"I, even I, am he who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mere mortals, human beings who are but grass, that you forget the LORD your Maker, who stretches out the heavens and who lays the foundations of the earth, that you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction? For where is the wrath of the oppressor?" Isaiah 51:12-13
The Torah portion for this week is Shoftim, which means "judges," from Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 51:12-52:12.
Some people go through life with a keen understanding that God created the world and is the master of all creation, but they fail to also understand that God cares for us and is involved in our lives. Other people have it the other way around. They believe that God is loving and caring, but they wonder if God can really bring about the miracles that they are looking for. Whether on a conscious or subconscious level, we don't always fully appreciate who God is and what He is capable of doing in our lives.
In this week's Haftorah, God told His people, "I, even I, am he who comforts you." The question is why does God repeat the word "I"? To answer that we need to review some Scripture.
The Jewish sages teach that the repeated use of the word "I" alludes to the two times in the Ten Commandments which both begin with the word "I," as in "I am the LORD Your God . . ." The two occurrences of the commandments are nearly identical, but there is one glaring difference. In Exodus 20:8, we read, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." We are reminded that God created the world in six days and rested on the Sabbath as we read, "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy" (v. 11).
However, in Deuteronomy 5:12, we are commanded: "Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy . . ." Here we are reminded that the Egyptians enslaved Israel, but God redeemed them as the commandment continues, "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day" (v. 15).
These two injunctions to keep the Sabbath teach us about the two most defining characteristics of God. In Exodus, we learn that God is the all-powerful creator of the world. He can do anything as the master of creation. In Deuteronomy we learn that God is all-loving, hears our cries, and brings about salvation.
Now we can revisit the meaning of our verse in the Haftorah. When God refers to Himself as "I, even I . . .," He is reminding us that He is both the One who can do anything and the One who loves us. The verse goes on to say, "Who are you that you fear mere mortals . . . that you forget the LORD your Maker . . .that you live in constant terror every day . . ." In other words, if we remember that God loves us and can help us in anything, we would never be afraid of anyone or any situation in our lives.
Let's take this comforting message to heart. Choose faith over fear knowing that God can and will take care of us. He has us securely in the palm of His hand and nothing can change that. God wants us to know that He cares deeply for us and can move mountains for us. Once we know who God is, there is nothing ever to fear.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President