Although our haftarah portion is found in the Book of Isaiah, it is unlikely that it was written by the Prophet Isaiah. Most scholars agree that the Book of Isaiah contains the work of two authors - the Prophet Isaiah who lived in the eighth century B.C.E., and a nameless prophet, known only as the Second Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah, who lived two hundred years later, during the Babylonian exile. This week's portion is considered to be the work of the Second Isaiah.
From Torah to Haftarah: Making the Connection
This week's Torah portion contains a mixture of seventy-two commandments, including mitzvot related to marriage and divorce. In the haftarah portion, Israel's exiles are portrayed as a divorced woman and God is portrayed as her husband. This is also the fifth haftarah of the sheva de-nechamta, the seven haftarot of consolation, following Tisha b'Av. It focuses on the theme of consolation.
The Eternal calls you "wife" again, O [once] abandoned and brokenhearted; once rejected, says your God, but a young wife still. For a brief moment I forsook you; with abiding love I take you back." (Isaiah 54:6-7)
After a long period of exile in Babylonia, the Israelites felt as if God had abandoned them. The Second Isaiah makes known that God still loves them and will take them back like a husband taking back his divorced wife.
Metaphors for God that are drawn from human experiences help us understand God more easily. The relationship between God and Israel is often described in marital terms in the Tanach. God is depicted as the husband and Israel as the wife. "When Israel observes the terms of marriage by doing God's will, the relationship is spoken of as one of love and affection. But when Israel breaks the covenant, God is said to have divorced Israel." (Plaut, The Haftarah Commentary, p.486)
It was the Prophet Hosea who first introduced the husband/wife metaphor for the God/Israel relationship. In the Book of Hosea, the text repeatedly alternates between the story of Hosea and his faithless wife and that of God and his faithless people, between reflections on the acts of betrayal and hopes for a future reconciliation.
This metaphor may have had more meaning in biblical times when husbands were free to divorce their partners at will since marriage was not seen as a relationship of equals. Nowadays, a marriage is considered a partnership - an agreement or covenant between equal partners. Nevertheless, there is one aspect of the metaphor that remains true, even in our times. For a marriage to succeed, love and trust must be nurtured constantly.
A metaphor is a way of describing something or someone in terms that are not meant to be taken literally. Do you think that the metaphor of God as the husband and Israel as the wife is a good one? Why or why not? Think of another metaphor that you would use to describe your relationship with God.
Think back to the messages of some of the other prophets who chastised and berated the Israelites for their behavior while they were still living in Judah. They warned the people that God was displeased by their corrupt and self-centered conduct. The people refused to listen to the prophets and refused to change. Do you think that God was justified in God's actions toward the people? Why or why not?
God tells the people that "for a brief moment I forsook you; with abiding love I take you back." What do you think accounted for God's change of attitude? Why do you think God decided to forgive the people?
In the story of Noah, God promised never again to cover the earth with waters. In this haftarah , God promises never again to be angry or rebuke the Israelites. Compare God's punishment in the Noah story to the punishment of the Babylonian exiles. What can we learn about God from these events? How are they different? How are they similar?
Taking a Stand
During the seven weeks following Tisha b'Av, the haftarot focus on messages of consolation or comfort. There are many people in our society whose lives are difficult and who are in need of comfort. Talk with your family about who some of these people might be. Try to think of ways in which you could offer them some comfort - and then go and do it. After all, you are God's partners!