"When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? Was my arm too short to deliver you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you? By a mere rebuke I dry up the sea, I turn rivers into a desert; their fish rot for lack of water and die of thirst." Isaiah 50:2
The Torah portion for this week is Eikev, which means "therefore" or "heel," from Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 49:14-51:3.
In this week's Haftorah reading, the second of the "Seven Comforting Readings," the prophet Isaiah recounted the feelings of Israel in exile and God's response. Israel felt forgotten; God assured His nation that He could never forget them. Israel felt abandoned; God explained that He had not abandoned them, but rather their own sins had caused the exile - they did it to themselves. Next God declared that He would have brought them out of exile earlier but, "When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer?"
The Jewish sages explain this verse with a parable: A woodchopper was once chopping wood in a forest when he fell into a deep pit. Alone and isolated, the man was sure that he would die in that ditch. He called out to God with all his heart and soul, asking God to save him. A voice came from heaven and said, "Don't be afraid. I will save you." The man relaxed and went to sleep in the pit.
Soon, a hunter came by and saw the man in the pit. He woke up the startled woodchopper and offered to get him out. But the woodchopper insisted that he didn't need help since God was going to save him. The woodchopper went back to sleep only to be awakened again, this time by a troop of soldiers who happened to be passing through the woods. They, too, saw the man in the pit and woke him up. They also offered to get him out and save his life. Yet, again the woodchopper rebuffed their offers and insisted that God would save him. The woodchopper eventually died in the pit and when his soul got to Heaven, he asked God: "Why didn't you save me like you said you would?" To that God replied: "I tried. I sent you the hunter and the soldiers but you refused and went back to sleep. I can't save you if you don't want to be saved."
What God is saying in our verse is that often when He comes to help us, whether it's in the form of a friend, a stranger or an opportunity, we refuse His aid. God sends us many wake-up calls to get us on the right path - one that will lead to salvation - but instead of recognizing them for what they are, we prefer to hit the snooze button and go back into our spiritual slumber. We need to remain awake and alert for God's messages and messengers that He sends our way.
If deep down, someone doesn't really want to be saved, there is nothing that God can do to help. But, if a person truly desires salvation, God will surely save him or her.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President