11 Aug 2017

Haftara for Ekeb 5777 : Lifeline

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Haftara for Ekeb 5777 : Lifeline

‘All human wisdom is summed up in two words; wait and hope.

— Alexandre Dumas

 Isaiah 49:14-51:3


 For seven weeks after the ninth of Ab we read haftarot that focus on consolation. These are called the Shiv’a DeNahamuta and do not directly coincide with the parasha of the week. This is the second of seven. 

In this prophecy of hope from Yishaya, the return of the nation of Israel to the barren and forlorn land of their forefathers is foretold. The land itself is described as a woman and mother. God speaks to her of her children, how He could never forget them (49:15-16), and that they are engraved upon the palm of His hand. He promises that He will bring them back and that she will be adorned with her children like jewels (50:18). She will wonder where they have all come from and they will complain due to their multitudes that there is little room. A land that was barren will be filled again with her nation (20-21). It was a prophecy that for thousands of years, a Jew could only imagine in his wildest dreams. Today it is a reality. 

The haftara ends imploring us to remember the quarry from which we were extracted…Abraham. He was but one soul, and from him, a nation like him, who has dedicated itself to loving God, emerged. 


In a well-known painting, George Frederic Watts (1817-1904) depicts Hope[1] as a woman sitting atop the globe in tatters. She is blindfolded and holding a lyre with all but one of its golden strings cut. With that one string intact she plays and in that string, hope lives.

Rabbi Moshe Hayim Luzzatto (1707-1746), Ramhal, had a particular affinity for writing about hope. In his Essay on Hope[2], he highlights that the Hebrew word for it is תקוה – tikva, which comes from the root קו – kav literally, a line. Hope, he says, is the line that we extend from our souls to connect with the line of life that comes from God to Creation. This, to me, is represented in the one golden string on Watts’ lyre. 

‘Hope is the line that pierces and breaks through, rising directly to God’. (RMHL, Essay on Tikvah)

Ramhal also wrote 515 prayers in which he detailed hope’s various facets[3]. Each of his prayers begins with the Hebrew words ‘El Ehad Yahid umYuhad – To the Lord Who is one, singular and unique’ and ends with the words ‘Lishuatekha kiviti Adonai – I have hoped for your salvation, my Lord’. These verses convey the concept that since God is the one, sole source of being, He is also the sole source from which hope and salvation can come. All is ultimately rooted in His will, and His will always prevails [4].

The Divine line of life of which Ramhal speaks runs consistently amidst a sea of despair and extends from the dawn of time to its end — and from the depths of Hell to the Heavens.

One who hopes, even if he enters Hell he will depart from it. (ibid.)

Upon that line all hope and salvation is born.

Yet hope is difficult to keep. It asks us for our deepest faith in our most distressing times. It orders us to be sure that bleak situations will improve and be rectified and that the darkness will yield to the light. But whether or not the light and rectification intersects with our lives greatly depends on our capacity to have hope.

If our hope is to be genuine, it must be tied to God. These beliefs; that good will vanquish evil, that wisdom will overcome ignorance, that virtue will replace corruption, and that our world is one of meaning and purpose, are the life-blood of hope. None of this can be realistic and worth holding on to if not for God Who subsumes, powers and wills it. To think otherwise, even momentarily, is to see the world, along with our own lives, as the stuff of meaningless chaos. From where, after all, would the meaning come?

To be sure, in chaos there can be positive moments, and thus one can choose to be an optimist and look forward to the random positive events. But we must not mistake optimism for hope.

Nietzsche understood the difference when he severed the divine line that connected God to humanity. He followed through with honest conclusions, rightfully saying that ‘Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man’.

Nietzsche knew that hope was not synonymous with optimism. Hope went deeper and drew from a reality that is conscious and that moves towards goodness and light. Hope does not just look forward to better days; it banks on them. It promises that there is a story and direction to the universe that our lives are ever poised to become part of; that God has planned for it and will faithfully bring it about.

This awareness allows for a conscious human being to know that even in darkness and trouble, times will change and God will bring the world fully into itself. He will never forsake His cause. Yishaya speaks to us in the haftara from this firm platform. 

Can a woman forget her baby, or disown the child of her womb? Though she might forget, I never could forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands, your structures are ever before Me. (49:15-16) 

There is a colloquialism used in Britain for one who is missing the ability to understand or cope with situations at hand. They are said to have ‘lost the plot’. They are, in essence, lost within the story of their lives, or worse, they become unaware that there is a story to follow at all. This haftara brings us back to the plot and reminds all of us what our narrative is about; that we are children of Abraham and Sarah and that we are the trustees of a covenant of love with God and partners with Him in Creation. 

Listen to Me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek God: Look to the rock you were hewn from, to the quarry you were dug from.

Look back to Abraham your father and to Sarah who brought you forth. (51:1-2)

In our national song of hope the Hatikva (of which we only sing one stanza of ten, from the original[5]), we sing of the two-thousand year old yearning that lies in the heart of every Jew. Astonishingly we have seen part of the hope of which Yishaya speaks in this haftara come to fruition. We live its truth daily. The full breadth of his prophecy will continue to manifest, and we must not be ashamed to know it and hope for it.

And you shall know that I am God — Those who hope in Me shall not be shamed. (50:23)

How do we hold on to hope? We seek and connect to that divine, golden line that runs through all of time. We learn to identify it in the eyes and hearts of people, in the unfolding of events, in history, in future, in achievement and in glory. Abraham saw it upon discovering God and committed to following it in mutual covenant. It is upon that line of hope that Israel has survived through millennia and it is upon that hope that we faithfully continue.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hope_(painting)

[2] https://ramhal.net/?p=6455  – מאמר הקווי

[3] ספר תקט״ו תפלות – Based on the tradition that Moshe prayed 515 (Gematria of ואתחנן) prayers before God requesting entry into Canaan.

[4] ׳עצת יי היא תקום׳ – משלי יט:כא

[5] https://he.wikisource.org/wiki/%D7%AA%D7%A7%D7%95%D7%95%D7%AA%D7%A0%D7%95


Parsha Perpsectives

III  Ekev

7a  The blessings of obedience  (7:12-16)

7b  Israel’s struggle with nations of Cana’an  (7:17-26)

8    Remember lessons of the wilderness  (8:1-18)

9    If you forget He will destroy you  (8:19-20)

10  Warning against self-righteousness  (9:1-29)

11  Results of Moshe’s intercession after the sin of the

Golden Calf  (10:1-11)

12a  Love and obedience due to God’s historic help


12b  Contrast of Cana’an and Egypt  (11:10-12)

12c  A productive Land is contingent on obersving the

mitzvot (2nd paragraph of the Shema)  (11:13-21)

12d  Keep mitzvot, increase borders  (11:22-25)

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