Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

Following on last week, Shabbat Nachamu, this is the second of seven haftarot of consolation. Hashem assures us that we haven’t been abandoned and we are still His beloved children. We will be returning to Yerushalayim and gathering en masse for the Temple service – until we complain that the place is too narrow and we are all crowded in.

In just a few chapters later in Yeshayahu, the haftara we will read in a few weeks, Hashem will command the place of the Tent to be widened enough to fit everyone comfortably inside. For now, the space is constrained in the physical realm but it is already expansive spiritually.

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Our haftara provides the basis for the text in Pirkei Avot (5:5) describing one of the ten daily miracles in the Beit HaMikdash: “Nobody ever said to his fellow, ‘My accommodations in Yerushalayim are too crowded for me.’” Earlier in the same Mishna (miracle number eight on that list), we learn that when the people stood in the courtyard of the Beit HaMikdash, they were packed closely together but when they prostrated themselves there was still enough room for everyone. This is the connection drawn to our verse by Rabbeinu Yona and Bartenura on their commentary there.

Rabbeinu Bachaye cites a fascinating Midrash in Midrash Tanchuma (Tzav 15) regarding the assembly of all Israel before the Tent of Meeting. Upon receiving the command, Moshe says to Hashem: “Master of the Universe, there are six hundred thousand adult males and another six hundred thousand youth. How am I to gather them all in front of the Tent?” Hashem responds to Moshe, ‘Why do you wonder about this? Were not all the heavens once a barely perceptible speck that I spread out from one end of the universe to the opposite end?”

In this exchange we see the power of Hashem to shape nature in a way that at times we take for granted but that is also nothing short of miraculous: that all of the matter and energy in Creation might have been contained in the tiniest space only to generate everything that is and all that ever will be in the physical world. If a physical space has been designated for the service of Hashem and if He wills it to be so, then the physical world will bend to suit the needs of its Creator and not the other way around.

Thus, the navi Yeshayahu is telling us, it is a trivial matter for Hashem to return us from our dispersion and we need not worry about how we will all fit in the borders of the Land of Israel – let alone the precincts of the Beit HaMikdash. As Malbim explains, the Land will be expanded in order to accommodate all those who return from the long exile. There will be room enough for everyone. Hashem will fight our wars and defeat our enemies, He will free us from every form of bondage. He can also find a place for each of us to stay and be comfortable when we come to greet Him on the pilgrimage festivals.

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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.