Haftaras Shoftim

This week’s haftarah begins as follows (Yeshayah 51:12-15):
I, yea I, am the One who comforts you. Who are you, that you are afraid of mortal man, of a son of man who will be made to be like grass – and have forgotten Hashem your Maker, who stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth, and fear continually all day long because of the oppressor’s fury, as he prepares to destroy – and where is the oppressor’s fury? … I am Hashem, your God ….
The Maggid offers several explanations of this passage. Here we present one of them, which is based on a parable. A king got angry at his son and banished him from his palace and his capital city. The lad went wandering, begging for bread. Eventually, out of force of need, he knocked on the door of a lowly villager, hoping that he would at least find there a place to lodge. The villager heard him and let him in. He noticed that the lad was handsome, with a face that radiated with wisdom. So he had pity on him and took him into his household, to work as a servant. Several years passed, and the lad forgot his people and his father’s house, and did peasant work as if he were a servant from birth. After some time, the villager died, and the lad began working for his son. The son was a scoundrel, and afflicted the lad with crushing toil. The lad grew very bitter and wished he were dead.
Meantime, the king began to feel anguish over his son, for he had not heard anything from him for some years, and he had no idea where he was or what was happening with him. He decided to take a tour through his kingdom to try to find him. At each place he visited, he had one of his ministers announce that any man who had a claim against his neighbor or any servant who had a claim against his master could bring his claim before him. Each time, a number of servants would approach the king with various requests. On one occasion, the prince was one of the petitioners. He came to complain against his master, and he did not recognize his father. He cried and pleaded: “Please have pity on me, for I am a servant to a very evil and cruel master. When his father was alive, he supplied my needs, giving me proper food and drink. But from the day the old man died, I have known no peace – I am weary with groaning.” When the king saw his precious son and heard his complaint, he fell upon his neck, kissed him, and began to cry bitterly. He exclaimed: “My son, my son! How could you have forgotten your glory? How could you have forgotten that you were in line to be king, and that when you were in my house all the ministers would bow down before you? Now you have fallen astoundingly. You have forgotten all your glory, and you seek only to gain this villager’s favor, to get him to lighten your burden and give you more food.”
The parallel is clear. We have forgotten our special position and distinguished lineage.  As Yeshayah puts it (verse 63:19): “We have become as if You never ruled over [us], as if Your Name had not been called upon [us].” As the enemy draws his arrows to destroy us, we cry out to Hashem saying: “Please save us, and relieve us from the bitterness of death!” And thus, in our haftarah, Yeshayah exclaims in wonder: “Who are you, pleading and groaning like this? How could you have forgotten who you are, and grown unaware of your lofty stature? Now, on the contrary, you are afraid of mortal man. You have forgotten Hashem your Maker. You fear continually all day long because of the oppressor’s fury, as he prepares to destroy. Why didn’t you ask your Father to take you back into His house, and grant you eternal deliverance?”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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