ישיבת כרם ביבנה

Haftorah: The One from the East

הרב אברהם ריבלין, המשגיח הרוחני לשעבר

This week's haftorah is a continuation of the famous prophecy, "Nachamu" -- "Console, console my people." (Yeshayahu 40:1) In it, Yeshayahu first encourages Am Yisrael, who said "My way is hidden from Hashem," (40:28), and then the prophet summons the nations to judgment and rebuke. The opening words of the judgment are:

Who inspired [the one] from the east, at whose [every] footstep righteousness attended? [Who] delivered nations to him and subdued kings [before him]? [Who] made [his enemies] like dust [before] his sword; like straw blown [before] his bow? ... Who brought about and accomplished [this]? He Who proclaimed the generations from the beginning: I, Hashem am the first, and I am He Who will be with the last [generations]. (41:2-4)

The prophet's answer to the question, "Who inspired [the one] from the east?" is clear -- "I, Hashem." However, it is very unclear as to which person he is speaking about. Who is "[the one] from the east" who was inspired? Who is that person that righteousness attended his footsteps, that nations were delivered to him, and that he subdued them? And who are these nations?

We would like to quote three approaches to this verse which relate, respectively, to the past, present, and future of Am Yisrael.

Targum Yonatan b. Uziel, followed by Rashi, Abarbanel, Radak and others, explains that the prophet is talking about Avraham. Rashi writes, "Who inspired Avraham to bring him from Aram, which is in the east, and the righteousness that he did attended his feet wherever the walked." According to this interpretation, the "nations" that are mentioned in the verse are the four kings that Avraham fought against and vanquished. The advantages of this interpretation are that it connects this verse to the following ones which explicitly mention Avraham -- "offspring of Avraham who loved me" (v. 8), and that it links the Haftorah to one of the central themes of the parsha -- Avraham's battle against the four kings.

Another interpretation associates the passage not to the ancient past of Am Yisrael, but to the current events of the prophet's era. Mahari Kara and the Ibn Ezra explain that the man inspired from the east is Koresh, king of Persia. Mahari Kara writes, "Who inspired Koresh from the east to come and besiege Bavel? ... On account of the righteousness that he will set free the Babylonian exile, build Yerushalayim and found the Temple ... G-d will call him to destroy Bavel." Ibn Ezra adds, "It is a reference to Koresh, since the whole passage is connected, and so it says, "I have summoned the vulture from the east (46:11) ... and Koresh's name is explicitly mentioned in the passage (44:28, 45:1)."

The Malbim explains the prophecy as a vision of the end of days, and the verse is referring to the Messiah. The verse is noting that, unlike the present that the reason for war is "the love of power or honor, or of jealousy, revenge and victory, or of money and possessions," the wars of the Messiah king are entirely different. "Who inspired from the east" -- What motivates the Messiah who comes from the east? "At whose [every] footstep righteousness attended -- that for the sake of justice he will conquer countries." The "weak" point of the Malbim's explanation is the designation of the direction "east." According to the first two explanations, east is, in fact, the direction from which that inspired force came. Avraham reached the Land of Canaan from the east, and Koresh came against Bavel from that same direction. But where do we find that the Messiah comes from the east?

Similarly, later on in the chapter it says, "I have inspired someone from the north, and he has come; he calls out in My Name from where the sun rises (=east)." (v. 25) Most commentators explain the verse as referring to Koresh who came from a NORTHEAST direction to Bavel. However, the Malbim, following his approach, interprets this also about the Messiah. "From where the sun rises: The Messiah king who will call out in My Name." (It is worthwhile to note that in the midrash, Chazal also interpret this verse about the Messiah. There, however, they emphasize the northern direction, "The Messiah king who is situated in the north, will come and build the Temple which is situated in the south.")

Additionally, in many other verses which hint to the Messiah we find a mention of the sun which rises in the east. "They will fear you with the sun." (Tehillim 72:5; see Radak) "From the rising of the sun his glory." (Yeshayahu 59:19; see Malbim: "The redeemer will appear from the east.")

It is likely that the appearance of the Messiah from the east is connected to Edom which is found east of Israel. As known, Edom is Esav, the grandfather of Amalek, and G-d's throne is not complete until Esav's descendants are wiped out. "Saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge the Mountain of Esav, and the Kingdom will be Hashem's." (Ovadya 1:21) If so, the Messiah destroys the evil on the east, and from there comes to Israel to build G-d's kingdom.

The answer to the question, "Who inspired from the east?" is, "I, Hashem am the first, and I am He Who will be with the last [generations]." The eastern directions expresses this idea through its Biblical name "kedem." "Kedem" means first and last, beginning and end. "Yemai kedem -- earliest days," and "keshanim kadmoniyot -- previous years," are expressions that signify the ancient past. But "Kadima -- forward!", and "lehitkadem -- to advance," signify the future. This is because the day first begins with sunrise, in the east, with nothing before it, but from there on we stride forward only towards the future. From Avraham, the first, until the Messiah, the last -- "From the rising of the sun to its setting" (Tehillim 113:3) -- "I, Hashem am the first, and I am He Who will be with the last [generations]!"

 

 

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