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Young Israel of Plainview

Parshat Shoftim
The Prophecy Project Consolation... Again
The Prophet Isaiah dominates the Seven Prophecies of consolation. His optimism and vivid visions of the future mark him as most qualified to console his people. Indeed, while historically Isaiah lived during a period of relative prosperity, and blessed with a functioning Temple, his concluding prophecies speak to the heart of an exiled nation. Indeed, this has led some to posit, that Isaiah’s second half was in actuality written by a Second Isaiah who spoke during the exile. Traditional interpreters, however, note the power of prophecy to speak even to generations in the future. The unparalleled failures of the generation of King Menashe, who dragged his people into one of the worst cesspools of idolatry in our history, prompted Isaiah to recognize an encroaching exile and a need to encourage and inspire the returning refugees. What is perhaps most impressive is his faith not only in God’s punishment, but the ultimate reward and return. Our Haftorah (Isaiah 51) opens with a striking declaration: “I, none other than I, am the one who consoles you...” (v. 12). The repeating opening reminds us of the first of our seven Haftarot which declared “be consoled, be consoled my people.” Repetition represents a powerful poetic technique. God, as it were, reaches out from the heavens and takes personal responsibility for the consolation of His people. Just as He meted out the punishment, so too He will stretch out the hand of assistance. Interestingly, the repetition of the opening statement, ignites a chain of repetitions: “awake, awake” (17), “arise, arise” (52:1). While the lingering sounds speak to the intensity of God’s involvement, they speak as well to the experience and state of mind of His people. They are people so downtrodden, so long-suffered that they have difficulty hearing, or perhaps believing that salvation has come. The intensity of God’s speech responds to the disbelieving state of the exiled. Indeed, the repetition speaks to God’s immense care, but so too the deep wounds of the consoled. Exile maintains a power to stamp upon the refugees a feeling of eternal abandonment. I wonder if it was not the insistent repetition of these haftorot by our ancestors, amidst unimaginable suffering of exile that allowed them to turn from destruction and continue to build. Repeating the repeated words of God inoculated them against despair and inspired the internal fortitude to take hold of their destiny when the opportunity arose. It’s true we have not yet gained full redemption. Nevertheless, let us internalize the echoing calls of God. Each time we read these words, we empower ourselves toward redemption.