"The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand." Isaiah 1:3
The Torah portion for this week is Davarim, which means "words," from Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 1:1-27.
This week's reading comes at a very difficult time for the Jewish people. We are in the midst of a three-week period of mourning that precedes the ninth of the Hebrew month Av, which is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. On that day, we fast and mourn the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem and every other tragedy that has befallen the Jewish people ever since that fateful day. This Haftorah reading is always read on the Sabbath before the ninth of Av. It tells us why the Israelites were exiled and warns us of the sins we continue to carry on. Next week, we begin the seven weeks of comfort and read more uplifting sections.
For now, we'll focus on God's general complaint. Through the prophet Isaiah, God told the people, "The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand."
What's God telling His people and us? An ox knows who its master is and so obeys his every order. A donkey doesn't know its owner but knows where his food comes from and visits his trough several times a day. "But Israel does not know," said God. Israel is compared to being lower than an ox or a donkey at this point in history. God called them "my people," but they acted as though they didn't know to whom they belonged. They didn't even recognize where their provisions came from. They had completely cut God out of the picture, and that is why, ultimately, God cut them out of His picture.
If not for the grace of God, and His unconditional love for Israel, He would have treated them like Sodom and Gomorrah, and completely annihilated them. But He didn't, and that is why we are here today.
The challenge for us today is to rectify the sins of our predecessors. We need to know who we belong to we are children of the Most High God. We have the incredible privilege of being His, but that privilege comes with a responsibility. We must obey Him. We must recognize that He alone is the source of all we have - our livelihood, our health, even our family. We must respond with gratitude, obedience, and faith.
Yet, God doesn't want us to simply know to whom we belong; God wants to have a relationship with us. Not as a master and his ox or donkey, but one that is compared to a bride and groom, husband and wife, parent and child. In the Song of Songs 6:3, we read "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine." Let's restore and refresh our loving relationship with God. Know to whom you belong, and consequently, God will "belong" to us, too.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President