The haftarah of Re’eh is the third of the “seven haftarot of consolation.”1 It begins with prophecies of physical and spiritual plenty in the days of Moshiach. The verses speak in incredible terms of the precious stones of all kinds that will be used just as building materials. Whether this is meant literally or not, the intention is clear, that endless luxury will prevail at that time. Peace and tranquility will reign, and the children of Israel will be granted much wisdom in the knowledge of G‑d.

All this will come about through charity and good deeds. Keeping to a righteous way of life will ensure protection and safety from any adversary. In time to come, the Almighty will make an eternal covenant with His people. The righteous sway of King Moshiach will be upon the entire world, and they in turn will pay tribute to the Jewish people.

The prophet calls on the people to devote themselves to Torah study. He compares the Torah to water, wine and milk. The Torah is compared to wine, for just as wine “gladdens the heart,”2 so does Torah bring gladness and joy to a person. It is also compared to milk, for just as milk sustains the body of a child and helps him or her grow, so does the Torah sustain and bolster the soul of the Jew.3

“Why should you weigh out money without bread, and your toil without satiety?” the prophet asks. Metzudat David interprets this to be speaking of spending money to study foreign knowledges other than Torah. No science or philosophy will bring true satisfaction or fulfillment to the Jew, whereas the Torah is ready and available for anyone to learn, and it is guaranteed to bring total spiritual fulfillment.

All who thirst, go to water . . .

This instruction in our haftarah is interpreted in the Talmud and the biblical commentaries as referring to the study of Torah. Torah is compared to water for many reasons. Primarily it is to illustrate the necessity of Torah for the spiritual life and vitality of the soul. Just as the need for water is most intensely felt by the thirsty person, so is the connection to G‑d through Torah most intensely felt and needed by the soul.4 But while the instruction is clear, the question arises: to whom is the instruction directed? Who is the “thirsty” one? To this we find divergent explanations.

Radak and Ibn Ezra understand this call to be directed towards the nations of the world. In the days of Moshiach, after seeing G‑d’s wonders and miracles, they will recognize the sovereignty of G‑d and will desire to know His law. It is they who are, or will be, the “thirsty” ones.5

On the other hand, Rashi, and many other commentaries with him, understand the call of the prophet as directed to the Jewish people themselves. The difficulty with this explanation is obvious: In the analogy, does a thirsty person need encouragement to drink? Similarly, if a Jew desires to know the word of G‑d, does he indeed need such admonishment to go and study it? This difficulty is increased in light of the terminology in the beginning of the verse. It begins with the word hoi (הוי), taken to mean a unique call to action. Why must the prophet cry out this way?

In the Chabad classic work Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi offers the following explanation:

The Torah enjoins a Jew to “love G‑d.” In the sense that the Torah speaks of it, the purpose of this love is for the Jew to be motivated in in the performance of the mitzvot. For this reason, in Kabbalistic works, the love (and fear) of G‑d are called “wings.” Now, the wings of a bird are not an essential part of it; it can live without them. But they provide the bird with the ability to soar upwards. By the same token, the love and fear of G‑d are necessary only in that they give life to actual mitzvah performance—the latter being the primary objective.

The difficulty with this, though, is that the the love of G‑d is itself one of the 613 mitzvot. How, then, can it be given a mere secondary status, as a “wing”? Should we not focus on love as an idea in itself?

To answer this, the Tanya explains that there are two forms of love. The love spoken of here is a love that finds expression in the yearning and search for G‑dliness. The soul is capable of creating or awakening a burning feeling of desire to be included and united in G‑dliness. This, in general, is the objective and experience of prayer.

The second form of love is different. It is not a surge or pull upwards, but rather the experience of the bond itself. It is the feeling of actual closeness and inclusion. This is the idea of the “world to come,” where the soul is rewarded with the realization of the G‑dly bond it generated through its deeds in this world. For most mortals, such an experience is not possible while vested in the physical body. Physicality, for most people, is a hindrance to experiencing a total bond with G‑dliness. It is only once the soul leaves the body that it can realize this love—the love of total arrival and full accomplishment, which leaves no want whatsoever.

Now, this latter form of love is indeed more lofty. It is the experience of closeness to G‑d as opposed to distance from Him. But as for this world, there is work to do. . . . The form of love which is both available and more prized is the former form—the surge to G‑dliness that pushes and propels the person to do better and more. In this world, G‑d wants action; and the love that is therefore desired is the love that is the “wing” for action.

This then is the meaning of the verse. The prophet is not addressing the Jew who thirsts to know Torah; this person surely does need the prophet to exhort him to study. The prophet is rather addressing the Jew who yearns for G‑dliness, who seeks elevation from the physical to the G‑dly. Being in a state of want and “thirst” might have actually been a virtue in and of itself in a physical world. If the actual experience of G‑dliness is still unattainable, at least the person is in a state of desire and yearning for it.

It is for this that the prophet calls to the Jew: You are thirsty? Then go and quench it! “Thirst”—this feeling of yearning and want—is not an objective in itself. Being drawn to G‑dliness must move you to actually connect with Him. Not doing so would be like a man standing next to a stream of water and crying “Water, Water! I need water!” . . . Awakening the feeling towards G‑d is to serve as a means to actually become attached to Him, and this can be achieved only by the study of Torah and the fulfillment of its commandments.