If you want to know what is happening in the world, how people can be expected to behave or interpretation of current events, all one has to do is look into the Tanach. If you know where to look, you more than likely will find your answer. The prophets speak to us – not just to the people who lived 2600-3000 years ago.Since the haftara comes from the books of the prophets, this same idea applies. Therefore, let us look at this week’s Haftara and see perhaps some ideas that we can apply to our lives and to the world in general.
The haftara comes from the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah was from the royal family of Yehuda. According to the Talmud, his father and Amaziah, one of the kings of Yehuda, were brothers. Isaiah began his career as a prophet as a young man and prophesied for 86 years. As an old man, our Rabbis teach us that he was executed by his grandson, King Menashe.
The books of the prophets are not necessarily written in chronological order. The haftara that we read today is not the first prophecy of Isaiah. That is in Chapter 6. Today’s haftara is a prophecy that Isaiah prophesied after the Northern Kingdom was exiled. The theme of the Haftara is Isaiah rebuking the people for lack of justice.
He mentions a number of stinging remarks concerning the behavior of the Jewish people. “An ox knows his owner and a donkey his master’s feeding trough, Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Animals even in a simple state have some understanding. They recognize their owners . . . they can tell right from wrong . . . they will listen to their owners. However, the Jewish people, a very intelligent people – we have been accused of many things in our long history and stupid is not one of them - don’t recognize G-d and all that He has done for us.
If we would just pause for a moment and reflect, we would be amazed that there still is a Jewish people. How could we have survived all the attacks, pogroms, and violence against us? Is it not against all odds? Is it not against all odds that there is a State of Israel – surrounded by enemies sworn to its destruction? Yet, we often take it for granted. We often take for granted all of the abilities that we have, and we don’t give credit where credit is due – to G-d who makes all of this possible. That is one of the problems that the Prophet Isaiah speaks about and is just as relevant now as it was then.
Later in the Haftara, the Prophet Isaiah castigates the people. G-d says, “Of what use are your many sacrifices to Me? I am satisfied with the burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle; and the blood of bulls and sheep and he-goats I do not want.” Why did G-d reject the sacrifices? Because the people would leave the Bais Hamikdash and return to their evil ways of murder, idolatry and immorality. The service in the Bais Hamikdash had no effect upon them. It was as though they said, “I sinned. Here is my sacrifice. Now, I can continue living the life I want to live and not the life that the Torah demands from me.”
The prophet Isaiah was telling the people that they might have been observant – at least in matters between them and G-d -, however, they were not religious. In matters between man and man, they were not even observant. They would daven, perhaps even dress religiously, but would behave in a manner that was not worthy of their acting. They were one way in the Bais Hamikdash. But, once they left the Bais Hamikdash, they were through. Their religion was on their sleeves but not in their hearts.
The Prophet Isaiah also rebukes the people for their lack of justice. The poor are weak and defenseless. Nobody will stand up for the widow and orphan. People cheat in business. What else is new?
The Prophet Isaiah concludes on an up note. We should not give up hope. No matter how bleak our situation looks, it will eventually turn around. The justice system will get better. The Jewish people will be redeemed. Despite everything, the situation will be corrected. It will take work, but we will become a people whom the entire world admires.