This is the final of the “Three [Haftarot] of Affliction” (Aramaic: תלת דפורענותא), describing the destruction of Judah, Jerusalem, and the First Temple in 586 BCE. They are recited on consecutive Shabbatot of the “Three Weeks”, between the fasts of the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av. Ashkenazi communities chant it with the traditional, mournful melody of Lamentations due to its structure, content, and the word “אֵיכָה֙” in verse 21.
The book of Isaiah’s opening prophecy presents his “Hazon”, or vision for society in God’s Land. Centered on God’s Temple in His holy city, His people exist to embody His righteousness and His sanctity -in that order- for humanity. Divine mercy gives them time to achieve God’s goal but failure will eventually cause Divine justice to destroy them, exiling survivors until they repent to deserve redemption. Divine justice permitted the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, to destroy and exile the unjust, idolatrous Northern Kingdom, ca. 720 BCE. The Haftarah’s unflinching portrait of a destroyed Judah alongside an unconquered Jerusalem matches the aftermath of Sennacherib’s failed siege of Jerusalem decades later, ca. 701 BCE; Divine justice continues on its path.
Isaiah laments that God’s vision is unfulfilled and witheringly condemns Judah’s failures. It does not recognize God as its master and sustainer. The resulting greed creates economic and political corruption, and even murder. These create further injustice, as the powerful neglect the vulnerable. Not grasping that societal righteousness, like ritual purity, must precede pursuit of Divine sanctity at the Temple, the people worship God there, but God is repulsed. Judah must reverse its injustices so that Jerusalem can again be a “City of Righteousness”, and Northern Kingdom exiles can return. Failing this, Jerusalem’s destruction is inevitable.
Verse 1: Isaiah prophesies about Judah during the reign of four kings.
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, [and] Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
חֲזוֹן֙ יְשַֽׁעְיָ֣הוּ בֶן־אָמ֔וֹץ אֲשֶׁ֣ר חָזָ֔ה עַל־יְהוּדָ֖ה וִירוּשָׁלִָ֑ם בִּימֵ֨י עֻזִּיָּ֧הוּ יוֹתָ֛ם אָחָ֥ז יְחִזְקִיָּ֖הוּ מַלְכֵ֥י יְהוּדָֽה׃
Verses 2-4: Like a father, God reared generations of Judeans. Ignorantly, they rebel against God’s authority and sanctity, angering Him by denying that He is the Master who provides for them.
An ox knows its owner and a donkey, its master's [feeding] trough. [Yet] Israel does not know, My people do not consider.
יָדַ֥ע שׁוֹר֙ קֹנֵ֔הוּ וַחֲמ֖וֹר אֵב֣וּס בְּעָלָ֑יו יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֹ֣א יָדַ֔ע עַמִּ֖י לֹ֥א הִתְבּוֹנָֽן׃
Verses 5-9: Like Sodom and Gomorrah, God has brutally punished Judah for its sins, leaving it beaten and bloody. Judah watches foreigners destroy and consume its land. Only God’s mercy spared Jerusalem and a few survivors.
Had not the Lord of Hosts left us a small remnant, we would have been like Sodom; we would resemble Gomorrah.
לוּלֵי֙ ה' צְבָקוֹת הוֹתִ֥יר לָ֛נוּ שָׂרִ֖יד כִּמְעָ֑ט כִּסְדֹ֣ם הָיִ֔ינוּ לַעֲמֹרָ֖ה דָּמִֽינוּ׃
Verses 10-15: Judah and its leaders serve God with devotion at the Temple and on holy days. God scathingly rejects them and their service as abominations because of their sins and blood-stained hands.
Bring no more pointless grain offerings; incense of abomination are they to Me. [New] moons, sabbaths, and calling of assemblies - I cannot bear iniquity along with solemn gatherings.
לֹ֣א תוֹסִ֗יפוּ הָבִיא֙ מִנְחַת־שָׁ֔וְא קְטֹ֧רֶת תּוֹעֵבָ֛ה הִ֖יא לִ֑י חֹ֤דֶשׁ וְשַׁבָּת֙ קְרֹ֣א מִקְרָ֔א לֹא־אוּכַ֥ל אָ֖וֶן וַֽעֲצָרָֽה׃
Verses 16-17: To find favor in God’s eyes, Judah must cleanse itself by replacing its societal evils with justice. It must reform its evildoers, and ensure justice for their vulnerable victims.
Learn to do well! Seek judgment! Relieve the oppressed! Judge the fatherless! Plead for the widow!
לִמְד֥וּ הֵיטֵ֛ב דִּרְשׁ֥וּ מִשְׁפָּ֖ט אַשְּׁר֣וּ חָמ֑וֹץ שִׁפְט֣וּ יָת֔וֹם רִ֖יבוּ אַלְמָנָֽה׃ (ס)
Verses 18-20: God reminds Judah that if they turn from evil to good, He will forgive even their bloody sins and again sustain them in the Land. Otherwise, He will bring further war to destroy them.
If you are willing and obey [Me], you shall eat the Land’s goodness.
אִם־תֹּאב֖וּ וּשְׁמַעְתֶּ֑ם ט֥וּב הָאָ֖רֶץ תֹּאכֵֽלוּ׃
Verses 21-23: Isaiah laments Jerusalem’s condition. Instead of embodying God’s justice and righteousness, its political, judicial, and commercial elites are greedy and corrupt; they neglect and abuse society’s vulnerable.
Your princes are rebellious and companions of thieves - [all are] bribe lovers and pursuers of payments! The orphan they do not judge; the widow’s dispute does not reach them.
שָׂרַ֣יִךְ סוֹרְרִ֗ים וְחַבְרֵי֙ גַּנָּבִ֔ים כֻּלּוֹ֙ אֹהֵ֣ב שֹׁ֔חַד וְרֹדֵ֖ף שַׁלְמֹנִ֑ים יָתוֹם֙ לֹ֣א יִשְׁפֹּ֔טוּ וְרִ֥יב אַלְמָנָ֖ה לֹֽא־יָב֥וֹא אֲלֵיהֶֽם׃ (פ)
Verses 24-27: In this state, Judah is God’s enemy and He will powerfully punish it. God will then install new leaders so that Jerusalem, and the exiles who return there, will again embody His justice and righteousness.
I [God] will restore your judges as at first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward, you shall be called City of Righteousness, Faithful City.
וְאָשִׁ֤יבָה שֹׁפְטַ֙יִךְ֙ כְּבָרִ֣אשֹׁנָ֔ה וְיֹעֲצַ֖יִךְ כְּבַתְּחִלָּ֑ה אַחֲרֵי־כֵ֗ן יִקָּ֤רֵא לָךְ֙ עִ֣יר הַצֶּ֔דֶק קִרְיָ֖ה נֶאֱמָנָֽה׃
The eleventh blessing of the daily Amidah asks God to fulfill His promise in v. 26, above.
Weekday Shacharit, Amidah
Restore our judges as at first, and our counselors as at the beginning, and remove sorrow and sighing from us...
הָשִֽׁיבָה שֽׁוֹפְטֵֽינוּ כְּבָרִֽאשׁוֹנָה, וְיֽוֹעֲצֵֽינוּ כְּבַתְּחִלָּה, וְהָסֵר מִמֶּֽנּוּ יָגוֹן וַֽאֲנָחָה...
With emendations, all translations are from Sefaria.org. To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email email@example.com.