Mordechai Silverstein

Yearning for the Ultimate Redemption (Isaiah 10:32-12:6)

Pesach is the festival which celebrates God’s redemption of the people of Israel from Egyptian bondage. For the Jewish people it is the symbol of God’s redemptive hand in the world and serves as a paradigm for all future redemptions. This explains why Isaiah’s redemptive vision, found in the special haftarah for the eighth day of Pesach (in the Diaspora), is intrinsically linked with the message of this festival. Isaiah’s portrayal of the ultimate redemption is idyllic: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb; the leopard shall lie with the kid; the calf, the beast of prey, and the fatling together; with a little boy to herd them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion, like the ox, shall eat straw, a babe shall play over a viper’s hole; and an infant pass his hand over an adder’s den. In all of My sacred mount nothing evil or vile shall be done; for the land shall be filled with devotion to the Lord as water covers the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9)

How is this messianic vision to be interpreted? Traditional commentators offer three different interpretations of this seeming reversal of the natural order. The first approach, from the period of the Mishnah (Eretz Israel, 2nd century), takes this prophecy at face value, asserting that the very nature of animals will change: “Rabbi Shimon said: ‘He will cause them to refrain from doing harm.'” (Sifra Behukotai ch.2:1) Rabbi David Kimche (Provence, 12th century) elaborated: “In the days of the messiah, the nature of animals will change and revert back to the way things were at the time of creation of in the time of Noah’s ark…”

Kimche also presents an alternative interpretation: “It is not the case that the nature of animals will change. Rather, God promised Israel that the predatory animals would not cause harm in all of the land of Israel, ‘for the whole land will be filled with devotion to the Lord.'”

Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra (Spain, 12th century) interpreted this prophecy as a parable. The wild animals represent the wicked. In messianic times they will repent of their previous ways and dwell in harmony with the righteous. Maimonides puts it this way: “The great evils that come about between human beings who inflict them upon one another because of differences in purpose, desires, opinions, and beliefs are all a consequence of …ignorance… Every individual according to the extent of his ignorance does evil to himself and to others. For through cognizance of truth, enmity and hatred are removed and the inflicting of harm by people on one another is abolished.” (adapted from the Guide to the Perplexed 3:11 – Pines translation pp. 440-1)

We can only prayer that this kind of redemptive spirit will come for pass as Pesah draws to a close.

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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