Commentary on Parashat Lech-Lecha, Genesis 12:1 - 17:27
In Haftarat Lech-Lecha, Isaiah offers the people of Israel a message of reassurance. By the sixth century B.C.E., Israel had been in exile for decades, but Isaiah tells the people that God has not abandoned them, and is still concerned about their welfare.
Though the overall message of Isaiah’s words is of God’s support and attentiveness, the prophet’s tone is not always comforting. The Haftarah begins with a reprimand: “Why do you say, O Jacob, why declare, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, my cause is ignored by my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is God everlasting.”
Isaiah bluntly reminds the people that God is still invested in their lives, and that He remains all-powerful. While He has not abandoned His people, they have lost faith in Him and have turned to idols and other gods. Isaiah is critical of this choice, comparing the idols, which can’t even hold themselves up, with God, who is mighty and strong. The woodworker and the smith haplessly fasten the idol with nails so that it won’t fall over, in sharp contrast to God, who made the earth tremble in fear, “delivered up nations” and “trodden sovereigns down.”
God, through Isaiah, is reminding Israel that He wants His people to stay away from the idol-makers, and those who don’t recognize God’s might. Israel is “My servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, seed of Abraham My friend,” and so Israel is destined for a special role in the future.
Even though Israel is special, Isaiah still characterizes the people as a worm and a maggot (41:13). The nation is tiny and insignificant when compared to God’s greatness. Their behavior is sometimes disgusting. Still, Isaiah reassures the people that they will see victory, and glory if they are devoted to God.
In the Torah portion of Lech-Lecha, Abraham is promised that his offspring will be a great nation, more numerous than all of the dust on earth. In order to realize this destiny, Abraham has to withstand many challenges and temptations. So too, the people of Israel are reminded in the Haftarah that they will have good fortune and great things in the future, if only they can be like Abraham, following God’s proscribed commandments and resisting the lure of idols.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.
Pronounced: hahf-TOErah or hahf-TOE-ruh, Origin: Hebrew, a selection from one of the biblical books of the Prophets that is read in synagogue immediately following the Torah reading.