Haftorah: "Their Fire will not be Extinguished"
הרב אברהם ריבלין, המשגיח הרוחני לשעבר
The Haftorah of this Shabbat, which is Rosh Chodesh, is the final chapter of Yeshaya, which deals with the "Day of G-d" in the end of days. Yeshaya alternately describes the great reward of the righteous and the severe punishment of the wicked. So, too, in the concluding verses, "For just as the new heavens and the new earth that I will make will endure before me -- the word of Hashem -- so will your offspring and your name endure." (Yeshaya 66:22) Those righteous people, who will live at that time, will come every Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat to prostrate themselves before Hashem. "And they will go out and see the corpses of the men who rebelled against Me, for their decay will not cease and their fire will not be extinguished, and they will lie in disgrace before all mankind." (66:24)
We should note that both the reward and the punishment are described on two planes -- physical and spiritual. The reward of the righteous is, "so will your offspring (physical) and your name (spiritual) endure." The punishment for "the men who rebelled against Me," is described in three short phrases:
For their wormy decay will not cease
and their fire will not be extinguished,
and they will lie in disgrace before all mankind.
The first phrase relates to the body, that it will suffer even after death. "The worms will endure as a sign, in remembrance of their evil." (Malbim) The last phrase, "they will lie in disgrace before all mankind," denotes the awesome disgrace that the wicked will undergo. This double punishment, of the body and spirit, parallels the double reward of the righteous, "so will your offspring and your name endure."
The middle phrase, "their fire will not be extinguished," can be explained in both directions. On the one hand, it can be interpreted as referring to a physical fire that eats the corpses which are full of decay. "They will see corpses full of worms, and the fire which burns in them." (Radak) "The wormy decay which eats the flesh of those dead people will not die, and the fire which burns in them will not go out." (Metzudat David) Many prophets describe the "Day of G-d" and the judgment of the wicked – with fire. So, too, in earlier verses in this prophecy, "For behold, Hashem will arrive in fire and his chariots like the whirlwind, to vent His anger with wrath, and His rebuke with flaming fire. For Hashem will enter into judgment with fire." (66:15-16)
However, many commentators explain that the expression, "their fire will not be extinguished," relates to the fire of Gehenom. The Targum Yonatan explains, "Their fire will not go out and the wicked will be judged in Gehenom." Rashi, in his footsteps, explains, "and their fire -- in Gehenom." The Radak writes: "Others say that, ‘their fire will not be extinguished,’ alludes to the soul when it separates from its body. If it does not merit to rise to the Heavenly angels, it will remain with the fiery ‘galgalim’."
How does a physical fire destroy the soul of the wicked, which is spiritual? The Ramban answers this in Sha’ar Hagemul of "Torat Ha’adam":
He, may His name be blessed, created the place that is called Gehenom and created in it a very fine fire, which is not something tangible, that seizes fine things and destroys them. He gave this fire power in that place, just as He gave the power of "sechalim nivdalim," which are angels, in their heavenly groups. Chazal drew a great distinction between the fire that in this world and that fire, through what they said in Pesachim (54b), "Our fire was created on Motzei Shabbat, and the fire of Gehenom was created on the second day."
In other words, the fire of Gehenom is not a physical fire, but rather a spiritual fire, and therefore it was created on the same day that the angels were created -- the second day -- and not on Motzei Shabbat, when our physical fire was created.
It is worth noting, that our physical fire also has various levels. There is apparent, visible, fire, but there is also the "fire" of radiation. The microwave is not actual fire, but it can still be considered fire because it heats. It is true that all of these phenomena are explained by the natural laws of physics, but based on them it is possible to understand that there is also a spiritual fire that destroys and punishes even souls. According to the Ramban, this is what Yeshaya meant when he said, "their fire will not be extinguished."
Another explanation of the spiritual fire in Gehenom is rooted in the connection between the phrase, "their fire will not be extinguished," and the end of the sentence, "and they will lie in disgrace before all mankind." The fire of Gehenom is the fire of shame that will envelop the soul of the wicked when he stands on trial for his sins and rebellion. The soul will stand before court in the world of truth, where all actions and all truths are clear to all. There, there is no forgetting, and there are no answers and no false excuses. The sinner himself will understand the severity of his actions, and shame will envelop him. Daniel, also, prophesied, "Many of those who sleep in the dusty earth will awaken; these for everlasting life and these for shame, for everlasting abhorrence." (12:2) About them Yirmiya said, "Is it Me they are provoking? – the word of Hashem, Is it not themselves, bringing shame upon themselves?" (Yirmiya 7:19) David prayed regarding them, "Let all my foes be shamed and utterly confounded, they will regret and be shamed in an instant." (Tehillim 6:11)
Every Jew prays about this three times daily, "Give a good reward to those who truly trust in Your Name, and place our portion among them, and may we never be shamed, because in You we trust."
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