Tossed by the Storm

This week is the third of the seven weeks of consolation when we read seven special Haftarot taken from the book of Yeshayahu. This week’s Haftarah opens with a bleak description of Am Yisrael: “She is afflicted, tossed by the storm and cannot be comforted.”

Here the prophet, instead of consoling us, tells us of our sorry state. The Jewish people are afflicted and tossed about from place to place likes leaves in the wind. Throughout all they cannot be comforted, nothing can be found to say to them that will console them.

The Radak explains that this refers to the Jewish people in exile. Throughout our long history outside our land we were singled out by many cultures to be derided and subjugated. When we did find a country that was willing to take us in and let us live a normal life the tranquility was always short-lived. We were exiled from the Rhinelands, England, France, Hungary, Italy, Germany, the Papal lands, Spain and Portugal. In all of these Jews had established communities and had even contributed to the host country. Yet they were tossed around in the storm of Jewish history. They could not find comfort anywhere.

Except for one place. The only place that the Jews could live as full Jews and in freedom was in their own land. Therefore the prophet continues: “I will set your stones with fair colors, and lay the foundations with sapphires. I will make your windows of rubies and your gates of carbuncles, and your entire borders of precious gems.”

This is the promise of the future. Even though Israelwill be dispersed and tossed about in the exile, they will come back to their own land and it will be rich with gems and precious stones.

The Stones of the Choshen

The Malbim explains that this image of the precious stones is not just a description of riches and wealth. Rather this is a reference the precious stones in the Choshen, the breastplate worn by the Cohen Gadol. This choshen was inlaid with twelve precious stones, one to represent each of the twelve tribes. One stone for Reuven, one for Shimon and so on.

There are several traditions as to how the names of the tribes were arranged. Some hold that they were carved onto the stones according to age. Reuven first, then Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, then Dan, Naftali and so on. (See Targum Yonatan ad loc.)

However, the Midrash holds that the tribes were recording according to their ages and according to their mother. Accordingly the order was Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yissaschar, Zevulun, and then Dan, Naftali and so on. (See Shemot Rabbah 38:9.)

Yeshayahu prophesied that God will lay the foundations of our redemption with sapphires and open windows of carbuncles. These two stones correspond to two of the stones in the second row on the choshen. According to the order recorded in the Midrash, they are the stones of Yissaschar and Yehudah respectively.

Sovereignty and Ideology

Yehudah was the tribe of the kings of Israel, “The scepter will not pass from Yehudah, nor legislation from his descendants” (BeReishit 49:10). Yissaschar made a pact with their brother, Zevulun, that the tribe of Zevulun would work and would support Yissaschar to study Torah. “Zevulun rejoice in your going out [to work] and Yissaschar in your tents [of learning]” (Devarim 33:18).

Therefore the stones of sapphire and carbuncle represent two very different but equally important elements needed for the Jewish people to return back to their land. They will need kings and rulers who will be dedicated to the political welfare of the nation. At the same time they will need scholars and educators devoted to a life of Torah study. The job of the former will be to help the latter, the task of the latter to give Divinity to the work of the former.

“I will set your stones with fair colors, and lay the foundations with sapphires. I will make your windows of rubies and your gates of carbuncles, and your entire borders of precious gems.” Yehudah will be the windows of the nation to the world, and the foundation will be Yissaschar, while the borders of the land will be filled with all the other precious stones, all the other tribes who will dwell safely in the Land.

Both sovereignty and Divinity are essential in forming the Jewish nation. Kings alone cannot rule without the Divine ideal urging them to lead according to God’s plan. Torah scholars cannot build the country without those who are skilled in the practicalities of politics, economics and agriculture.

However, during the times that the Jewish people did dwell in the Land of Israel there developed a break between the Torah scholars and the kings. Those who were involved with the political side of Israel did not appreciate the importance of Torah scholars. At the same time, the Torah scholars looked down on those who worked for a living. They did not view politics and the physical building of the Land as anything special and definitely not as Divine service.

All Serving God

To answer this, Yeshayahu then conveys the following message. “All your children will learn of God, and great will be peace of your children.” The Gemara uses this verse to tell us that Torah scholars create peace throughout the world. “Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Chanina said – Torah scholars increase peace in the world as it says ‘All your children will learn of God, and great will be peace of your children.’ Do not read this as your children, rather as you builders” (Berachot 64a).

Rav Kook asks an interesting question on this passage. The Gemara claims that Torah scholars increase peace in the world, yet when we take even a casual glance into any page of Talmudic literature we see that it is full of arguments. Beit Hillel argue with Beit Shammai, Reish Lakish disagrees with Rabbi Yochanan, the Rema has the opposite opinion to the Shulchan Aruch. How can the Gemara possibly make such a statement that these every same argumentative Torah scholars increase peace?

Rav Kook answers that peace does not mean that everyone is the same, thinks alike and have the same opinions. Peace is the ability to fuse all together to create one large picture. The Torah scholars all voice different opinions that are all one facet of the truth. The truth is composed all of the opinions and peace is achieved when we learn how to fit them all together.

This is also seen in the verse from Yeshayahu. The prophet does not say “your children’s peace is big”, rather that it is great. The difference between big and great is that one item can be big, whereas great implies a breadth and variety. The peace is not big as it is not made up of one thing only, rather, it is great as it encompasses so many different aspects and facets.

This explains the meaning of this verse in the context of the Haftarah. Yeshayahu explained that the way to form the nation is by fusing together the tribe of Yehudah, the kings and leaders, with the tribe of Yissaschar, the Torah scholars. This can only happen when each group appreciates that both are essential to make a nation. Only when they both realize that all are different aspects of Divine service can they coexist and develop side by side.

We can offer a different translation for the beginning of the verse. The Hebrew reads that all your children “limudei Hashem” which many of the commentators explain to mean “will learn [of] God.” However if that were the case then the word should be “lomdei Hashem”. Limudei actually means “are accustomed to”, in which case the verse should read “all your children are accustomed to God, and [therefore] great will be your children’s peace.”

When all are accustomed to God, when all serve the Creator, then all can recognize how each sector of society is essential and contributes to the entire nation. When we form such a nation then, as the prophet continues in this week’s Haftarah, we will be invincible in the world and will set an example for all the other nations.