Land of Israel in all their glory.

Zion, or Jerusalem, speaks and is spoken to in anthropomorphic form. She expresses her concern that the long exile must demonstrate that G‑d has forsaken and forgotten her. But G‑d treasures the holy city, so this is impossible. Would a mother forget her suckling baby? Even if this could happen, G‑d would not forget His people. The ruined city and its exiled people are at all times the focal point of the G‑dly agenda.

The return to Jerusalem of all her “children” will leave the personified city in a state of emotional disbelief: My beloved people… they are here... Where did they come from?... After thousands of years being bereaved and alone… and here they come… Jews…

The nations of the world will happily and honorably escort their Jewish populations out of their lands and back to their home. It will be well understood that the Jews did not essentially belong in any country they may have lived in. They may have been taken there by force, or they may have come there on their own but against their will. Now they are returning home.

At about its midpoint, the reading returns to the theme with which it began. Even the consideration of the possibility that G‑d had rejected His people had to be totally cast out. Indeed, there was good reason to fear that after being exiled, the Jewish people would think just this.

The Talmud2 records the following exchange that took place in the early days of the exile to Babylonia. The prophet Ezekiel had been one of the Jews brought to Babylon in the first wave of the Judean exile. Once there, he passionately beseeched the Jews to repent so to avert the final destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. But the exiled Jews seemed to have a good answer:

“Ten people came and sat before the prophet Ezekiel. He said to them: Repent. They said to Ezekiel: If a slave is sold by his owner to another master, or a woman is divorced by her husband, does one have any claim upon the other?”

(The Jews are referred in a number of places in scripture as G‑d’s servants, but G‑d seemed to have sold them to other masters. In other places our relationship with G‑d is compared to a loving spousal relationship, but now, G‑d seemed to have divorced us.)

G‑d told Ezekiel to forcefully respond to this, using the words that appear in our haftarah:

“Go say to them: ‘Where is your mother’s scroll of severance, with which I sent her away? Or to which of My creditors have I sold you? For your iniquities you sold yourselves, and for your transgressions was your mother sent away.’”

The matter was to made absolutely clear: The Jews are G‑d’s people, and this fact is not subject to any change. The exile mirrored only the fact that they had turned their backs on G‑d by forsaking the Torah. The situation was entirely created by them, and therefore they had the ability to reverse it. It was for this reason that G‑d gave the Jews prophets, to awaken their hearts so that they would mend their ways. It was no easy task; the prophets were often ridiculed and harassed. But they did their duty faithfully, for they were doing G‑d’s work.

In closing, the prophet reassures those who remain faithful to G‑d that they will yet see the end of the dark days of suffering. Those who continue to arouse G‑d’s anger will be the recipients of the very same wrath they provoked. It did not matter if those who did good were far and few between. That is actually how everything started: Abraham and Sarah were only two people in an entire world. Just as they began the revolution which ended in the creation of the Jewish people, so would those who remained faithful to G‑d be the catalysts for a bright and great future.

Deerskin

“Your children, of whom you were bereaved, shall yet say in your ears, ‘The place is too narrow for me; move over for me so that I will dwell.’”

The prophet promises that the destroyed and desolate land will yet overflow with its returned people. But the degree to which this will reach, as described in this verse, seems perplexing: is it a blessing when people lack space, and must ask their fellow to move so that they can have it?

In his commentary, Alshich explains this verse with a Talmudic passage:

The sage Ravin was describing the Land of Israel before the destruction of the Second Temple. In the course of this, he described a period, in the days of King Yannai,3 where the number of inhabitants living on a certain hill reached “six hundred thousand cities, each containing six hundred thousand inhabitants”… Hearing this, the sage Ulla exclaimed: ‘I have seen this area myself, and it cannot even hold six hundred thousand sticks!” The explanation to this was offered by another sage, R. Chanina: “The prophet Jeremiah calls the Land of Israel tzvi [a word in Hebrew meaning both “precious” and “deer”]: just as the skin of a deer contracts after it has been skinned, and will no longer fit its flesh, so too with Israel: when her inhabitants are on it, it is spacious; if they are not, it shrinks.”4

Maharal of Prague explains that during the days of the Temple there was a unique G‑dly presence in the Land that elevated it to to a level beyond the usual laws of nature, such that the laws of space did not have their usual limitations. The Talmud records other miraculous features of the Land at the time, such as the speed with which it gave forth its fruit. After the Jews were exiled, the land, albeit holy, lost this Divine elevation above the laws of nature that it had previously possessed.5

Using this idea, Alshich understands our verse to be echoing the thoughts of Jews—the “children of whom you were bereaved”—prior to their return: they will express their difficulty in understanding how this small Land of Israel might contain so many returning Jews comfortably. They will therefore beckon the land to “expand” and fulfill its destiny as the “land of tzvi.”

Aside for the qualitative expansion of the land, there are also a number of midrashic sources that speak of quantitative expansion: “Jerusalem is destined to expand on all sides, and will reach the gates of Damascus.”6 Or in another source: “Jerusalem is destined to spread forth to the entire Land of Israel, and the Land of Israel will spread forth to the entire world.”7 These words of our sages can be understood on a number of levels, and as with many of the prophecies concerning the days of Moshiach, they will be fully understood only at the time of their fulfilment8.

A final thought:

In 1929, during his visit to Israel, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe prayed at the Western Wall. On his way back from the Wall he said:

“One of the miracles in Temple times was that ‘no man ever said to his fellow, “My lodging in Jerusalem is too cramped for me.”’9 Our sages said this with regard to space, but did not say it with regard to time. In space, people can be tightly packed and still feel that the place is spacious; but with time—as much time as one spends in Jerusalem, it is still never enough.”10

Footnotes
1.
See Haftarah Companion for Va’etchanan.
2.
Talmud, Sanhedrin 105a.
3.
Alexander Jannaeus, the second of the Hasmonean kings to rule Judea.
4.
Talmud, Gittin 57a.
5.
See Netzach Yisrael, ch. 6.
6.
Shir Hashirim Rabbah 7:5.
7.
Yalkut Shimoni, Isaiah 503.
8.
See Mishneh Torah, Hil. Melachim U’Milchamot 12:2.
9.
Mishnah, Avot 5:5.
10.
Sefer Hasichot 5689, p. 78.
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.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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