Sunday, September 25, 2011

Isaiah I

The book of Yeshaya starts during the reign of Judean kings, when Jerusalem sits secure and physically safe. However, the prophet looks to the moral state of Israel and finds the nation terribly wanting. The complaints listed by Yeshaya are all of the moral and ethical type. In fact, the language he employs makes it clear that the practice of the Jewish ceremonial-religious service has not lagged. By asking, למה לי רוב זבחיכם, Yeshaya admits that the sacrificial service in the temple is uninterrupted. When he says, חדש ושבת קרא מקרא, he implies that the societal structure is one which still maintains outward practice of the law of Moses.

Yeshaya complains, though, that the nation has lost its sense of social justice. The judges of Israel are corrupt; they do not seek justice. Halacha, instead of having as its goals good and "ways of pleasantness", has been turned into a tool for everything but that. The judges, those who are charged with the direction of the courts and halacha, have become corrupted. They do not judge correctly for יתומים, and they ignore the plight of widows (v 23). This corruption is the necessary and sufficient cause for the destruction of Jewish society. Courts no longer dispense justice, they contribute to injustice.

Moreover, Judean society has placed a premium on religious activity and piety, and has allowed expressions of these to overcome and hide the sins of the judiciary (and the judicial conscience within each individual). For example, in v 4: נאצו את קדוש ישראל נזרו אחור. Radak and Ibn Ezra bring as an explanatory verse on the word נזרו, the verse וינזרו מקדשי בני ישראל. The verb נ.ז.ר means to withdraw, to remove oneself. In the context of the Pentateuchal verse, this is a desirable action. The priests are exhorted to withdraw from taking קדשי בני ישראל, and doing so is right. The very commandment of נזיר, in which a person withdraws from worldly pleasure to focus on inner, spiritual development, is generally seen as a good thing (even if according to some the very need to do so is a negative). However, Judean society in the times of Yeshaya had perverted this concept of holy withdrawl, נזירות של קדושה, and twisted it into נזירות של רשעות, withdrawl from קדוש ישראל Himself. They have removed themselves from intimate and immanent communion with God through their didactic observance of details, while allowing themselves to ignore the injustice and evil of כלו אהב שחד ורדף שלמנים (v 23).

From this, comes the thesis of the prophets in general: החפץ ה' בזבחים ועולות כשמוע בקול ה'? Does God really want your offerings and automaton service in His Temple, if that means you ignore the moral and ethical spirit of His commands? Torah and Mitzvot are supposed to make us moral people, Halacha should make us cringe at injustice and in its face, burn with the fire of justified rage. The commands of God are supposed to make us better people. If they do not, then the result is exile and punishment.

The promise of God in v 25-26 is clear. Which enemies will God take vengeance upon? The judges and politicians, and those elements within indviduals that allowed injustice and perversion of social norms. Those who are charged with social justice are the ones who will be corrected, along with a society that allowed their perversion. Only upon justice will the righteous city be so called, and the returnees will enjoy צדקה (v 27).

When Israel returns to God, it begins by returning to the orphan and the widow. When halacha does not countenance the undue suffering of the innocent, then can Israel be redeemed.