For Ashkenazim, this week’s Haftarah comprises two of the seven Haftarot of Comfort read between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashanah. As did last week’s Haftarah, its themes therefore reflect the covenantal cycle of sin in, and exile from, the Land; exilic misunderstanding and despair; God and His people reconnecting in exile and their joint return to a rebuilt Zion; God’s punishment of their shared enemies; and humanity’s recognition of Israel’s redeemer as the Creator. The first two weekly parashiyot include similar themes. Parashat Bereishit includes Creation; sin in, and exile from, Eden. And Parashat Noach features corruption throughout Earth and God’s near-eradication of all life from it. United humanity sins again, this time in Babylon; God punishes them with dispersion from there.
Isaiah uses a nuclear family to characterize the unbreakable, tempestuous, intimate relationship between God (“husband”), Zion (“wife”), and Israel (their “children”). “Children” and “wife” are ashamed of their past behavior, so “father” and His prophet reassures them with eternal love, and encourages them to rejoice as they return together to the Land to a future more glorious than before. The “children” will adopt their “father”’s righteousness and rebuild mother Zion with greater size, splendor, and peace. As Creator and Redeemer, “father” will protect them from their enemies. God will restore King David’s royal line and Israel will reflect God’s glory, inspiring humanity to know God.
Verses 54:1-3: Zion will rejoice as her children, more numerous than before, return from exile. As occupiers depart and her ruins are rebuilt, Zion must greatly expand for the returnees to live.
“Sing, O barren one who has borne [no child]! Break out into song and rejoice, you who did not travail! For the children of the destroyed wife [present Zion] shall be more numerous than those of the espoused wife [past Zion],” said the Lord.
רָנִּ֥י עֲקָרָ֖ה לֹ֣א יָלָ֑דָה פִּצְחִ֨י רִנָּ֤ה וְצַהֲלִי֙ לֹא־חָ֔לָה כִּֽי־רַבִּ֧ים בְּֽנֵי־שׁוֹמֵמָ֛ה מִבְּנֵ֥י בְעוּלָ֖ה אָמַ֥ר ה'׃
Verses 54:4-5: The exiles are ashamed of their past sins and fear that God will not redeem them. Their loyal husband, God, assures them the opposite is true: humanity will recognize that the Creator redeemed them.
Fear not, for you shall not be ashamed; be not embarrassed, for you shall not be put to shame. You shall forget the shame of your youth, and no longer remember your widowhood’s disgrace.
אַל־תִּֽירְאִי֙ כִּי־לֹ֣א תֵב֔וֹשִׁי וְאַל־תִּכָּלְמִ֖י כִּ֣י לֹ֣א תַחְפִּ֑ירִי כִּ֣י בֹ֤שֶׁת עֲלוּמַ֙יִךְ֙ תִּשְׁכָּ֔חִי וְחֶרְפַּ֥ת אַלְמְנוּתַ֖יִךְ לֹ֥א תִזְכְּרִי־עֽוֹד׃
Verses 54:6-8: The Jewish people are God’s “first love.” Angry at their abandoning Him, God briefly exiled them. But God’s eternal love and kindness will cause Him to redeem them.
“In slight anger, for a moment, I hid My face from you - but with eternal kindness I will have mercy upon you,” said your Redeemer, the Lord.
בְּשֶׁ֣צֶף קֶ֗צֶף הִסְתַּ֨רְתִּי פָנַ֥י רֶ֙גַע֙ מִמֵּ֔ךְ וּבְחֶ֥סֶד עוֹלָ֖ם רִֽחַמְתִּ֑יךְ אָמַ֥ר גֹּאֲלֵ֖ךְ ה'
Verses 54:9-10: God swears never again to so harshly punish His people. Like the mountains and His oath after the Flood with Noah, God’s merciful covenant of peace is eternal.
For this is to Me [as] Noah’s waters: as I swore never again to bring Noah’s waters over the earth, so have I sworn neither to be angry with you [Judah], nor to rebuke you.
כִּי־מֵ֥י נֹ֙חַ֙ זֹ֣את לִ֔י אֲשֶׁ֣ר נִשְׁבַּ֗עְתִּי מֵעֲבֹ֥ר מֵי־נֹ֛חַ ע֖וֹד עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ כֵּ֥ן נִשְׁבַּ֛עְתִּי מִקְּצֹ֥ף עָלַ֖יִךְ וּמִגְּעָר־בָּֽךְ׃
Verses 54:11-14: God promises Jerusalem that her inhabitants will be righteous, live in peace, know God, and rebuild her physical splendor. The Creator of weapons and armies will never allow His creations to defeat her.
“Any weapon forged against you shall not succeed, and any tongue that will contend with you in judgment, you shall defeat. This is the Lord’s servants’ heritage Lord and their reward from Me,” says the Lord.
כָּל־כְּלִ֞י יוּצַ֤ר עָלַ֙יִךְ֙ לֹ֣א יִצְלָ֔ח וְכָל־לָשׁ֛וֹן תָּֽקוּם־אִתָּ֥ךְ לַמִּשְׁפָּ֖ט תַּרְשִׁ֑יעִי זֹ֡את נַחֲלַת֩ עַבְדֵ֨י ה' וְצִדְקָתָ֛ם מֵאִתִּ֖י נְאֻם־ה' (ס)
Verses 55:1-5: Some exiles spend money to get imagined physical or spiritual satiety but Isaiah’s words are free. Heeding them provides eternal satisfaction, just like God’s promises to David. God’s glorification of Israel and David’s dominance over all nations will cause them to come to Jerusalem to find Him.
Incline your ear and come to me; listen so your soul shall live. I will [then] make an eternal covenant with you [like My] trustworthy kindnesses [to] David.
הַטּ֤וּ אָזְנְכֶם֙ וּלְכ֣וּ אֵלַ֔י שִׁמְע֖וּ וּתְחִ֣י נַפְשְׁכֶ֑ם וְאֶכְרְתָ֤ה לָכֶם֙ בְּרִ֣ית עוֹלָ֔ם חַֽסְדֵ֥י דָוִ֖ד הַנֶּאֱמָנִֽים׃
Pharaoh understood God’s oath to Noah expansively, but the Talmud favors a far narrower understanding:
סוטה י״א א
[Pharoah and his advisors said,] "Let us come and judge [the Jewish babies by drowning them] with water. For the Holy One, Blessed be He, already swore that He will not bring a flood upon the world, as [Isaiah 54:9] states, 'For this is to Me [as] Noah’s waters'."
[The Talmud gives two replies to their argument. Pharaoh and his advisors] did not know that He will not bring a flood upon all the entire world, but He may bring destruction by water upon one nation.
Alternatively, He won’t bring [a flood upon them], but they may come and fall [to their deaths in water], as [Exodus 14:27] says, “[The reed sea returned to its strength when the morning appeared.] The Egyptians fled toward it [and then the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.]”
בואו ונדונם במים שכבר נשבע הקב"ה שאינו מביא מבול לעולם שנאמר (ישעיהו נד, ט) כי מי נח זאת לי וגו'
והן אינן יודעין שעל כל העולם כולו אינו מביא אבל על אומה אחת הוא מביא
אי נמי הוא אינו מביא אבל הן באין ונופלין בתוכו וכן הוא אומר (שמות יד, כז) ומצרים נסים לקראתו
With emendations, all translations are from Sefaria.org. To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email email@example.com.