Friday, December 06, 2019

Parshat Ekev

This week’s haftarah, the second in the series of seven haftarot of consolation that follow Tisha B’Av (“sheva d’nechemta”), is taken from Sefer Yeshayahu (as are all of these haftarot of comfort), a selection from the 49th and 50th prakim of the book. In it, the navi attempts to comfort a suffering people who believe that the destruction of the Beit Mikdash and their subsequent exile was proof that Hashem had given up on them and had, therefore, abandoned them. Yeshayahu responds immediately with one of the most moving portrayals of Hashem’s love of Israel: “Hatishkach isha oolah meirachem ben bitnah? Can a woman forget her baby or not feel compassion for her child?” These startling words describe in simple yet powerful terms God’s everlasting love for His chosen nation. The navi teaches this people what Shlomo Hamelech expressed in Sefer Mishlei (3:12): “Ki et asher yohav Hashem yochiach,” for those whom Hashem loves, He reprimands. Punishment does not mean rejection; exile does not mean abandonment.

Yeshayahu then defines the future redemption not as great wealth or national power but as a return to the land. In but a few verses the navi paints the picture of the future generations returning to Eretz Yisrael from all corners of the earth—an ingathering so remarkable that we will wonder from where these multitudes came, as we regarded ourselves as being alone, deserted and abandoned. To which Hashem responds, it will be the other nations and their leaders who will send our people back to the land. As to the land itself, our haftarah closes with the prophet’s words: “vayasem midbara k’eden,” that God will comfort Zion and make her desert like the Garden of Eden (or, more correctly, “the Garden IN Eden.”

Harav Yaakov Medan, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Hesder Har Etzion, suggested that “Eden” is used at times as a synonym for Eretz Yisrael, the real “Gan Eden.” He points out that the borders of Gan Eden as provided in the story of creation can be understood as the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael as well, as the four rivers that are mentioned in Bereishit may very well be identical to the bodies of water that encompass Eretz Yisrael. Similarly, he explains, the usage of the term HA’aretz in the opening pesukim of Bereishit echoes with implications of the land, often used to refer to Eretz Yisrael, an approach that helps us understand the first comment of Rashi, i.e., that the story of creation (Hashem created HA’aretz) was meant to undermine the argument of those who claim that Israel had “stolen” HA’aretz, Eretz Yisrael.

But perhaps most powerfully, when Adam HaRishon sinned he was exiled from Eden, just as the Jewish nation was as a result of their sins. Yeshayahu drives home a message to the nation that would be exiled: you have been exiled for your sins, as Adam was, but you have not been abandoned, as Adam was not. And that carries another message as well: redemption is when you return to HA’aretz. When the land that was barren, that was a midbar, will become Eden.

For, ultimately, we do return to Gan Eden when we return to HA’aretz.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler

Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.