Beginning in August, we get a weekly dose of 2nd Isaiah in our Haftarah readings, bringing us right to Rosh HaShana. The prophet Isaiah (actually ‘Second Isaiah,’ writing just as the exile was ending, appended to the first) offers messages of hope and comfort in the haftarot for these final weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah.
This first week, Isaiah calls to the exiled Israelites: שְׂאִֽי־סָבִ֤יב עֵינַ֙יִךְ֙ – lift up your eyes and see – all are coming to gather around you!וּרְאִ֔י כֻּלָּ֖ם נִקְבְּצ֣וּ בָֽאוּ־לָ֑ךְ
When we’re feeling overwhelmed with life, we naturally look down and miss seeing what’s right there. Isaiah reminds us to look up and see, to take in the fuller view, to broaden our perspective, to take note of the goodness and strength that is there waiting for our attention.
This week, though though we may now be עֲנִיָּ֥ה סֹעֲרָ֖ה לֹ֣א נֻחָ֑מָה (afflicted, storm-tossed, un-comforted ), soon enough our fortunes will reverse, and our foundations shall be of sapphires.
Famously, וְכָל־בָּנַ֖יִךְ לִמּוּדֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה וְרַ֖ב שְׁל֥וֹם בָּנָֽיִךְ — all your children will be knowledgeable about the One; and great shall be the peace of your children (54:13). A classic midrash changes the final word’s vowels (from banecha to bonayich), rendering Isaiah’s promise as “great shall be the peace of your builders” — for indeed, it is our children who build us up, who build our legacy.
The next line (54:14) is the greatest promise of all: בִּצְדָקָ֖ה תִּכּוֹנָ֑נִי — “through righteousness, you shall be established.” Indeed, our actions make a critical difference. That’s why, following teshuvah (repentance) and tefillah (prayer), the final thing that tempers the High Holy Days’ “severe decree” is our tzedakah (righteousness). How righteous are we now — and how much more just and generous can we become — as the new year beckons?
This Shabbat, midway from Tisha B’Av to Rosh Hashanah, with the fourth of seven haftarot of consolation. This week, Second Isaiah too echoes Rav Kook: “Uri Uri — awaken, arise! — clothe yourself in strength, O Zion… Hit’na’ari me’afar; kumi — shake off the dust; Rise Up!” These adjacent verses (52:1-2) become the core of two separate stanzas of the famous Sabbath hymn, Lecha Dodi.
And another great folk song, a timeless poem of salvation (and popular classical Israeli dance!) comes from our passage too, at Isaiah 52:7 — Ma navu al he’harim raglei m’va’ser: mashmiya shalom…mashmiya y’shuah. “How beautiful, upon the mountains, are the footsteps of the herald — who proclaims ‘peace’; who proclaims ‘deliverance’…
The prophet Isaiah (actually ‘Second Isaiah,’ writing just as the exile was ending, appended to the first) offers messages of hope and comfort in the haftarot for these final weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah.
הַרְחִ֣יבִי ׀ מְק֣וֹם אָהֳלֵ֗ךְ וִירִיע֧וֹת מִשְׁכְּנוֹתַ֛יִךְ יַטּ֖וּ אַל־תַּחְשֹׂ֑כִי הַאֲרִ֙יכִי֙ מֵֽיתָרַ֔יִךְ וִיתֵדֹתַ֖יִךְ חַזֵּֽקִי׃
Enlarge the site of your tent, Extend the size of your dwelling, Do not stint! Lengthen the ropes, and drive the pegs firm.
This week Isaiah’s words call out to us from over two millennia ago with encouragement to open up our space, to think big and plant our foundations with confidence. These ancient words were spoken to our exiled ancestors, but speak to us just as powerfully. In a moment when we might naturally withdraw, contract, withhold our resources and shut our doors, metaphorically or physically, we’re reminded that we gain strength from sharing what we have, and that our optimism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. With so much need all around us, let us find ways to expand the reach of whatever we have, and to feel reflexively enriched by that generosity of spirit.