The haftarah begins with recalling the descent of Jacob to Egypt (the subject with which Parshat Shemot begins). The Jews struck root and blossomed in a foreign land. When they were treated badly by their host country, the Egyptians eventually suffered the very same suffering they inflicted on the Jews. An example for this was when the Egyptians drowned in the sea, this coming as a punishment for drowning Jewish babies in the Nile. By the same token, if Jews would destroy their idols and leave their sinful ways, G‑d would repel their enemies and would render them weak and feeble, thus allowing the Jews to take their territory.

The prophet then turns to the state of the ten northern tribes (the kingdom of Israel, also known as Ephraim after its leading tribe), whose people, particularly the elite, were sunk in the pursuit of material pleasures. Life would not continue for them in this way much longer, for in the end they would suffer the fate of exile and belittlement. The state of Judah, at least at this time, had not gone as far as their brethren in Israel, and so G‑d would be with them, granting their leaders wisdom and strength.1

But Isaia sees the people of Judah too slipping down the slope of temptation. As in Israel, they too would fall to drinking and merrymaking, lowering themselves to a most disgraceful and unholy plateau. “Who will the teachers teach?” the prophet decried, “the suckling babies?!”

The prevailing attitude seemed to be that for every commandment they would hear from the sage, they had some kind of other “commandment” to adhere to. For any defining line of moral standard, they seemed to have some kind of different standard to judge by. If the prophet told them that time was running out and that soon they would experience a downturn, they would delay any movement just to enjoy a few last days of a frivolous life. In the end, though, the day of reckoning would come. For every commandment abandoned, there would be an enemy who would inflict another harsh decree. For that little time of superficial gratification, there would be a downfall that would also not take very long.

Once again, however, in the end it will be good. After their endurance in exile, there will come a time when the Jews will return home from all the places to which they have been dispersed. our holy forefathers will no longer be ashamed of their grandchildren; to the contrary, at that time they will praise G‑d, for the children He gave them will go in their ways.

“And you shall be gathered one by one, O children of Israel”

Kibbutz galuyot, the ingathering of the exiles which our haftarah speaks of, is an idea first laid out in the Torah: “Then, the L‑rd, your G‑d, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you. He will once again gather you from all the nations where the L‑rd, your G‑d, had dispersed you.”2

The verses make an obvious reference to the fact that this will not be an easy task. So entrenched will our people be in exile that G‑d will need to “bring back your exiles,” alluding to the fact that they may not go out on their own… The verse in the haftarah has a similar inkling: “And you shall be gathered one by one,” as though G‑d Himself must literally collect each individual Jew, with His very hands, out of his place in exile.3

Chassidic thought elaborates on this concept using the words in the following verse: “Those lost in the land of Assyria and those chased away in the land of Egypt shall come…” Aside from the geographic locations of the exile in its early stages, the names of these places denote the deep situation of exile the Jews would be in, thus explaining the need for G‑d to strenuously “schlep” them out…

The Hebrew name for Assyria is Ashur (אשור). The root of the Hebrew word is osher, which means “happiness.” The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim (מצרים), derived from the word meitzar, which means “a narrow strait.” These two extremes represent the two kinds of exile. The one of “Mitzrayim” is the exile of oppression and persecution, just as it was in the land of Mitzrayim in the literal sense. By contrast, the other kind of exile is that of “Ashur.” This a reference to countries and times where freedom and affluence are enjoyed. Both of these situations are situations of exile, for both in their own way can debilitate Jewish life and experience. Jewish history has proven this over and again. Both oppression and affluence have caused the Jew to be “lost” and “cast away” from his Father in heaven. In the end, however, we are promised that no Jew will be left behind.4

“It will be on that day that a great shofar will be blown”

The era in which we live is unprecedented in world history. Unanimous among all Jewish sages and Jewish sources is that this unparalleled era is the time that immediately precedes the coming of Moshiach. Within this context, there have been a number of occasions where a Torah sage or a tzaddik has identified a certain occurrence with a specific aspect of “the days of Moshiach.”

The “sounding of the great shofar” has always been iconic to the heralding of the messianic era. In its narrow sense, it refers to the time of the “ingathering of the exiles” that will transpire after the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Temple. There are, however, aspects of the “great shofar” that will come to pass as preparation and leadup for the time of Moshiach itself.

The following are some excerpts from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1967,5 several weeks after the Six-Day War in Israel:

The meaning of the shofar in the life of man is—a strong arousal and a shakeup, even if there is no rational cause for it. In the time of the redemption there will be a principal and foundational change in the world that will affect everyone, both Jews and non-Jews, so therefore there exists a need to prepare the world for this change. To this end, the prophets tell us of two aspects of “the shofar”—events which will shake up the world and the Jewish people in particular—a shakeup that will shake things out of their place in preparation for a transition to a different reality:

1. In the prophecy of Zechariah6 it says, “And the L‑rd G‑d will sound the shofar, and He will go with the whirlwinds of the south”;

2. The prophecy of Isaiah tells us that “it will be on that day that a great shofar will be blown, and those lost in the land of Assyria and those chased away in the land of Egypt will come, and they shall prostrate themselves to G‑d on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.”.

In other words, Zechariah tells us of an earlier time when there will be a “shofar” connected with tremendous upheaval among the nations and horrendous suffering, G‑d forbid, among the Jewish people.

Isaiah’s words, on the other hand, refer to a later time, a time which will be closer to the coming of Moshiach. At this time there will be a “great shofar”—a great shakeup among the Jewish people themselves, so that even those who are spiritually distant will be shaken and aroused through the fatherly call that G‑d will call to His people. This shakeup will cause a total loss of previous composure, which will eventually bring the Jews to a state of “prostrating to G‑d on the holy mountain in Jerusalem”—a deep devotion to G‑d by keeping mitzvot in a spirit of complete fear of heaven. This will lead to the ultimate meaning of the verse in its simplest sense—the redemption from exile through Moshiach, and the coming to the holy mountain in Jerusalem.

The time when Zechariah’s prophecy was fulfilled was in the First and Second World Wars. The causes for these wars were quite illogical, and it was clearly a storm that shook up the world and prepared it on a certain level for Moshiach’s coming.

The second era began at this time with the events in the Land of Israel. These events caused a tremor within every Jew, and began the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words about a “great shofar.”

…We saw with our own eyes how these events shook up every Jew. They could have been in the most far-flung corner of the world, and nevertheless they were absolutely shaken to the core. This was both at the time when, G‑d forbid, the Jews in Israel were in danger, and afterwards at the time when this led to an elation and spiritual awakening, when G‑d showed His kindness and miraculously saved the Jews in Israel.

This kind of shakeup and arousal was not seen even during the horrific events of unprecedented destruction [the Holocaust] witnessed in this generation. Those events concerned six million Jews, and it was not merely a threat but an actuality. Nevertheless, this never caused such a shakeup as the recent events in Israel, when there was just a fear (and not, G‑d forbid, a reality) of something happening to the Jewish people there.

…These events have heralded a new era in the preparation of the Jewish people for Moshiach. Notwithstanding the fact that we have still not experienced even the beginning of the actual redemption, we have nevertheless entered a new time, a time when G‑d calls to the G‑dly soul within every Jew, even those who are “lost and cast away,” and shakes them up. He awaits their response of using the opportunity to devote themselves to G‑d and to strengthen their commitment to mitzvot.