Mordechai Silverstein
Mordechai Silverstein

How to Live in God’s Tent (Isaiah 40:1-26)

This week’s haftarah begins a series of seven special haftarot which follow Tisha b’Av. These haftarot, known as the “shiva d’nechamta – the seven haftarot of consolation” are intended to bring the Jewish people solace after the period of three weeks marking the destructions of the First and Second Temples and the loss of Jewish sovereignty which accompanied these tragedies. One of the essential messages of the first of these haftarot is God’s sovereignty over the world and its impact on its inhabitants. The prophecy asserts this idea dramatically: “He (God) is enthroned above the vault of the earth, its inhabitants seem like grasshoppers; He spreads out the skies like gauze, and stretches them out [tautly] like a tent to dwell in.” (40:22)

God is described here stretching out the skies “tautly” like a tent to dwell in. (See also Psalm 19:5) The Hebrew for this verse has the sense that God’s participation in this act is a continuous process, where the creation is manifest just so. This same idea is expressed in the prayers of Shaharit (the morning prayers): [God] renews in His goodness everyday continuously the works of creation. (See A. Hacham, Isaiah 2, Daat Mikra, p. 420) God is concerned with maintaining the pristine and ideal nature of His creation.

This idea is emphatically expressed in a teaching from the Talmud of Eretz Yisrael (the Yerushalmi): “Rabbi Yitzhak and Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish. Rabbi Yitzhak commented [first]: When a human being sets up a tent, after a while it becomes a little slack; but here [regarding God’s creation], it says: ‘He stretched them out tautly like a tent’… Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: When a mere mortal makes a metal vessel, in the course of time, it becomes rusty; but in truth here… they [the heavens] continue to maintain their new appearance.” (Yerushalmi Berachot 1:1 Venice ed. 2d)

These sages assert that God created the world and continues to maintain it in optimal condition. They share an awareness that human beings may not be capable of meeting God’s standards. All the same, one must assume that it is God’s expectation that we, as the appointed “guardians” over His creations, do our very best to do the same. These days, when we have begun to appreciate the impact that our behavior on our God given home has wrought, this appreciation is more crucial than ever.

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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