Parashat Eqev 5768/August 23, 2008
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
An Hour of Grace
(on the Haftarah of Parashat Ekev: Isaiah 49:14—51:3)
Center for Basic Studies in Judaism
In this haftarah, the second of the seven prophetic readings of consolation that follow the ninth of Ab, the prophet Isaiah brings up ideas that were mentioned earlier in his prophecy: Redemption is near and it will be unconditional, a sort of “promise no matter what,” as Nahmanides put it:
Thus, this discussion has explained that the strong consolations proclaimed by Isaiah of blessed memory and which were not [conditionally] stated with the expressions of "if you will heed" or "if you will worship [Him] " will materialize under any circumstances… those prophecies which were fulfilled were realized, and those which have not been fulfilled remain for the future, at which time they will surely be consummated. 
This is the Redemption of an “hour of favor,”  Redemption that precedes repentance, as in the words of the prophet: “I wipe away your sins like a cloud, your transgressions like mist – come back to Me, for I redeem you” (Isa. 44:22). Alongside such ideas, in the haftarah we detect great efforts of persuasion. Isaiah, as prophet of consolation, turns to the exiles and announces the coming of Redemption that will put an end to their exile and servitude and will enable them to return to the land of Israel and renew their life on its soil; nevertheless, he needs to use strong expressions, and these attest to his enormous need to convince his audience, the exiles. Here is an example:
Regarding the people’s words, “
The two examples cited by the prophet are emotions and events that do not normally occur. The first example emphasizes the strongest and closest emotion that exists in human nature and perhaps even in nature in general, as Abarbanel notes (in his commentary on verse 15): “This comparison is based on the greatest possible love and mercy being that of a woman for her newborn child.” In other words, the prophet chose to speak in a metaphor of the strongest reciprocal bond that exists among mankind, yet nevertheless it is still possible, although highly exceptional, for this bond to be damaged so that the mother forgets the fruit of her womb; but not so, the Holy One, blessed be He. The possibility of G-d forgetting His people does not exist; they might have been abandoned, but never forgotten.
The second example is a variation on the same theme.
In the world we know, it is inconceivable
that spoil be taken from the victor or tyrant, but in the extreme case even
this could happen. But with the Lord,
this is not so: the “spoil” – the people
Why did the prophet need to resort to such
strong expressions of persuasion? What
prevented the exiles from receiving tidings of redemption with open arms?
Shazar spoke picturesquely of Isaiah as someone situated on
a lofty summit.
In the first part of the book the summit looks
out over the entire universe. In the second part there is also a summit, but it
is entirely in the national realm: “This
part is giddy with faith in
What hold the exiles back from sharing in the
prophet's joy? Rabbi Eliezer
of Beaugency (French 12th century biblical
commentator) explains (Isaiah 49:14): “
A similar message emerges from Abarbanel’s interpretation of this verse: “Zion says, ‘The Lord has forsaken me’ – as if Zion were complaining, seeing the exceptionally long duration of the exile, and saying the Lord has forsaken me; as a man forsakes his wife and goes off, so, too, the Holy One, blessed be He… This is but a metaphor expressing the exceptionally long duration of the exile.” In other words, in Abarbanel’s opinion the length of the exile is what led to despair, to the feeling of having been forgotten and abandoned, and it is against this feeling that the prophet is struggling, admitting that the people had indeed been abandoned, “but not forgotten.” Abarbanel, however, adds reasons for the exiles' misgivings.  Israel had become impoverished in the Babylonian exile, and, living under foreign domination, they were keenly aware of their loss of political independence and military ability; a sense of humiliation and contempt at having lost their land overwhelmed them, like the thought that due to the sins they had committed they would not enjoy the privilege of being redeemed; or, as they put it, the Lord had abandoned them.
According to Yehezkel Kaufmann, since the people were not united in aspiring for redemption, in believing in it, and in sincerely returning to G-d, they did not share the assuredness and enthusiasm of the prophet, and redemption did not come.  In his opinion, the tribulations of every-day life made it difficult for them to relate to tidings of Redemption. As he put it, “Daily troubles were closer to their hearts than the great historical debate.” 
Yair Hoffmann is of
the opinion that the prophet speaking here is the prophet who immigrated to the
land of Israel with a small handful of Jews who came back in the return to Zion;
the elite among them was disappointed with the “small-scale” redemption and the
low social level of the returnees. The verses cited above reflect an attempt to
cope with the low morale of the disenchanted.
This was the prophet’s way to motivate the exiles in Babylonia to
immigrate to the
Presumably these and other circumstances led
to a sense of having been abandoned by the Lord.
But if we pay close attention, we note that
the prophet returns in the haftarah to the
imagery of a woman who had been abandoned and had lost her husband and
children: “And you will say to yourself,
‘who bore these for me when I was bereaved and barren, exiled and disdained –
by whom, then, were these reared? I was
left all alone – and where have these been?’” (Isa. 49:21).
She was bereaved and barren.
Kaufmann notes further on that the allegory
Deportation and destruction had not been a
trifling matter. The destruction of the
Isaiah as prophet of consolation frequently
mentions the exodus from
Isaiah is utterly convinced that Redemption will indeed come and tries with all his might to convey this assuredness to his audience.
Ramban-Writings and Discourses, trans. C.B.
 Isa. 49:8: “Thus said the Lord: In an hour of favor I answer you.”
 Studies in the Book of Isaiah (Hebrew), Part 2, p. 301.
 In his commentary on the latter prophets, p. 190.
 Y., History
of the Religion of Israel, trans. C.W. Efroymson,
Vol. 4, N.Y.: Ktav, 1977, p.103ff. According to Kaufmann,
the prophet was living in
C. R. North, Second Isaiah,
 Yair Hoffmann, Olam ha-Tanakh, Isaiah, ed. Menahem Haran, Tel Aviv 1983, p. 234.
 In his commentary on verse 40:2: “Double for all her sins.”