Have you ever noticed how frequently the Jewish Scriptures use this and similar wording? "The Lord My G-d" is contrasted with 'your gods', those of the other nations. He reveals "His Purposes to His People," rather than informing the people of the other nations? Biblically, and actually, there is only one true G-d, and yet throughout history people have created their own gods in their own images. As Jews our concern is with the revelations of the G-d of Israel, our G-d, to our people.Why do nations assemble, and peoples plot vain things; kings of the earth take their stand, and regents intrigue together against the LORD and against His anointed? ... He who is enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord mocks at them -- Tehillim (Psalm) 2:1-3Prophet Amos assures us that the Holy One of Israel always lets His people know what to expect so we can be prepared and make wise choices. This is done in various ways. We are taught through the Torah of His holy prophets like Moshe Rabbeinu, our teacher. Sometimes we are informed more directly through our personal prayers (hitbodedut). At time HaShem guides us through twinges of consciousness if we are open to His Voice. When a need is pressing HaShem directly intervenes in the lives of His people. This still happens today. Countless modern examples could be offered. In this study however we are looking at one that happened long ago without which our people might have blinked out of existence.
Let's consider Isaiah chapter seven.וַיְהִ֡י בִּימֵ֣י אָ֠חָז בֶּן־יוֹתָ֨ם בֶּן־עֻזִּיָּ֜הוּ מֶ֣לֶךְ יְהוּדָ֗ה עָלָ֣ה רְצִ֣ין מֶֽלֶךְ־אֲ֠רָם וּפֶ֨קַח בֶּן־רְמַלְיָ֤הוּ מֶֽלֶךְ־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ יְר֣וּשָׁלִַ֔ם לַמִּלְחָמָ֖ה עָלֶ֑יהָ וְלֹ֥א יָכֹ֖ל לְהִלָּחֵ֥ם עָלֶֽיהָ׃Here we are reading of literal events taking place at a set time in history. From mundane appearances the situation looked hopeless to Ahaz and his people. He encourages them to exercise their emunah (or active faith in HaShem) and not to become demoralized by what they see. This is a key biblical theme. Do not allow external appearances to make you doubt HaShem's Plan. What is that Plan? It is that everything that happens in the life of those who look to HaShem has greater significance. Everything is part of Divine Providence. Those who maintain strong emunah need never fear.
In the reign of Ahaz son of Jotham son of Uzziah, king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel marched upon Jerusalem to attack it; but they were not able to attack it.
וַיֻּגַּ֗ד לְבֵ֤ית דָּוִד֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר נָ֥חָֽה אֲרָ֖ם עַל־אֶפְרָ֑יִם וַיָּ֤נַע לְבָבוֹ֙ וּלְבַ֣ב עַמּ֔וֹ כְּנ֥וֹעַ עֲצֵי־יַ֖עַר מִפְּנֵי־רֽוּחַ׃
Now, when it was reported to the House of David that Aram had allied itself with Ephraim, their hearts and the hearts of their people trembled as trees of the forest sway before a wind.
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָה֮ אֶֽל־יְשַׁעְיָהוּ֒ צֵא־נָא֙ לִקְרַ֣את אָחָ֔ז אַתָּ֕ה וּשְׁאָ֖ר יָשׁ֣וּב בְּנֶ֑ךָ אֶל־קְצֵ֗ה תְּעָלַת֙ הַבְּרֵכָ֣ה הָעֶלְיוֹנָ֔ה אֶל־מְסִלַּ֖ת שְׂדֵ֥ה כוֹבֵֽס׃
But the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out with your son Shear-jashub to meet Ahaz at the end of the conduit of the Upper Pool, by the road of the Fuller’s Field.
וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֵ֠לָיו הִשָּׁמֵ֨ר וְהַשְׁקֵ֜ט אַל־תִּירָ֗א וּלְבָבְךָ֙ אַל־יֵרַ֔ךְ מִשְּׁנֵ֨י זַנְב֧וֹת הָאוּדִ֛ים הָעֲשֵׁנִ֖ים הָאֵ֑לֶּה בָּחֳרִי־אַ֛ף רְצִ֥ין וַאֲרָ֖ם וּבֶן־רְמַלְיָֽהוּ׃
And say to him: Be firm and be calm. Do not be afraid and do not lose heart on account of those two smoking stubs of firebrands, on account of the raging of Rezin and his Arameans and the son of Remaliah.
יַ֗עַן כִּֽי־יָעַ֥ץ עָלֶ֛יךָ אֲרָ֖ם רָעָ֑ה אֶפְרַ֥יִם וּבֶן־רְמַלְיָ֖הוּ לֵאמֹֽר׃
Because the Arameans—with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah—have plotted against you, saying,
נַעֲלֶ֤ה בִֽיהוּדָה֙ וּנְקִיצֶ֔נָּה וְנַבְקִעֶ֖נָּה אֵלֵ֑ינוּ וְנַמְלִ֥יךְ מֶ֙לֶךְ֙ בְּתוֹכָ֔הּ אֵ֖ת בֶּן־טָֽבְאַֽל׃ (ס)
‘We will march against Judah and invade and conquer it, and we will set up as king in it the son of Tabeel,’
כֹּ֥ה אָמַ֖ר אֲדֹנָ֣י יְהוִ֑ה לֹ֥א תָק֖וּם וְלֹ֥א תִֽהְיֶֽה׃
thus said my Lord GOD: It shall not succeed, It shall not come to pass.
In this text King Ahaz of Judah learned that Aram's alliance with Ephraim had been achieved. The Jews, the Southern Kingdom of Israel, were very worried about the unholy alliance! They were outnumbered and their enemies were fast approaching. Objectively there seemed to be no hope for them! However when HaShem is on ones side there is always hope! This is the secret of emunah.
Because their emunah was lacking and the situation had become so desperate, HaShem provided the means for bitachon ("strong confidence" in Him) by issuing a promise through His prophet Isaiah. HaShem ordered the prophet to meet with King Ahaz and assure him that he and the Jews would survive this latest challenge as they had so many others. "Just have emunah!" Isaiah told Ahaz. The thing he feared "will not take place." Period! Emunah is the central point of this chapter. Had the King of the Jews pondered our history he would have seen so many times when HaShem has intervened on our behalf. Such certain knowledge would have strengthened both his resolve and his confidence as the leader of the people. Likewise with us. How often we forget HaShem's past dealings with us and therefore doubt His Plan for our future!
But even with this assurance Ahaz and his people continued to doubt. Just as we so often do today.
In order to reestablish King Ahaz's faith as the leader of HaShem's people, in the next few verses HaShem explains through His prophet how He will once again deliver the Jews and how things will go with the various peoples involved:כִּ֣י רֹ֤אשׁ אֲרָם֙ דַּמֶּ֔שֶׂק וְרֹ֥אשׁ דַּמֶּ֖שֶׂק רְצִ֑ין וּבְע֗וֹד שִׁשִּׁ֤ים וְחָמֵשׁ֙ שָׁנָ֔ה יֵחַ֥ת אֶפְרַ֖יִם מֵעָֽם׃
For the chief city of Aram is Damascus, And the chief of Damascus is Rezin;
וְרֹ֤אשׁ אֶפְרַ֙יִם֙ שֹׁמְר֔וֹן וְרֹ֥אשׁ שֹׁמְר֖וֹן בֶּן־רְמַלְיָ֑הוּ אִ֚ם לֹ֣א תַאֲמִ֔ינוּ כִּ֖י לֹ֥א תֵאָמֵֽנוּ׃ (ס)
The chief city of Ephraim is Samaria, And the chief of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. And in another sixty-five years, Ephraim shall be shattered as a people. If you will not believe, for you cannot be trusted…”
On verse nine Rashi notes:if you do not believe: My prophecy, you, Ahaz, and his people, for I know that you are wicked.Ibn Ezra adds:
it is because you cannot be believed: There is no truth in you.If you will not believe. Supply speak, or ask for a sign; wherefore immediately succeeds, And the Lord, etc., Ask thee a sign. But it appears that when the prophet said, If ye will not believe, etc., Ahaz did not answer.How will a faithless person have faith even when a prophet is sent to him/her? Emunah is not a thing one draws upon only in difficult times! Like a muscle of the body it must be trained and strengthened! One who lives a life of emunah will have the faith needed when difficult times arise.
כי לא תאמנו Because there is no truth in you; comp. ויאמנו דבריכם So shall your words be verified (Gen. 42:20)
Thus the prophet explained that it was vital that Ahaz and his followers reestablish and maintain their emunah in HaShem alone. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches: "The world regards faith as something minor, but I consider faith as being of the greatest importance" (Sichot Haran #33). It was in the Mind of HaShem to save His people and to preserve the line of King David among them, however they needed to exercise firm emunah. It was imperative that they rely on HaShem's deliverance only. Likewise if we wish to receive His blessings in our lives we too must have emunah in Him alone. For a person of faith He is the Source of all things, both the seemingly positive and the seemingly negative.
We have each been granted free will within certain parameters. HaShem grants this to each human being. In order to receive His blessings we must choose to develop a suitable consciousness. Both Ahaz and his people chose to continue in doubt. This was their freedom, just as it is the freedom of unbelieving Jews today. For the sake of His promises to our Patriarchs and to we their descendants however HaShem offered Ahaz a most remarkable boon:וַיּ֣וֹסֶף יְהוָ֔ה דַּבֵּ֥ר אֶל־אָחָ֖ז לֵאמֹֽר׃Notice the reason Ahaz was offered a such a rare boon. He could ask HaShem for any sign that would bolster his emunah in HaShem's deliverance, either for himself or for his people. The purpose of the offered sign was to rally the morale of the people experiencing this threat at this time, to rectify their doubts and to reestablish their faith in HaShem's protection. HaShem wanted to act through His people and yet His people had to be willing to receive!
The LORD spoke further to Ahaz:
שְׁאַל־לְךָ֣ א֔וֹת מֵעִ֖ם יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ הַעְמֵ֣ק שְׁאָ֔לָה א֖וֹ הַגְבֵּ֥הַּ לְמָֽעְלָה׃
“Ask for a sign from the LORD your God, anywhere down to Sheol or up to the sky.”
Despite this unprecedented offer to alleviate their doubts with clear evidence, for reasons not made clear in the text, King Ahaz refused to even ask for a sign when prompted by HaShem's representative! His rationale sounds good at first, very pious indeed, but Ahaz was not being honest! If HaShem gave Ahaz proof, then Ahaz knew he would have to act on it! One cannot trick HaShem! Likewise today we hear so many Jews saying they would return to traditional Judaism IF HaShem would prove Himself, IF He would answer their questions, If, If, If. Nonsense! If they really wanted the Truth they have merely to open their eyes! See what HaShem is plainly doing in our generation! it is more amazing than what He revealed to King Ahaz!וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אָחָ֑ז לֹא־אֶשְׁאַ֥ל וְלֹֽא־אֲנַסֶּ֖ה אֶת־יְהוָֽה׃"You have no faith!" Isaiah accuses not only Ahaz but all those with him. "Not only do you try my patience, but HaShem's as well!"
But Ahaz replied, “I will not ask, and I will not test the LORD.”
וַיֹּ֕אמֶר שִׁמְעוּ־נָ֖א בֵּ֣ית דָּוִ֑ד הַמְעַ֤ט מִכֶּם֙ הַלְא֣וֹת אֲנָשִׁ֔ים כִּ֥י תַלְא֖וּ גַּ֥ם אֶת־אֱלֹהָֽי׃
“Listen, House of David,” [Isaiah] retorted, “is it not enough for you to treat men as helpless that you also treat my God as helpless?
לָ֠כֵן יִתֵּ֨ן אֲדֹנָ֥י ה֛וּא לָכֶ֖ם א֑וֹת הִנֵּ֣ה הָעַלְמָ֗ה הָרָה֙ וְיֹלֶ֣דֶת בֵּ֔ן וְקָרָ֥את שְׁמ֖וֹ עִמָּ֥נוּ אֵֽל׃
Assuredly, my Lord will give you a sign of His own accord! Look, the young woman is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him Immanuel.
חֶמְאָ֥ה וּדְבַ֖שׁ יֹאכֵ֑ל לְדַעְתּ֛וֹ מָא֥וֹס בָּרָ֖ע וּבָח֥וֹר בַּטּֽוֹב׃
(By the time he learns to reject the bad and choose the good, people will be feeding on curds and honey.)
כִּ֠י בְּטֶ֨רֶם יֵדַ֥ע הַנַּ֛עַר מָאֹ֥ס בָּרָ֖ע וּבָחֹ֣ר בַּטּ֑וֹב תֵּעָזֵ֤ב הָאֲדָמָה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אַתָּ֣ה קָ֔ץ מִפְּנֵ֖י שְׁנֵ֥י מְלָכֶֽיהָ׃
For before the lad knows to reject the bad and choose the good, the ground whose two kings you dread shall be abandoned.
יָבִ֨יא יְהוָ֜ה עָלֶ֗יךָ וְעַֽל־עַמְּךָ֮ וְעַל־בֵּ֣ית אָבִיךָ֒ יָמִים֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לֹא־בָ֔אוּ לְמִיּ֥וֹם סוּר־אֶפְרַ֖יִם מֵעַ֣ל יְהוּדָ֑ה אֵ֖ת מֶ֥לֶךְ אַשּֽׁוּר׃ (פ)
The LORD will cause to come upon you and your people and your ancestral house such days as never have come since Ephraim turned away from Judah—that selfsame king of Assyria!
Rashi notes on verse 16:For, when the lad does not yet know to reject bad and choose good: the land shall be abandoned by its inhabitants, [i. e.,] the land of Rezin and the land of Pekah.Reminding Ahaz of the faithlessness of the traitorous Northern Ten Tribes (i.e. Ephraim united) as an example, Navi (Prophet) Isaiah chastens the king of Judah (the Southern Kingdom, the Jews). "Didn't HaShem stand with you and choose you even as Ephraim was divorced by Him due to their lack of faith, assimilation, and idolatry" (Jeremiah 3:8)? And now Isaiah excoriates them, "Will you still refuse to believe HaShem!" Again, this is exactly the same as today! There is so much here to learn! We even have people attacking us while claiming to be of the Northern divorced houses!
you dread: and fear its two kings, Rezin and Pekah, for in that year the king of Assyria marched on Damascus since Ahaz hired him, as it is stated in the Book of II Kings (16:9): "And seized it and exiled its inhabitants to Kir, and he slew Rezin," and in that very year (ibid. 15: 30), "Hoshea the son of Elah revolted against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and he struck him and slew him… in the twentieth year of Jotham," which was the fourth year of Ahaz.
"OK then," the prophet says, "HaShem's plan IS going to happen regardless! Since you refuse, He will choose the sign for you so that you will stand firm before your enemies and thereby secure the future of the Jews!" This should remind us all of the stern Talmudic warning that in the days prior to the coming of Mashiach ben Yosef and ben David IF the Jews refuse to make teshuvah (repentance) HaShem WILL empower "the one as cruel as Haman" to drive us to our knees so that we WILL repent. Then will come Mashiach ben David through great war and suffering! But it doesn't have to go down this way! We can bring HaMashiach ben David almost immediately if we will simply return to HaShem as His people!
This is what is happening here. HaShem is giving the Jews a clear sign that will force those present, at that time and place, to make teshuvah so that the Jews will not be erased from human history!
The House of Judah (the Jews) is vital to HaShem's Plan of Redemption! The anointed heir of King David, Mashiach ben David, the Messiah, will come through the line of Judah (through Jesse and David). This royal heir will one day be crowned the King of the City of David and Yerushalayim, the eternal capital of the Jewish people. What was happening here in Isaiah's record was therefore very important to save the ancestors and lineage of HaMashiach. The Davidic lineage WILL survive! THIS was the purpose of the sign and it was fulfilled in that time and place as prophesied by Isaiah. The context makes sense in no other way.7:14 "Therefore HaShem Himself will give you a sign..."The prophet said in effect:'Look I know you are all frightened and lacking in emunah, but this is much bigger than you and your immediate concerns! Deliverance is coming, not only to you but for all of the Jews, and indeed through them to the entire world! But the time is not yet ready. You have to hold on for a bit longer'. So the prophet chooses the sign: 'See that pregnant girl over there? By the time her baby is born and weened those seeking your deaths will be no more! So even now, through your renewed emunah and bitachon you should proclaim even now: Am Israel Chai!' The Jews live on!"Therefore..." (i.e. to bolster your faith and martial your courage) the prophet of HaShem says ... because of something ... because of what? ... because you Jews present here at this time and place are afraid to trust HaShem and His Eternal Plan... "See that "young woman" [Hebrew: almah]? She will bear a son and by the time he is weaned you will witness the trustworthiness and liberation of HaShem YOUR G-d." Historically this is exactly what happened.
We can learn so much from this account:
- HaShem has a Plan for His people!
- HaShem knows the best way of fulfilling it!
- You and I are part of this Plan!
- We each choose moment by moment to the play our role. We can join the ranks of those who doubt, who oppose HaShem's Will, or we can we arise to our potentials as the Children of the Most High! We can embrace the positive way of the yetzer ha-tov or the negative way of the yetzer ha-ra. It is up to us! But know well that we are each choosing the role we play.
- HaShem's Plan is going to be carried out one way or another. The Final Redemption is going to occur.
- Choose Wisely.
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