Haftaras Vayikra

This week’s haftarah concludes with the following passage (Yeshayah 41:14-16):
“Fear not, O worm-like Yaakov, O hosts of Yisrael – I am your helper,” says Hashem, “and your redeemer, the Holy One of Yisrael. Behold, I have made you like a threshing sledge, with freshly-sharpened teeth – you shall thresh mountains and grind them down fine, and you shall turn hills into chaff. You shall cast them up, and a wind shall carry them, and a storm shall scatter them, and you will rejoice in Hashem – in the Holy One of Yisrael you will glory.
The Maggid discusses this passage in his commentary on Eichah 3:39-41. He explains the comparison of the Jewish People to a worm as follows. The worm’s source of strength is its mouth. The worm’s mouth enables it to take on mighty mountains and grind them down finely. Similarly, the Jewish People’s source of power is their mouths – through prayer. [Yalkut Shimoni, Nach 450, expounding on our passage, makes this point.] The Jewish People’s prayers can stand up to anything that rises against them. Their prayers can push aside whatever stands in their way more effectively than any weapon of combat.
The Maggid then considers why Yeshayah compares the Jewish People specifically to a worm, and not to one of the predatory creatures, whose strength also is the mouth. There is a key difference between the worm and other species, which points to an important idea. With other species, an individual animal has the power to accomplish its goal even when it is alone, with no fellow creature helping out. Not so with the worm: an individual worm can do nothing. The worm manifests its great strength only when mounds of worms gather together. When many worms work in concert, no mountain can stand up against them, and their strength is incalculable. This idea is reflected in the Midrash in Tanchuma Nitzavim 1. The Midrash says that individually we are like sticks, thin and weak, but when we are gathered into a single bundle, then we are strong.
The Maggid then discusses the question of how we can gather ourselves together when we are scattered across all corners of the globe and cast about to all ends of the earth. The answer is that the matter does not depend on physical proximity, but rather on kindredness of spirit. We must all set our sights on a single target, and focus our efforts on a common appeal that concerns all of us together. As Yirmiyahu declares (verses 50:4-5): “‘In those days and in that time,’ says Hashem,’ the Children of Yisrael and the Children of Yehudah shall come together, going on their way with weeping, and they shall seek Hashem their God. They shall ask for Zion .…’” We can join forces even when we are scattered, some here and some there. Kindredness of spirit is our salvation.
If each person asks God only for what he individually lacks, and pleads for relief only from his own troubles, then our prospects will be limited. Because our entreaties are scattered and isolated, salvation will tend to elude us. But it is just the opposite when we turn to God together, with hearts in hand, as a unified contingent.
The Maggid brings out the point with an analogy. Suppose a fire breaks out in a certain house. If everyone in town puts aside his own concerns and all work together to put out the fire at its source, they will succeed. The fire will be extinguished quickly and easily; no one will have anything to fear. But this is not so if everyone busies himself with clearing his possessions out of his house and trying to guard them from the fire. Then everyone is at risk of a conflagration. Because people did not take steps to help put out the fire, the blaze will grow and consume all that surrounds it. Each individual’s efforts to protect his own self and possessions will be of no avail in the face of the ever-increasing blaze.
The parallel is as follows. Our current state of devastation, with the Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple) gone and Zion desolate, is like the source-point of a fire. It sets the hand of judgment against us, threatening us with all sorts of calamities. We must therefore take action – by means of prayer – to put out the fire. If we do not, we bear the blame for the damage. As our Sages put it (Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1):  “Each generation in whose time the Beis HaMikdash is not rebuilt is regarded by Scripture as having destroyed it.” A verse in Tehillim expresses the plea that we should make (Tehillim 14:7, 53:7): “If only Yisrael's salvation would come forth from Zion!” The end of the verse describes the outcome we can look forward to: “When Hashem returns the contingent of His people in captivity, then Yaakov shall jubilate and Yisrael shall rejoice.” If each of us concerns himself only with his own troubles, then the exile will stretch on longer and longer, God forbid. But if we all direct our attention to the source of the fire, then the fire will be put out once and for all, and we will gain relief.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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