27 Oct 2016

Haftara for Bereshit 5777: Blind Spots

This week’s insights are dedicated Le’Iluy Nishmat Shmuel Simcha Bunim Ben Eliyohu Dovid

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Haftara for Bereshit 5777: Blind Spots


The prophecies of Yishaya are unique in that he was the only prophet who did not try to avoid the responsibility of being a prophet. He volunteered without first being formally charged by God: “I heard the voice of God saying, ‘Whom shall we send? Who will go for us?’  And I said, ‘Here I am; send me!’’’. (Is., 6:8) For this reason our Hakhamim say that Yishaya was given the prophecies of blessings and consolation as well as those of rebuke. These prophecies of comfort are known as ‘Nehamot Yishaya’ /The consolations of Yishaya.

Our haftara is chosen because Yishaya speaks on behalf of God as Creator of the World, which reflects His role in this weeks parasha: ‘Thus says the Lord God Who created the heavens and expanded them, Who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, Who gave breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk upon it’. (42:5)

The prophecy continues to speak of the nation of Israel as ‘A people of covenant, a light for the nations’.

The theme of this prophecy speaks of God’s commitment to the triumph of sight over blindness: ‘Opening eyes deprived of light…from the dungeon of those who sit in darkness…I will lead the blind by a road they did not know…I will turn darkness before them to light…these are the promises, I will keep them without fail!’[2]

God’s message to the people through Yishaya is one of great hope. He is speaking to those who yearn to discover and see reality, and through it connect to its Creator. God here promises those people that the He will ensure that their endeavours and struggles to know truth will not be in vain….


 ‘I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore…finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me’.

— Sir Isaac Newton

 Torah teaches us that to uncover reality is to see using the primal Light of Creation.

      And God said: ‘Let there be Light!’

      And there was Light. (Gen., 1:3)

      With the Light created by the Holy One on the first day —
a person could see from one end of the universe to the other.[3]

Discovering any element of truth is a double edged sword. It is often thrilling and uplifting because we access information and concepts about our world that are new and helpful to us, of which we were once unaware. But there is a difficult derivative that comes with every discovery; enlightenment also reveals to us what we do not know.

Knowing that realities lie undiscovered before us creates a sense of anguish and frustration. It can make us feel insecure and uneasy knowing that we can be mistaken about the nature of this life, and that we must admit that there are blind spots in our vision of the world. This, perhaps is one understanding of King Solomon’s claim that ‘One who adds knowledge adds pain’[4].

Admitting having these blind spots is a prerequisite for attaining true wisdom and understanding. The foundation of knowledge is having the humility to know that one does not know. We recognise this in greats like Newton when he claims that, even with his great discoveries of the laws of optics, motion, and gravity, he was ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’[5]

Maimonides admitted to his own blind spots in the 12th century concerning his then expert vision of medicine:

      May God be my witness that I know for certain about myself that I, too, am
among those who are deficient in this art, who stand in awe of it, and who find it
difficult to achieve its goal.[6]

The alternative to such humility is, of course, hubris from which we deny deficiency of vision by supplanting it with mediocre scholarship and fraudulent explanations. The great ones know that they are blind to aspects of truth and readily admit it. It is to these people that Yishaya speaks in our haftara. They are not chastised for not seeing, but praised for knowing that their vision is limited.

Who is blind as My servant,

      So deaf as the messenger I send?

      Who is so blind as the perfected one,

      So blind as the servant of God? (42:19)

As Rabbi Meir Leibish ‘Malbim’ (d.1879) indicates in his commentary on this chapter[7], only those who strive to see can be called blind. People who succumb to illusion and have no propensity for real sight cannot be seen as lacking it.

This prophecy of Yishaya is not a rebuke but an encouragement to those throughout history who have set the pursuit of truth as their highest goal and have risked everything to uncover even the most minimal but precious elements of Creation. Here God assures them that their yearning to see and their struggles through the darkness will be rewarded. Although He has been ‘silent for some time; kept still and self-restrained’[8] He will ‘lead the blind by a road they did not know’[9] and ‘drive back all those who trust in an idolatrous image’[10].

From our founding father Abraham to this day the Jewish people have held the mantle of wisdom high; they have celebrated questioning, and toiled to uncover truth. This haftara is a poem of inspiration and strength dedicated to the nation that entered into covenant with Him in order to cultivate and celebrate Creation. We know that we are blind because of our incessant struggle to see, and we’ve avoided accepting mirage as reality.

Those who are committed to this struggle and who, in humility, accept what they do not know, are the faithful bearers of wisdom and understanding. They know that with each precious revelation of the light of reality we become more familiar with the face of God.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck

 [1] Ashkenazim continue the reading to 43:10.

[2] 42:7,16.

[3] Hagiga, 12a

[4] Kohelet, 1:18

[5] In a letter to Robert Hooke, 15 February 1676. Facsimile of original can be viewed here: http://digitallibrary.hsp.org/index.php/Detail/Object/Show/object_id/9285

[6] On Asthma, p.95

[7] 42:19

[8] 42:14

[9] 42:16

[10] 42:17


Parasha Perspectives

I     Bereshit

1    Day One – Creation of Light and Dark (1:1-5)
2    Day Two – Upper and Lower waters (1:6-8)
3    Day Three – Land and Sea (1:9-13)
4    Day Four – Sun, Moon and Stars (1:14-19)
5    Day Five – Birds and Sea creatures (1:20-23)
6    Day Six – Animals and Man (1:24-31)
7    Day Seven – God finishes and rests (2:1-3)
8a  Life in Eden (2:4-3:15)
Eden (2:1-17), Woman (2:18-24),
Serpent, Tree of Life, sin, punishment (2:25-3:15)
8b  Punishment of Woman (3:16)
8c  Punishment of Man (3:17-21)
9a  Kicked out of Eden (3:22-24)
9b  Story of Qayin and Hevel (4:1-26)
9c  Generations: Adam to Shet (5:1-5)
9d  From Shet to Enosh (5:6-8)
9e  From Enosh to Kenan (5:9-11)
9f   From Kenan to Mehalalel (5:12-14)
9g  From Mahalalel to Yered (5:15-17)
9h  From Yered to Chanoch (5:18-20)
9i   From Chanoch to Metushelach (5:21-24)
9j   From Metushelach to Lemech (5:25-27)
9k  From Lemech to Noach (5:28-31)
9l   Sons of Noach (5:32-6:4)
10  God regrets creation. But… (6:5-8)

Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS