Unrelated to the weekly Parashiyot, Seven “Haftarot of Comfort” (Aramaic: שבע דנחמתא) from Isaiah, chapters 40 & ff, are recited after Tisha B’av until Rosh Hashanah. They follow Three “Haftarot of Punishment” describing the people breaking of the covenant, and as Tisha B’av described and lamented the resulting destruction and exile. With increasing intensity, these seven Haftarot describe the redemptive renewal of the covenant between God, His exiled people, His Land, and all humanity. This week is the second of these seven Haftarot.
God’s people are despairing during the long Babylonian exile. They think exile means that God has terminated His covenant with them, so they reject and even abuse His prophet and his efforts to return them to God. Isaiah poetically amplifies their despair in the person of a “woman”- the Land, Zion, bereft of her “children” (the Jewish people) whose will not return. Isaiah responds by affirming that God’s help and word strengthen him against his opponent’s attacks, which do not deter him. Moreover, exiles who decide to reject the covenant will slowly wither away in exile In contrast, God’s power will utterly reverse the condition of the few faithful exiles who trust that their woes are punishment for sin in the context of God’s ongoing covenant. Instead of continuing to oppress them, their captors will escort them back to the Land, Zion; eventually, God will also punish their oppressors. Unaware that the exiles rush to her, their arrival will “astonish” and “comfort” Zion- she won’t even recognize them. Just as God turned Abraham and Sarah into an entire nation, God will then multiply the handful of returnees until they overflow and rebuild Zion’s ruins, transforming the entire Land into a joyful Garden of Eden.
Verses 49:14-16: “Her” children long ago exiled, Zion “thinks” that God has abandoned and forgotten her. God reassures her that, just as a mother never forgets her children, He has not forgotten her; she is forever before Him.
Behold I [God] have engraved you [Zion] upon the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before me.
הֵ֥ן עַל־כַּפַּ֖יִם חַקֹּתִ֑יךְ חוֹמֹתַ֥יִךְ נֶגְדִּ֖י תָּמִֽיד׃
Verses 49:17-23: God gives Zion hope: her invaders are departing. Foreign royalty will submissively escort exiled Jews to her. These “children,” whom Zion does not know, are hurrying, and will soon overflow her desolate places.
You [Zion] shall say to yourself, “Who bore me these? I am bereft of my children and alone - an exile, a wanderer to and fro! Who reared these? Behold, I was left alone; these - where are they [from]?”
וְאָמַ֣רְתְּ בִּלְבָבֵ֗ךְ מִ֤י יָֽלַד־לִי֙ אֶת־אֵ֔לֶּה וַאֲנִ֥י שְׁכוּלָ֖ה וְגַלְמוּדָ֑ה גֹּלָ֣ה ׀ וְסוּרָ֗ה וְאֵ֙לֶּה֙ מִ֣י גִדֵּ֔ל הֵ֤ן אֲנִי֙ נִשְׁאַ֣רְתִּי לְבַדִּ֔י אֵ֖לֶּה אֵיפֹ֥ה הֵֽם:
Verses 49:24-26: Zion is incredulous of God’s extravagant promises. God replies that not only will He redeem His captive people from amidst mighty nations, He will also later destroy those nations.
Thus says the Lord, “Even the mighty one’s captives shall be seized, and the tyrant’s prey be delivered. I will contend with him that contends with you [Zion], and I will save your children.”
כִּי־כֹ֣ה ׀ אָמַ֣ר ה' גַּם־שְׁבִ֤י גִבּוֹר֙ יֻקָּ֔ח וּמַלְק֥וֹחַ עָרִ֖יץ יִמָּלֵ֑ט וְאֶת־יְרִיבֵךְ֙ אָנֹכִ֣י אָרִ֔יב וְאֶת־בָּנַ֖יִךְ אָנֹכִ֥י אוֹשִֽׁיעַ׃
Verses 50:1-3: Exiled Jews say that God has permanently terminated His covenant with them and the Land, but He has not; exile is mere punishment for sin. God will even overturn nature to redeem exiles who answer His call.
Thus says the Lord, “Where is your [Israel’s] mother’s [the Land’s] divorce document I sent her away with? To which of My [imagined] ‘creditors’ did I sell you? Lo- you were sold [exiled] for your iniquities, and your mother was sent away for your transgressions.”
כֹּ֣ה ׀ אָמַ֣ר ה' אֵ֣י זֶ֠ה סֵ֣פֶר כְּרִית֤וּת אִמְּכֶם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר שִׁלַּחְתִּ֔יהָ א֚וֹ מִ֣י מִנּוֹשַׁ֔י אֲשֶׁר־מָכַ֥רְתִּי אֶתְכֶ֖ם ל֑וֹ הֵ֤ן בַּעֲוֺנֹֽתֵיכֶם֙ נִמְכַּרְתֶּ֔ם וּבְפִשְׁעֵיכֶ֖ם שֻׁלְּחָ֥ה אִמְּכֶֽם׃
Verses 50:4-7: Isaiah proclaims God’s word with His help, not flinching in his Divine mission despite attackers.
I [Isaiah] gave my back to those who hit, and my cheeks to those who pluck [hair]. I did not hide my face from shame and spitting.
גֵּוִי֙ נָתַ֣תִּי לְמַכִּ֔ים וּלְחָיַ֖י לְמֹֽרְטִ֑ים פָּנַי֙ לֹ֣א הִסְתַּ֔רְתִּי מִכְּלִמּ֖וֹת וָרֹֽק׃
Verses 50:8-11: Isaiah scoffs at those who reject his pleas to trust God, who will give them misery. By contrast, God will redeem exiles who, despite woes, heed the promises of His servant, Isaiah.
Who among you [exiles] fears the Lord, obeying the voice of His servant; walking in darkness, and has no light? Let him trust in the Lord’s name, and rely upon his God.
מִ֤י בָכֶם֙ יְרֵ֣א ה' שֹׁמֵ֖עַ בְּק֣וֹל עַבְדּ֑וֹ אֲשֶׁ֣ר ׀ הָלַ֣ךְ חֲשֵׁכִ֗ים וְאֵ֥ין נֹ֙גַהּ֙ ל֔וֹ יִבְטַח֙ בְּשֵׁ֣ם ה' וְיִשָּׁעֵ֖ן בֵּאלֹקיו׃
Verses 51:1-3: As He did for Abraham and Sarah, God will again fulfill His promise to multiply the descendants of His few, loyal followers. God will also transform the desolate Zion into a Garden of Eden, filled with joy and song.
Look to Abraham your father and at Sarah that bore you: For he was but one when I called him, and I blessed him, and increased him.
הַבִּ֙יטוּ֙ אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֣ם אֲבִיכֶ֔ם וְאֶל־שָׂרָ֖ה תְּחוֹלֶלְכֶ֑ם כִּי־אֶחָ֣ד קְרָאתִ֔יו וַאֲבָרְכֵ֖הוּ וְאַרְבֵּֽהוּ׃
The Talmud brings to life the debate about exile’s meaning: termination of covenant, or punishment for sin?
סנהדרין ק״ה עמוד א
Ten people came and sat before [the prophet]. He said to them, “Repent.” They replied, “A slave sold by his owner, or a woman divorced by her husband – does one have any claim upon the other?”
The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to the prophet: “Go say to them, ‘Where is your mother’s divorce document I sent her away with? To which of My “creditors” did I sell you? Lo- you were sold [exiled] for your iniquities, and your mother was sent away for your transgressions.’ ” (Isaiah 50:1)
באו עשרה בני אדם וישבו לפניו אמר להן חזרו בתשובה אמרו לו עבד שמכרו רבו ואשה שגרשה בעלה כלום יש לזה על זה כלום? אמר לו הקב"ה לנביא לך אמור להן (ישעיהו נ, א) איזה ספר כריתות אמכם אשר שלחתיה או מי מנושי אשר מכרתי אתכם לו הן בעונותיכם נמכרתם ובפשעכם שלחה אמכם
With emendations, all translations are from Sefaria.org. To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email email@example.com.