Every Shabbat, the Torah reading is followed by the haftara, a reading from Nevi’im, which, in general, is related to one of the topics of the parasha. There are exceptions on which the haftara is related to timing, rather than to the content of the parasha. The “three (haftarot) of calamity,” which are read between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, the “seven of consolation,” read on the Shabbatot after the 9th of Av until Rosh Hashanah, and the haftara of Shabbat Teshuva are examples.
We shall deal with the haftara which opens with the words “And Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me,’” taken from the prophecies of Yeshayahu [49:14]
The full prophecy is:
And Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her nursing child, or lack compassion for the child of her womb? Even if these forget, yet I will not forget you. Look, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me. Your sons hurry; those who destroy and devastate you will leave you. Lift your eyes, and look around, they all gather together; they come to you. “As I live”- the Lord’s declaration- “you will wear all of them as jewelry, and put them on as a bride does. For your ruins and desolate places and your Land that has been destroyed – will now be indeed too small for the inhabitants, and those who would destroy you will be far away. The children that you have been deprived of will yet say in your hearing: ‘This place is too small for me; make room for me so that I may settle.’ Then you will say to yourself: ‘Who fathered these for me? I was deprived of my children and barren, exiled and wandering- but who brought them up? Behold, I was left by myself- but these, where did they come from?’” Yeshayahu 49:14-21
We shall note two general rules of studying the prophecies of Tanach:
1) Only prophecies which have a message for generations were committed to writing. Study of prophecies is not historic or documentary study. Study of the haftarot is vivid and contemporarily relevant to Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel), else they would not have been written. In the words of Midrash Zuta [Kohelet 2]: “A prophecy which is necessary for generations was publicized, those which are not needed for generations were not publicized.”
2) The identity of the prophet who delivered the prophecy is of great significance. Firstly, it is necessary to be aware of the time frame of the prophecy, the period of Am Yisrael’s history in which it was said. Secondly, Chazal (our Sages) taught that every prophet had a “designated audience” to whom his prophecies were intended. To illustrate the point, there were prophets whose strength was in supportive talks to the public, others who delivered their message via the media and those who directed their words to the women of Israel. An example is provided by Yalkut Shimoni [Yirmiyahu 262]: “Yirmiyah was one of three prophets who prophesied in the same generation: Yirmiyah, Zephaniah and Chulda the Prophetess. Yirmiyah prophesied in the marketplaces, Zephaniah in the synagogues and Chulda prophesied for the women …” The identity of the prophet can teach much about the prophecy and open a window to understand its content.
As noted, the prophecy we are dealing with was delivered by Yeshayahu, most of whose prophecies are typified by consolation and optimism for Israel’s future following the destruction of Jerusalem. Yeshayahu’s prophecies preceded the destruction of the First Temple by less than a century. Our prophecy is the second of the seven of consolation, which is the haftara of Parashat Eikev.
And Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.”
We have a number of questions concerning this opening of the prophecy:
1) Who is Zion, who says these words?
2) Why is there the repetition: “The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me?”
3) What precipitated the harsh comment of Zion?
We shall first explain Zion’s claim against the Master of the World. Zion (which is Jerusalem) asserts that God has forsaken and forgotten her, two claims which are in ascending order – “forsaking” is a harsh event, the Shechina abandoning Israel, severing the connection between God and His nation. This event is time-limited and becomes the reality of the Beit HaMikdash’s (Temple’s) destruction which Yeshayahu prophesied. “Forgetting,” on the other hand adds a dimension; while forsaking is a momentary event which severs the connection, forgetting is the depth of the severance, on an internal level; as it were, the connection is totally erased and ceases to exist. As such, forgetting is a most severe situation.
Radak explains Zion’s words in a clear and succinct manner:
The posuk (verse) mentions Zion, which is the essence of Israel’s sovereignty, as if the city bemoans her sons who have been exiled from her, for all Israel came to her to serve God.
Undoubtedly, the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash is a severe event for the Am Yisrael and the entire Land. Obviously, the place where the destruction is felt most, both physically and spiritually, is Jerusalem herself. Jerusalem is “the essence of Israel’s sovereignty,” the temporal center of the Land. Even more, she is the Land’s spiritual center, where “all Israel came to serve God.” The cry is one of despair, to which God responds with comforting words, which convey the great, strong, basic and eternal love between Israel and its Father in Heaven.
God’s response is: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or lack compassion for the child of her womb? Even if these forget, yet I will not forget you.” While it is inconceivable that a mother would forget her child, even if this were to happen, God will never forget His nation. As a child was formed in its mother’s womb, so the Creator of the World formed the Am Yisrael – this is the source of the deep and immutable connection between God and His nation.
Chazal elucidate the posuk, teaching:
The Holy One, blessed be He, answered her: “My daughter, I have created twelve constellations in the firmament, and for each constellation I have created thirty hosts, and for each host I have created thirty legions, and for each legion I have created thirty cohorts, and for each cohort I have created thirty maniples (a subdivision of the Roman legions), and for each maniple I have created thirty camps, and to each camp I have attached three hundred and sixty-five thousand myriads of stars, corresponding to the days of the solar year, and all of them I have created only for your sake, and you say ‘You have forgotten me and forsaken me!’ Can a woman forsake her child?” [Berachot 32b]
According to this, God answered Zion that all of His immense creation (the number of stars, according to the Sages’ comment is the astronomical sum of ten to the 18th power) was exclusively for her sake. This being the case, “is it conceivable that I will forget you? See how much I have done for you!” This response is comforting to Zion since it expresses the primal and basic love of God for Israel. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Am Yisrael “Look at all of creation, in which one thing serves another, and ultimately all was created for you.” Is it possible, asks the Master of the World, that I will forget Am Yisrael, when the entire universe was created for you? Forgetting Am Yisrael would be the equivalent of forgetting the entire universe. As we see that God does not forget the universe, so He does not forget Israel.
This prophecy teaches an essential lesson: Am Yisrael cries out in desperation, feeling all is lost, yet God replies, “there is no desperation in the world.” God informs the Israelites that He is with them eternally. Even at times of “hiding the Divine countenance,” God is to be found managing the world. “Even in ‘hiding within hiding’ of the Divine countenance, God is surely to be found,” says Rebbe Nacḥman of Breslov.
This brings us to the great consolation and miracles that Am Yisrael will merit: “Lift your eyes, and look around, they all gather together; they come to you. As I live”- the Lord’s declaration- “you will wear all of them as jewelry and put them on as a bride does” [posuk 17]. At the time of crisis, the Master of the Universe says to Zion “lift your eyes and look around,” leave your desperation, in place of your lowered glance, lift your eyes, raise your head and look around to see that your exiles will be brought back at the time of redemption.
The great miracle of the ingathering of exiles demonstrates God’s over His nation, even at a time of hiding the Divine countenance.
God says, through Isaiah: “So said the Lord God, ‘Behold I will raise My hand to the nations, and to the peoples will I raise My standard, and they shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be borne on their shoulder(s).’” [posuk 22]
This posuk describes a strange reality – it is the nations of the world who will return Zion’s children to her! Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu relates that when the State of Israel was established, the Arab League hatched a plan to destroy the state by allowing Jews from the Arab countries to move to Israel, being certain that the state would be unable to absorb the olim and would collapse. The Arabs “wanted to curse and wound up blessing,” because of this nefarious plan, hundreds of thousands of Jews came to Israel and contributed to establishing and strengthening the state, realizing the vision of Zion. This is God’s message “Lift your eyes and see,” look at how your children return to you, Zion, through God’s providence and in miraculous ways.
The portion of “Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me’” concludes with a great lesson for the Am Yisrael: “Then you will say to yourself: ‘Who fathered these for me? I was deprived of my children and barren, exiled and wandering- but who brought them up? Behold, I was left by myself- but these, where did they come from?’” Am Yisrael, Zion, cannot comprehend all the goodness it has received, the revolution of redemption, and therefore Zion asks, “but these, where did they come from?” Is it possible that all the thousands and myriad who have ascended to the Land are indeed my children? After all, “I was deprived of my children and barren.” Even today to see the process of redemption requires looking through the lens of faith, a deep penetrating look which ascends reality.
We explained the comforting prophecy of Isaiah “And Zion said,” which is the second of the seven haftarot of consolation. We saw that Zion bemoans God’s having abandoned her, but this is a momentary event. Zion complains that God has forgotten her, which indicates a deep disconnection between God and Am Yisrael. Radak explains that it is specifically Zion (Jerusalem) which cries out because the severance of the connection with God is most evident within her because of the temporal importance of the city and her great sanctity.
God responds to Zion that she must not think that He has forgotten her, even for a moment, as a mother never forgets her child. Chazal taught that the entire cosmos, with its billions of billions of stars, was created for the sake of Am Yisrael, and thus it is inconceivable that God would forget His people, since all creation exists on their behalf. God’s answer to Zion conveys that there is no desperation in the world and Am Yisrael must always remain steadfast in its faith in God and belief in its ultimate redemption. God instructs Zion to raise its eyes and observe how her children are returning to her.
We concluded with the prophet’s words indicating how difficult it will for Israel to see and comprehend all the miracles and goodness which it receives from God. From this we learn our great obligation to realize and talk about the great miracles which we merit, and to constantly maintain our faith in God’s providence over us.
May we merit, with God’s help, seeing “Your daily miracles with us,” on the individual and national levels, through the lens of faith, thereby giving thanks and praise to God.
May we be privileged to experience the fulfillment of all the prophecies of consolation, doubled and redoubled, and to connect to God with bonds of love which will never be broken. May we lift our eyes and see how all Jews have been gathered and returned to the Land of God. Amen