Mordechai Silverstein

A Model Leader for all Generations (Isaiah 49:14-51:3)

In this second of the seven special haftarot of consolation (shiva d’nahamta) which follow after Tisha b’Av, we find one of the famous passages in the book of Isaiah about the “suffering servant of the Lord”: “The Lord gave me a skilled tongue to know how to speak timely words to the weary. Morning by morning, He rouses, He rouses my ear to give heed like disciples. The Lord opened my ears and I did not disobey. I did not run away. I offered my back to the floggers and my cheeks to those who tore out my hair. I did not hide my face from insult and spittle. But the Lord did help me. Therefore, I feel no disgrace; therefore, I have set my face like flint and I know I will not be shamed…” (50:4-9)

The prophet’s job was an unpopular one. He frequently carried a message which conflicted with accepted norms and consequently, he was ostracized and suffered frequent indignities. Such was and is the fate of social critics. This meant that a prophet needed to be a special kind of person, articulate, confident and sure of his message, but nevertheless, caring and nurturing, even toward those who vexed him most. In the following midrash, this point is made anecdotally:

Rabbi Azariah, in the name of Rabbi Yehuda b’ Rabbi Simon, [related the following about the prophet Yishayahu (Isaiah):] Yishayahu said: I was pondering matters in my house of study when I heard the voice of the Holy One, blessed be He, saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us’ (Isaiah 6:8). I have already sent Micah, and they smote him on the cheek, as it is written: ‘They strike the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek’ (Micah 4:14); I sent Amos, and they called him a ‘stutterer’… ‘So, who will I send and who will go for us?’ [The Holy One, blessed be He] said to Yishayahu: ‘My children are troublesome, they are stubborn. If you take it upon yourself to be degraded and to be beaten by My children, you are the right one to go on My mission; and if not, you are not the right one to go on My mission.’ Yishayahu replied: ‘ [I am willing to go] under these conditions. I offer my back to the floggers, and my cheeks to those who tore out my hair (Isaiah 50:6). Am I not then fit to go on a mission to Your children?’ Then the Holy One, blessed be He said to him: ‘Yishayahu, “You love righteousness” (Psalms 45:8), [meaning], you love to make My children righteous, “And you hate wickedness” (Ibid.), [meaning], you hate condemning them as wicked. “Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness over all your peers” (Ibid.). What is the meaning of ’Over all your peers’? God said to Isaiah: ‘As you live, all the prophets received the gift of prophecy one from another, but you will be different… Your prophecy will from the mouth of the Holy One Blessed be He. They all bring simple prophecies but you will be blessed to bring prophecies bearing double consolations, [like those which we heard last week and in the coming weeks]: Awake, awake (Isaiah 51:9); Awake yourself, Awake yourself (ibid 17); Rejoice, I will surely rejoice (ibid 61:10); I, even I, am He that comforts you (ibid 51:12); Comfort, oh comfort My people (ibid 40:1)”. (adapted from Leviticus Rabbah 10:2 Margulies ed. pp. 197-9)

What made Isaiah special? He did not kowtow or pander. He was willing to stand up to abuse for teaching what was right but always did so with over abiding love. His willingness to balance these qualities made him the appropriate candidate to be God’s messenger of solace and a model leader for all generations.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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