Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

This is the sixth and penultimate haftara of consolation. It incorporates many themes from the preceding weeks, but in a change of perspective addresses the holy city of Yerushalayim. As in previous weeks, we find text that would inspire the well-known song Lecha Dodi.

However, the final word of the verse from our haftara used in Lecha Dodi is different than the one used in the song: Instead of “Kevod Hashem alayich nigla,” we have “alayich zarach.” (Yeshayahu 60:1). The reason for this reformulation by R’ Shlomo Alkabetz is unclear; otherwise the verse closely follows the wording in our haftara. One possible reason for the difference is that the poem refers to the Shabbat, a taste of the World to Come, while the prophet is speaking of the actual advent of the redemption – the inauguration of the World to Come. The meaning of “nigla” from the poem is fairly passive – Hashem reveals His glory to Israel as they accept Shabbat. The wording of the haftara is emphatic, as Hashem projects His glory upon Israel. On Shabbat, we behold His glory revealed; at the time of the redemption it is we who are revealed as the object illuminated by His glory.

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The navi elaborates: A time will come when the world and all its inhabitants will be lost in darkness (ibid. 60:2). In the midst of this darkness, Hashem will shine His light upon Israel, and upon Israel will His glory be beheld.

The concluding words of the haftara provide the basis for one of the most succinct and cogent discussions of the mechanics of redemption in the Talmud. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (Bavli 98a, but in the Yerushalmi this whole discussion appears in Taanit) teaches that Rabbi Alexandri said that Rabbi Yehoshua the son of Levi was puzzled by the seemingly contradictory nature of our text – first it says “Ba’ita,” in its time, and then “Achishena,” I will hurry it up. Does the redemption come in its time or will it be hurried? If they are deserving, then He will hurry it, and if they are not, it will come in its time.

We learn from this that Hashem has a plan for the universe culminating in His intended redemption of mankind. This outcome has been programmed into the fabric of reality, and if left to run its course then eventually at the designated time the redemption will occur through natural processes. However, Israel has the power through our actions and decisions, by serving Hashem faithfully and keeping His mitzvot, to bring about redemption at an earlier time by eliciting Hashem’s miraculous intervention.

Of course, the sooner the redemption comes, the more suffering is curtailed and prevented. Therefore, we must strive to be virtuous so that in the merit of our good deeds, Hashem will hurry the redemption to arrive from outside the laws of nature.

Rabbi Hillel of Sklov teaches in the name of the Vilna Gaon, in his book Kol HaTor, that this passage hints at the dialectic between lower and higher processes working in conjunction to bring about redemption. The Vilna Gaon taught that if people understood the power of their prayers to circumvent the agonies of redemption through natural law, they would use all of their kavana to hurry it even by one moment.

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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He has written on Israeli art, music, and spirituality and is working to reawaken interest in medieval Jewish mysticism. He can be reached at avraham@thegeula.com.