Haftaras Haazinu

In years like the present one, when there is a Shabbos between Yom Kippur and Sukkos, parashas Haazinu is read on this Shabbos, and the haftarah is the song David HaMelech composed to praise Hashem for delivering him from his enemies (Shmuel Beis 22, also appearing, with a few slight differences, as Tehillim 18). David HaMelech declares (Shmuel Beis 22:36): “You have given me the shield of Your salvation, and Your humility has made me great.” The version in Tehillim 18:36 contains an additional phrase; after the word salvation it is written, “Your right hand supported me.” The Midrash remarks (Bereishis Rabbah 48:1):
You have given me the shield of Your salvation – this relates to Avraham. Your right hand supported me – in the fiery furnace, in the period of famine, and in the war against the kings. And Your humility has made me great. What great humility did the Holy One Blessed Be He show Avraham? He [Avraham] was sitting, and the Divine Presence was standing. Thus it is written (Bereishis 18:1): “And Hashem appeared to him in the plains of Mamre, while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day.”
In his commentary on parashas Vayeira in Ohel Yaakov, the Maggid expounds on this Midrash. He builds on two other Midrashim. The first of these relates to Hashem’s discussion with Avraham after the war against the four kings, Hashem tells Avraham (Bereishis 15:1): “Do not fear, Avram, I am a shield for you – your reward is very great.” The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 44:4):
Avraham was afraid, for he thought: “I went into the fiery furnace [of Nimrod] and I was saved; I went to war against the four kings and was saved. Perhaps I have received my reward in this world, and I have nothing left for the world to come.” Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: “Do not fear – I am a shield (מָגֵן) for you. All that I did with you in this world … was gratis (מַגָן), and you have great reward in store for you in the world to come.”
The second Midrash, in Devarim Rabbah 4:3, discusses a fundamental change in how Hashem relates to us that occurred at the revelation at Sinai. The Midrash states:
It is written (Eichah 3:38, homiletically): “From the mouth of the Most High One comes neither the evil nor the good.” Rather, they come automatically. Evil comes upon those who do evil, and good comes upon those who do good.
Before the giving of the Torah, we were like a young boy living at home with his father taking care of all his needs. After the giving of the Torah, we were like a person entering adulthood, who, with some initial funds from his father, sets out to earn his own living. We became responsible for our own fortune. We no longer acquire blessing as a free gift from Hashem; rather, for the most part, we acquire it “automatically,” as a result of the good deeds we perform. There are occasions, however, when Hashem performs great miracles for us as a pure kindness – just as a father, even after giving his son money to make a start in business, occasionally gives him extra money in times of special need, such as when he is buying a house, or marrying off a son or daughter, or suffering a serious illness.
Over the course of his life, Avraham went through various crises, and Hashem performed miracles to save him. Avraham was afraid that all his merits had thereby been depleted. Hashem therefore assured him: “Do not fear – I am a shield (מָגֵן) for you.” We can understand Hashem’s statement on a literal level: that Hashem acted as a shield from Avraham to protect him from being struck down – and this is why, as the Midrash states, He granted Avraham a miraculous salvation at these times as a free gift (מַגָן).
The Midrash we began with is along the same lines. It portrays Hashem’s dealings with Avraham in terms of the following verse: “You have given me the shield of Your salvation; Your right hand supported me, and Your humility has made me great.” After Hashem appeared to him and granted him a special opportunity to behold the light of His countenance, Avraham broke out in an exclamation of thanks to Hashem for the great kindness He showed him. You have given me the shield (מָגֵן) of your salvation – here, we can interpret מָגֵן as an allusion toמַגָן (gratis), as in the other Midrash about Avraham presented above. Your right hand supported me – Avraham is saying that, through the various crises, Hashem saved him as an act of kindness, symbolized by the right hand, without deducting from his merits. Your humility has made me great – here Avraham speaks of the great humility Hashem showed him by favoring him with a special visit from the Divine Presence when he was recovering from his bris milah, with Divine Presence standing while he sat. Being granted this awesome privilege brought home to Avraham that, indeed, his merits had not been depleted due to the miracles Hashem had performed for him – that Hashem had indeed granted him these miracles as a free gift, and his accumulation of merits remained fully intact.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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