This Shabbat amazingly stands at the conjunction of Rosh Chodesh, the day before Rosh Chodesh (machar Chodesh), and the third of the seven haftarot of consolation read between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashanah. The custom among the Sefardim is to read the special haftara of the week followed by the first and last verses of the haftara for Rosh Chodesh and machar Chodesh. Most Ashkenazi congregations will read the haftara of Shabbat Rosh Chodesh (“haShamayim kisi”) and read the third haftara of consolation along with the fifth, the text of which precedes it in the Navi. This column concerns the third haftara of consolation. Depending on which minhag is followed, it may or may not be read in your shul this Shabbat.
The theme of the third haftara of consolation deals with the trauma of exile in the immediacy of the redemption. At the same time, the nations of the world have also witnessed the miracles of Hashem in ending the exile and returning us to our Land and they now desire to be taught the ways of Torah. The solution is clear to the navi: Whoever is thirsty, let them drink water. (Yeshayahu 55:1). There is a tendency to over-complicate, but we know that the Torah to us is like food and drink.
But, Yeshayahu continues, maybe somebody is without money to spend. Fortunately, Torah doesn’t cost anything. Food and water – even wine and milk – can always be found. In fact, the navi continues, money doesn’t satisfy hunger – it would be much better for one to stockpile grain and make bread. (Id. at 2). Ibn Ezra explains that the money refers to the wisdom of the nations of the world: It has value in places and times when the currency is accepted, but it does not retain any lasting value. On the other hand, the teachings of Torah are a source of sustenance and pleasure always.
Abarbanel elaborates on this analogy. Torah is compared to bread in part because of a similarity between the bread itself and Torah. Bread is planted in the earth and it has to be watered by the rain sent from Heaven in order to provide sustenance. Once the bread has been baked, it fulfills the nutritional needs of the one who eats it. Bread is best enjoyed alongside other dishes, but the other dishes can’t be considered a proper meal without the bread. Wine and milk are also understood by Abarbanel to be expressions of the nature and role of Torah study. Specifically, he associates advanced concepts with wine and pure faith with milk. All of these, along with the water that is the essence of Torah, preserve human life and enrich it.
In contrast, money – or as it is said literally in Hebrew, silver – does none of these things. For this reason it is compared to the wisdom of the nations of the world without Torah. It is, literally, a collection of shiny things. Before the truth was revealed to the world, people pursued all kinds of things that seemed to them to have value and even to add meaning to their lives. But once humanity recognizes what is truly valuable, it will become very clear that the silver trinkets and coins are not. The navi is telling everybody in the world (Ibn Ezra says this is the meaning of the expression “hoy” at the beginning of the pasuk, as in “Ahoy! To everyone in the world”): If you are thirsty, then drink water. The Torah is here; you only have to take it. You can’t buy it with all your money.