Haftarah Re'eh: A Thirsty Soul

[Yeshayahu 54:11-55:5]

The revival of the Nation of Israel, which began with the establishment of the State of Israel, cannot be limited to a national, economic, and military, renewal.  It must be accompanied by a spiritual awakening which will allow the Nation to fully blossom.

"Afflicted, tossed by a storm, uncomforted" (Yeshayahu 54:11).  Why isn't the Nation comforted?  Doesn't the beginning of the chapter (which is the Haftarah for Ki Tetze) describe the wonders of the Redemption?  "Break out into song and joy" (ibid, v. 1).  After all, the Nation of Israel returned to its Land and spread out its settlement: "Expand the place of your tent and stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not, lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes, for you will break forth to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess nations, and make desolate cities to be inhabited" (ibid. v. 2-3).  We are witnessing the return of the Nation of Israel to its Land, the renewed building of the Land, the establishment of a strong economy and a powerful army – which is today called “normalization.”

Alongside our joy and gratitude to the Master of the Universe, however,  must be the awareness that all of these accomplishments are still not enough.  The State of Israel cannot simply serve as a national shelter to protect the Nation of Israel, as Herzl had proposed.  Our soul also thirsts for spirituality, thirsts for Hashem.  On the verse "The soul is not filled" (Kohelet 6:7), our Sages give a parable: A princess married a commoner who tried very hard to provide his royal partner with the best the city had to offer.  But, despite all of his efforts, the princess held a deep nostalgia for her previous, royal life in the palace, which could not be satisfied (Kohelet Rabbah ibid.).

The soul of a person is like a princess, and cannot be satisfied by simple normalization.  The individual soul, like the national soul, requires deep spiritual sustenance.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook explained that the first generation of the National revival is a generation of the physical and material. Only in the next stage will we reach the spiritual level (Orot, p. 83).  He illuminates the path for us in order to help us distance ourselves from all extremes - whether it is the secular extreme, which entices us to believe that that we have reached our ideal state, or the Ultra-Orthodox extreme, which holds that nothing has changed, and all of these wonders and miracles are inconsequential.  The truth lies, as it so often does, in the middle. We have begun the Redemption and have merited miraculous, Divine aid, but we are only half-way there.

Jerusalem cannot be a capital for others: "I shall make your sun windows of rubies and your gates of garnets, and your entire boundary of precious stones" (Yeshayahu 54:12).    Our Sages explain that this description is of Jerusalem.  They relate that Rabbi Yochanan was once teaching his students that in the future Jerusalem would be built of huge diamonds and precious stones. One of those listening mocked him - for where would they find stones of this size? The mocker was later punished for his outburst (Baba Batra 75a).  The Maharal explains that this future Jerusalem will be completely spiritual, just as it was in the past.  It will be a city of Sages, Prophets, King-Philosophers, and earthly angels; and while this seems at first glance to be unrealistic, we will in fact see a great light in her (Netzach Yisrael, chap. 56).

"All your children will be students of Hashem" (ibid. v. 13).  All of the Nation of Israel, in all strands of society, from prophets to sandal-makers, will be full of the knowledge of Hashem.  "And abundant will be your children's peace" (ibid.).  The first proper character trait of a Torah scholar is the knowledge of how to establish peaceful relations with his surroundings.  "Torah scholars increase peace in the world" (Berachot 64a).  When a person is engaged in learning Torah, but his relations with people are improper, he is desecrating Hashem's Name.  In the future, we will be similar to the ladder that Yaakov saw in his dream, which was "firmly on the ground and its top reached towards the heavens" (Bereshit 28:12).  According to the Zohar, this prophetic dream teaches us that along with being able to create an earthly existence based on the love of people, we will reach the highest level of knowledge of Hashem.

"Establish yourself through righteousness, distance yourself from oppression, for you need not fear it" (ibid. v. 14).  We must act with complete righteousness.  The expression "Tzedakah" is from the word "Tzedek"  meaning righteousness, and is it found together with the word "Mishpat" meaning "judgment" (see Yeshayahu 1:27).  This teaches us that kindness towards another person is not optional but an actual obligation, part of one's societal responsibility.  Our great Rabbi, the Rambam, wrote in the Laws of Gifts to the Poor: "We are obligated to be careful with regard to the mitzvah of Tzedakh to a greater extent than all [other] positive commandments, because Tzedakah is an identifying mark for a righteous person, a descendant of Avraham Avinu, as it says: 'I have known him, because he commands his children... to perform Tzedakah'" (Bereshit 18:19).  The throne of Israel will not be established, nor will the true faith stand, except through Tzedakah, as it says: "You shall be established through righteousness" (Yeshayahu 54:14).  And Israel will be redeemed solely through Tzedakah, as it says: "Zion will be redeemed through judgment and those who return to her through Tzedakah" (ibid. 1:27). 

In circumstances such as these, there is a greater degree of Divine Providence, "Any weapons sharpened against you will not succeed, and any tongue that will rise against you in judgment you will condemn, this is the heritage of the servant of Hashem, and their righteousness is from Me, so says Hashem" (ibid. v. 17).  The Rambam teaches us that any nation which tries to exterminate us will fail, whether they fight against us with weapons or as part of a cultural struggle (Igeret Teiman, Mossad Ha-Rav Kook edition, p. 117).

"Anyone who is thirsty, go to the water" (ibid. 55:1).  What type of thirst are we discussing?  "Incline your ear and come to Me, listen and your soul will be revived" (ibid. v. 3).  Regardless of how it appears, the Nation of Israel is not interested merely in pleasure and money. It is thirsty for the word of Hashem.

We should certainly value the progress we have made in the political, economic and security realms, but the Nation of Israel can only be healed of its deep weakness through a spiritual blossoming.  This blossoming will quench its thirst, and will finally allow the Nation to search and locate the true source of its life.