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 ….
Last year we presented one of the Maggid’s interpretations of this passage (link here). We now present another one.
The key idea is that Hashem is the one and only absolute king in the universe. Various nations across the world are ruled by a person who acts as a king, but an earthly, mortal king holds his position as sovereign only because Hashem placed him in this position. An earthly king is merely a tool that Hashem uses to manage the world according to His will, bringing blessing and honor as He wishes to the upright and good, and bringing punishment as He wishes to evildoers. Shlomo HaMelech puts the matter as follows (Mishlei 21:1): “Like streams of water is a king’s heart in Hashem’s hand – to wherever He wishes he directs it.” Consequently, a person who is oppressed by an earthly king should not make the king the target of his complaints, for the king is not the one who decided to cause him suffering, but rather it is Hashem who willed it so. When Hashem decides that a certain person should receive blessing or suffer affliction, He puts into the king’s heart to act accordingly, thus carrying out His will.
A number of verses reflect this principle. One such verse describes Hashem declaring (Yeshayah 10:5): “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger; My wrath is a staff in their hand.” Similarly, the Assyrian king Sancheirev declares (Yeshayah 36:10): “And now, is it without [a directive from] Hashem that I have come up to this land to destroy it? Hashem told me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.’” In the same vein, Hashem declares elsewhere (Yeshayah 44:24-28): “I am Hashem, who has made everything … who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd – he will fulfill all My wishes.’”
Whenever someone brings blessing or misfortune to someone else, both the person who is acting and the person who is being acted upon should understand clearly what is really taking place, and recognize that nothing happens in this world, either for good or for bad, other than what Hashem wills. Thus it is written (Eichah 3:37): “Who [ever] spoke and it came to pass, something that Hashem did not command.” In particular, when a person is being oppressed, it is not his earthly oppressor whom he should fear, but rather Hashem. He should tremble over Hashem’s wrath, which He is channeling through the earthly oppressor, using the oppressor as a tool to mete out retribution according to His will.
In this vein, Yeshayah exclaims (verses 42:18-19): “O deaf ones, listen; and blind ones, gaze to see! Who is blind but My servant, and deaf as My messenger whom I send?” As we know, the term “deaf” is often used to refer to someone who does not understand what he hears, and the term “blind” is often used to refer to someone who does not properly interpret what he sees. We can regard the passage we just quoted as speaking of a situation where one person is causing suffering to another. The “messenger” is the person doing the acting, and the “servant” is the one being acted upon. The person being acted upon fails to see and recognize that Hashem is the true source of the suffering he is experiencing, while the person doing the acting does not understand that Hashem is directing his actions in a deliberately calculated way. Elsewhere, Michah uses the metaphor of hearing to convey a similar message (verse 6:9): “Listen to the rod [of punishment] and [recognize] who directed it.” 
This is the message that Yeshayah is conveying in our haftarah. He asks us: “Why do you fear your mortal oppressor? You perceive the oppressor preparing to exercise force against you and destroy you, and so all day long you fear him. But where is the oppressor’s fury? That is, what is the source of the oppressor’s fury? Think carefully and understand that it is from the One On High that the fury is pouring forth. It is Hashem alone that you should fear. Repent from your wayward conduct and plead to Him for atonement.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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