Haftaras Devarim/Chazon

In this week’s haftarah, Yeshayah conveys the following Divine complaint (Yeshayah 1:11-12):  “‘For what do I need your many offerings?’ says Hashem. … ‘When you come to appear before Me – who asked this of you, to trample My courtyards?’” This apparent disdain for offerings calls for explanation, since a large portion of the Torah that Hashem gave us – including the bulk of Vayikra – is devoted to the Temple service and the laws of offerings. Also, the phrasing at the end of the passage is puzzling. It could have been written simply: “Who asked you to trample My courtyards?” What is the import of the added word this?
The Maggid explains with a sharp parable. A general goods dealer noticed that a certain man in his town made a lot of purchases, in cash, from other dealers, but never bought anything from him. So he courted the man with a slick speech: “My dear friend, why don’t you stick by me as your father did? Your father always hung around my house. He was my bosom buddy, and we stuck together all the time. Why is it that you never even come to visit me?” His sole intent was to induce this man to buy only from him, as a good friend would do.
However, the man did not catch on to the dealer’s intent; he took the dealer’s words at face value. And so, from that day on, he made it a habit to visit the dealer’s house every day, and would idly putter around there for an hour or two. It grated on the dealer’s nerves. After some time, the man needed to make some purchases, and he went to the dealers that he usually bought from. The dealer was incensed, and he berated the man: “You idiot! Why do you think I invited you to visit me? To piddle around with silly games? You should have seen that the reason I wanted to make you a regular guest was to get you to buy everything you need from me. But instead you come over here just to pass the time with idle nonsense. You have made yourself a nuisance. What do I need you here for?”
Similarly, in Yeshayah’s prophecy, Hashem is telling us: “When I told you to go up to Jerusalem, My intent was that the pilgrimage would lead you to love and fear Me truly. By making you a regular guest, I hoped – so to speak – to profit by having you ‘buy’ My Torah and mitzvos. As I taught you (Yeshayah 2:3): ‘For from Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.’ But you show no interest in Torah and mitzvos. Who asked you to act like this – to come here and just trample My courtyards?”
The same idea, the Maggid says, underlies the rebuke in Yeshayah 58:5-7 regarding the Yom Kippur fast. Hashem is not interested in the physical affliction of a fast as an end in itself. Rather, the purpose of fasting is to stir us to strengthen our fear of Hashem and our dedication to Torah and mitzvos.
In summary, our pilgrimages, offerings, and fasts are off the mark if we fail to make the spiritual improvement that is their ultimate goal. But if we do make the intended improvement, then we receive reward both for the improvement itself and for all the effort we put forward – including the fasts, pilgrimages, and offerings – in the process of making it.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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