Oh Childless One, Sing and be Happy

In this latest haftora of comfort, for parshas Ki Seitzei, Yeshaya again looks forward to the great Geula of the future. “Oh childless one, sing and be happy… Make plenty of space for all the Jewish People who will be returning… They will burst out to the right and the left. They will inherit the nations and re-inhabit the destroyed cities.” (54:1-3).

It’s certainly comforting to we have a great future to look forward to. But we would like it to happen already. Why hasn’t it? Could Yeshaya be hinting to the reason?

Yeshaya describes the Jewish people in golus in different ways. Here he says, “childless one.” A few pesukim later (54:11) he uses the words, “afflicted, storm-tossed one.” Earlier (51:21) he said, “Drunk but not from wine.” It seems unlikely that Yeshaya was merely, varying his words for poetic effect. Each phrase has its own meaning and implications. In Eicha (1:2) Jerusalem is described as a widow. Why are there these different descriptions? Why did Yeshaya use the term, “childless one” here?

The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 11:1) writes that “Hamelech Hamoshiach is going to arise and restore the Malchus Beis Dovid, rebuild the Beis Hamikdash, gather in the Jewish exiles and restore all the Laws of the Torah as they were. There will be korbonos, shmitta, yovlos as written in the Torah. Anyone who doesn’t believe in this or doesn’t yearn for his coming has not only denied the prophets but the Torah and Moshe Rabeinu, since the Torah says that Hashem “will have mercy on you, will bring back the Jews who have been exiled to all the nations of the world.” The Rambam has brought a source that there will be an ingathering of all the Jews – not believing in this, is denying the Torah. But where is the source that we have to yearn for its fulfillment? And why do we have to look forward to it? There is no obligation to look forward to do any other time-related mitzva. Whenever the time of the mitzva comes, we will do it. One of the questions we will all be asked is “Tzipisa l’yeshua? Why is it not enough to believe that the Moshiach will come? Why do we have to look forward to this time?

The Rambam (12:1-4) goes on to describe what will happen in the days of Moshiach in more detail. “Do not imagine that there will be a change in the natural world. When the posuk in Yeshaya says that the wolf will lie with the lamb, and the leopard with the goat, this is a moshol referring to a period of peace between the Jews and the nations of the world, who will all return to true belief. The nations will not be violent nor will they plunder. We do not know the true meanings in these mosholim but we will find out when the time comes. The Chachomim and the Nevi’im did not look forward to the days of the Moshiach in order to rule over the whole world or to fight against the nations or in the hope that the nations will raise us up. And not to eat, drink and be happy. But to be free to delve into the Torah and its wisdom without disturbance and to earn merits for the world to come. Then there will be no famines, no wars, no jealousy and no competition. All good things will be freely available and everybody will be free to learn about Hashem. The Jewish People will be very wise, knowing hidden things and will understand their Creator as much as a person can; as is written, “The world will be full of knowledge of Hashem as the water covers the sea.” (Chabakuk 2:14).\

The Mishna says (Sukkah 41a) that at first there was an obligation to take the lulav  on the seven days of Succos in the Beis Hamikdash and elsewhere just on one day. After the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, Reb Yochanan ben Zakai decreed that the lulav should be taken on all seven days of Succos wherever we are, to remind us of how it was in the time of the Beis Hamikdash. The Gemara asks, “Where is the source that we should do things to remind us of how things were in the time of the Beis Hamikdash? The Gemara brings a posuk (Yirmiyahu 30:17) “They called Zion ‘discarded’; no-one cares about her.” From which we can learn, says the Gemara, that we have to care about her.” Yirmiyahu has just prophesied, “I am saving you from distant places and your descendants from the land of their captivity. Jacob will return and will be at peace and tranquil and none will make him afraid.” (30:10) The Gemara understood that this wonderful prophecy has not materialized because we show too little concern for Zion — how it was in the time of the Beis Hamikdash with the joy of the Avoda, the thrice-yearly homage to Hashem and the constant miracles. We used to smell the fresh hot scent of the lechem hapanim even though it was baked seven days earlier, how a tiny amount of the lechem hapanim was totally satisfying, how the crimson cloth turned white, as teshuva was accepted on Yom Kippur, how the azoroh was packed but everyone had enough space to prostrate himself as well as all the other constant miracles. (Yuma 21a).

If we don’t appreciate our majestic past, if we are quite happy in the present, then in the future Hashem will not give us back what we lost. In order to merit the Geula we have to be like the widow in Eicha who constantly thinks back to the joyful times she had with her late husband.

We have also to look forward to the days of Moshiach as the Rambam reminded us. “Not to rule over the world, not to eat, drink and be happy but to spend our days learning the Torah and its wisdom without disturbance.” It is not enough to believe that the Moshiach will come. Longing for it shows who we really are, what is really important to us. Do we really want a new Beis Hamikdash, korbonos, shemitta and yovlos? Do we want more time to learn the Torah? If we don’t, we can’t expect Hashem to send us the Moshiach. This is why the question, “Did you look forward to the salvation?” is crucial.

Yeshaya promises us a future ingathering of the exiles, an idyllic peace portrayed poetically and famously as the wolf lying down with the lamb but only if we are like a childless woman who craves a child desperately.  We cannot accept the present situation of golus hashechina and chillul Hashem; a world of tzaddik vera lo, rosho vetov lo; a world where every third rate monarch has a resplendent palace while the Beis Hamikdash of the Creator of the world lies in ruins. The source of the Rambam could be this pasuk in Yeshaya.

This is how Yeshaya comforts us this week. Hashem is waiting to send the Moshiach. But do we want him? Does the absence of a Beis Hamikdash matter to us? Do we yearn for it? If we do, promises Yeshaya, we will merit it. The time to sing and be happy will have come.