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; Tisha B’av then 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 third of these seven Haftarot.
In the past two Haftarot, God and Isaiah comforted Jerusalem and “her” despairing “children”, the Jews exiled in Babylon. Caused by their sins in the context of the ongoing covenant with God, their exilic woes are temporary, and will be utterly reversed. God will soon redeem the exiles loyal to the covenant. Their oppressors, whom God will later punish, will escort them to the Land. He will multiply them upon arrival, utterly transforming the Land.
Nonetheless, this Haftarah portrays the exiles and Jerusalem as still distraught. Isaiah offers new promises and visions. Jerusalem will be rebuilt with splendor and dazzling jewels. The returned exiles - her inhabitants and rebuilders - will know God. Living in tranquility, they will establish Jerusalem with righteousness and without oppression. As Creator and Redeemer, God can and will protect the renewed city of His righteous servants from every military or diplomatic attack. To the exiles disregarding God’s promises and paying for physical and spiritual satisfaction elsewhere, Isaiah replies that God’s promises are free and as eternal as His promises to King David. Led by David’s restored royal house, Israel will dominate all nations and reflect God’s glory; nations will run to Israel to know God.
Verses 54:11-14: Jerusalem is afflicted and not comforted. In response, God promises to restore “her” physical splendor. He also promises that her inhabitants will be righteous, live in peace, know God, and rebuild her.
O afflicted, storm-tossed one who is not comforted! Behold, I will lay your stones with fair colors and your foundations with sapphires.
עֲנִיָּ֥ה סֹעֲרָ֖ה לֹ֣א נֻחָ֑מָה הִנֵּ֨ה אָנֹכִ֜י מַרְבִּ֤יץ בַּפּוּךְ֙ אֲבָנַ֔יִךְ וִיסַדְתִּ֖יךְ בַּסַּפִּירִֽים׃
Verses 54:15-17: As Creator of weapons and armies, God further reassures Jerusalem that He will reward her righteous residents by not allowing His creations to defeat them at battle or attack her with words.
“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 55:1-2: Some exiles spend money to get imagined physical or spiritual satiety. Isaiah’s words are free, and heeding them provides satisfaction...
Why do you spend money without (getting) bread, your labor for no satisfaction? Listen diligently to me and consume goodness - let your soul delight itself in fatness!
לָ֤מָּה תִשְׁקְלוּ־כֶ֙סֶף֙ בְּֽלוֹא־לֶ֔חֶם וִיגִיעֲכֶ֖ם בְּל֣וֹא לְשָׂבְעָ֑ה שִׁמְע֨וּ שָׁמ֤וֹעַ אֵלַי֙ וְאִכְלוּ־ט֔וֹב וְתִתְעַנַּ֥ג בַּדֶּ֖שֶׁן נַפְשְׁכֶֽם׃
Verses 55:3-5: … that will be eternal, just like God’s promises to the House of 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׃
Tractate Berachot concludes with an ode to peace, beginning with a re-reading of 54:13. The complete ode appears in the siddur several times.
Rabbi Elazar said that Rabbi Ḥanina said: “Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as it is said: ‘And all your children [banayikh] shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children’ (Isaiah 54:13). [Interpret this verse homiletically:] Do not pronounce this as ‘your children [banayikh],’ but as ‘your builders [bonayikh].’”
אָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אָמַר רַבִּי חֲנִינָא: תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים מַרְבִּים שָׁלוֹם בָּעוֹלָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וְכׇל בָּנַיִךְ לִמּוּדֵי ה׳ וְרַב שְׁלוֹם בָּנָיִךְ״. אַל תִּקְרֵי ״בָּנָיִךְ״ אֶלָּא ״בּוֹנָיִךְ״.
Da’at Mikra (Isa. 49:17) points out the Hebrew letter ‘vav’ appears above and between the letters ‘bet’ and ‘nun’ in the final word of 54:13 of the “Great Isaiah Scroll” found at Qumran near the Dead Sea. This corresponds to the Talmud’s “alternate” reading, above, of the Bible’s word בָּנָיִךְ (your “sons/children”) as בּוֹנָיִךְ (your “builders”). This, in turn, suggests the following reading of 54:13-14:
[Because] all ‘your’ [rebuilt Jerusalem’s] ‘children’ [i.e., returned exiles living there] are instructed by God, your builders will have great peace. [Why will they have great peace? Because] you shall be founded in righteousness, distancing yourself from oppression [of your builders/sons who, in turn, are righteous enough to work honestly with valuable gems to rebuild you] fearlessly.
With emendations, all translations are from Sefaria.org. To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email email@example.com.