Shoftim

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Unrelated to the weekly Parashiyot, Seven “Haftarot of Comfort” (Aramaic: שבע דנחמתא) from Isaiah, chapters 40 and onwards, 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.

Isaiah 51:12-52:12

This week’s fourth Haftarah of Comfort reverses its predecessors’ orderly progression through Isaiah’s chapters (40, 48, 54) to convey a dramatically different tone and message.  The sins and protests of Jerusalem and the exiles, and the prophet’s words and woes, fade away; God’s words and actions take center stage. With astonishing anthropomorphism, God takes responsibility for the exiles’ misery that has knocked them, like a drunkard, to the ground. Their exile has also made humanity think God is too weak to save them. God repeatedly rouses a royal Israel from their stupor, promising them that their punishment is over even as their captors’ punishment begins. “Visibly” accompanying them from exile to a rebuilt Zion, God will lead them home calmly. Jubilation and international recognition of God’s power will herald their arrival.

Haftarah Breakdown

Verses 51:12-16: The exiles constantly fear their oppressor. They have forgotten that God is the powerful Creator who will protect His people from mere mortals. As bearers of God’s word, they should fear no one.

Isaiah 51:16

I placed My words into your mouth, and covered you with My hand’s shadow. [I] affixed the heavens and founded the earth [in order to] say to Zion, “You are My people.”

וָאָשִׂ֤ים דְּבָרַי֙ בְּפִ֔יךָ וּבְצֵ֥ל יָדִ֖י כִּסִּיתִ֑יךָ לִנְטֹ֤עַ שָׁמַ֙יִם֙ וְלִיסֹ֣ד אָ֔רֶץ וְלֵאמֹ֥ר לְצִיּ֖וֹן עַמִּי־אָֽתָּה׃ (ס)

Verses 51:17-20: The fury the exiles suffered was in fact God brutally punishing them and Zion for their sins. They slumber from “drinking” this Divine cup of poison, so God awakens them.

Isaiah 51:17

Awaken, awaken, arise, Jerusalem! You have drunk from the Lord’s hand a cup of His wrath - you have drunk and drained the poisoned cup.

הִתְעוֹרְרִ֣י הִֽתְעוֹרְרִ֗י ק֚וּמִי יְר֣וּשָׁלִַ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר שָׁתִ֛ית מִיַּ֥ד ה' אֶת־כּ֣וֹס חֲמָת֑וֹ אֶת־קֻבַּ֜עַת כּ֧וֹס הַתַּרְעֵלָ֛ה שָׁתִ֖ית מָצִֽית׃

Verses 51:21-23: Jerusalem and her suffering exiles lie in a “drunken stupor”. God again awakens them - He is on their side! He will never again punish them; only their enemies will drink the cup of God’s fury.

Isaiah 51:22

Thus says Your Master, the Lord, the God who contends for His people, "Behold, I have taken the poisoned cup from your hand. The cup of My wrath- you shall never again drink it.”

כֹּֽה־אָמַ֞ר אֲדֹקיִךְ ה' וֵאלֹקיִךְ֙ יָרִ֣יב עַמּ֔וֹ הִנֵּ֥ה לָקַ֛חְתִּי מִיָּדֵ֖ךְ אֶת־כּ֣וֹס הַתַּרְעֵלָ֑ה אֶת־קֻבַּ֙עַת֙ כּ֣וֹס חֲמָתִ֔י לֹא־תוֹסִ֥יפִי לִשְׁתּוֹתָ֖הּ עֽוֹד׃

Verses 52:1-4: God awakens Jerusalem; her invaders shall never return. Freed from captivity, the exiles owe their oppressors nothing. Zion must arise, don her finest, and sit on her royal throne.

Isaiah 52:2

Shake yourself from the dust! Arise [and then] sit, Jerusalem! Loosen your neck bands, O captive daughter of Zion!

הִתְנַעֲרִ֧י מֵעָפָ֛ר ק֥וּמִי שְּׁבִ֖י יְרֽוּשָׁלִָ֑ם התפתחו [הִֽתְפַּתְּחִי֙] מוֹסְרֵ֣י צַוָּארֵ֔ךְ שְׁבִיָּ֖ה בַּת־צִיּֽוֹן׃ (ס)

Verses 52:5-6: The Babylonian exile makes nations scorn God as weak, exiled, and unable to save His People. Therefore, God must “return” to Jerusalem with His people.

Isaiah 52:6:

“Now why am I here?” says the Lord. “My people have been taken away for nought. Their rulers howl,” says the Lord, “and My name is blasphemed continually every day!”

וְעַתָּ֤ה מַה־לִּי־פֹה֙ נְאֻם־ה' כִּֽי־לֻקַּ֥ח עַמִּ֖י חִנָּ֑ם מֹשְׁלָ֤ו יְהֵילִ֙ילוּ֙ נְאֻם־יְהֹוָ֔ה וְתָמִ֥יד כׇּל־הַיּ֖וֹם שְׁמִ֥י מִנֹּאָֽץ׃

Verses 52:7-10: God’s “visible” return to Zion with His redeemed people will truly comfort them. The rebuilding of Jerusalem will be met with jubilation, demonstrating His power to all nations.

Isaiah 52:9

Burst out in song, sing together, O ruins of Jerusalem! For the Lord has comforted His people - He has redeemed Jerusalem!

פִּצְח֤וּ רַנְּנוּ֙ יַחְדָּ֔ו חָרְב֖וֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָ֑ם כִּֽי־נִחַ֤ם ה' עַמּ֔וֹ גָּאַ֖ל יְרוּשָׁלִָֽם׃

Verses 52:11-12: The exiles must purify themselves and promptly depart Babylon. Unlike the rushed Exodus, this departure will be calm. God will both lead and guard them.

Isaiah 52:12

You shall not depart in haste nor leave in flight, for the Lord goes before you, and your rear guard is Israel’s God!

כִּ֣י לֹ֤א בְחִפָּזוֹן֙ תֵּצֵ֔אוּ וּבִמְנוּסָ֖ה לֹ֣א תֵלֵכ֑וּן כִּֽי־הֹלֵ֤ךְ לִפְנֵיכֶם֙ ה' וּמְאַסִּפְכֶ֖ם אֱלֹקי יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

Connections

Multiple stanzas of “Lekha Dodi”, the poem sung at the beginning of Shabbat, echo verses 51:17, and 52:1-2 of the Haftarah.

Lekha Dodi 5-6

Shake yourself, arise from the dust / Dress in your garments of splendor, my people! / By the hand of Jesse’s son of Bethlehem / Draw near to my soul and redeem it!

Arouse yourself, arouse yourself! / For your light has come - arise, my light! / Awaken, awaken, utter a song! / The glory of the Lord is revealed upon you.

הִתְנַעֲרִי מֵעָפָר קוּמִי/לִבְשִׁי בִּגְדֵי תִּפְאַרְתֵּךְ עַמִּי/עַל יַד בֶּן יִשַׁי בֵּית הַלַּחְמִי/קָרְבָה אֶל נַפְשִׁי גְאָלָהּ

הִתְעוֹרְרִי הִתְעוֹרְרִי/כִּי בָא אורֵךְ קוּמִי אוֹרִי/עוּרִי עוּרִי שִׁיר דַּבֵּרִי/כְּבוֹד ה' עָלַיִךְ נִגְלָּה

With emendations, all translations are from Sefaria.org. To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email haftarahhelper@gmail.com.