Haftorah: "A Wife ... who had Become Despised"
הרב אברהם ריבלין, המשגיח הרוחני לשעבר
Many prophets use the metaphor of man and woman to describe the relationship between G-d and His nation. At the time of sin, Am Yisrael is described as a woman who betrayed her husband, and thereby caused him to be angry and distant from her. At the time of redemption, the nation is depicted as a woman whose husband returns to her with great love.
In our Haftorah, as well, Yeshaya compares Zion to a woman who was "forsaken and melancholy ... and a wife of one's youth who had become despised" (54:6), and reassures her, "You will forget the shame of your youth, and you will no longer recall the disgrace of your widowhood." (54:4) The expressions of shame and disgrace, as well as the terms "forsaken and melancholy," appropriately describe the state of G-d's distance from His nation at the time of sin. However, the expression, "a wife of one's youth who had become despised," seems difficult, since the Torah specifically says that even at the time of sin G-d will not despise Am Yisrael: "Despite all this, while they will be in the land of their enemies, I will not despise them nor will I reject them to obliterate them, to annul my covenant with them -- for I am Hashem, their G-d." (Vayikra 26:44)
It is possible to resolve this contradiction based on an explanation of the final pasuk in Megillat Eicha, where it says, "Have You utterly rejected us?! You have raged ("katzafta") against us very much." (5:22) The commentaries explain, based on the GR"A on Megillat Esther, that rage ("ketzef") means "outwardly -- like 'ketzef' (foam) on the water ... A person's nature is that if he rages and talks out the issue, the anger subsides and doesn't burn so much." This is Bnei Yisrael's request from Hashem in the end of Eicha: "Bring us back to you, Hashem and we shall return, renew our days as of old." (5:21) Since you did not really reject us ["Have You utterly rejected us?!"] -- you only "raged against us," and rage is only for a short time and then it immediately dissipates.
This idea is explicit in our Haftorah: "With a slight wrath I have concealed My countenance from you for a moment." Since we are dealing with wrath, the length of the anger is only a moment, whereas afterwards, "with eternal kindness I shall show you mercy." (54:8) Even the despise mentioned in our Haftorah is not true rejection for a long time, but rather just a temporary repulsion, "like a sick person who is nauseous of any food, and when he becomes healthy the desire to eat returns. There are also times that something is rejected forever, and even its memory arouses repulsion, as it says in the Gemara (Ketuvot 74b), 'A man who betroths on condition that she does not have blemishes, [and she had blemishes] but was healed, nonetheless she is not betrothed, because he can say that when he remembers her blemishes she is repulsive in his eyes." (Tosefet Bracha) The difference between these two types of repulsions whether the cause is in the despised item itself, in which case it is very likely that the rejection will be forever, or whether the cause of the rejection is in the person who is repulsed (such as the sick person, since the food remains tasty, just that in his sick state he despises it), and therefore, when his nausea is over, the repulsion passes.
Yeshaya emphasizes that G-d's repulsion is only temporary by comparing Am Yisrael not to a regular wife but to "a wife of one's youth who is despised." Da'at Mikra points out:
Normally, the love of youth makes a deep impact on a person's heart, and it is hard for him to leave the wife of his youth. Even when he appears to have rejected her and ceases to love her, this is only for a short time, and afterwards he returns to his original love. In the footnote, there, he cites many prophecies that emphasize the uniqueness of the love of youth:
"I recall for you the kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials." (Yirmiya 2:2)
"Hashem has testified between you and the wife of your youth." (Malachi 2:14)
"Rejoice with the wife of your youth ... you will always be intoxicated with her love." (Mishlei 5:18-19)
Chazal also say, "A person finds satisfaction only with his first wife." (Yevamot 63b) Similarly, the Zohar says on the pasuk in Vayikra (quoted from "Me'otzareinu Hayashan," Vayikra 26:42):
This is comparable to a person who loved a woman, and she lived in the market place of the tanners. If she were not there, he would never enter there. Because she is there, though, it seemed to him like a marketplace of fragrances, where all the pleasant aromas are found. So, too, here, "Despite all this, while they will be in the land of their enemies" -- which is repulsive like a marketplace of tanners -- "I will not despise them nor will I reject them to obliterate them." [Why?] "lechalotam" -- because I long ("kalta nafshi") for them, and it seems to me like all the pleasant aromas in the world because of this bride. Our Haftorah, as well, since it is talking about a wife of the youth, even though there was a moment of "had become despised," we are promised by the prophet: "For but a brief moment I have forsaken you, and with abundant mercy I will gather you in. With a slight wrath I have concealed My countenance from you for a moment, but will eternal kindness I shall show you mercy." (54:7-8)
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