Yitzhaq Hayut-man

Investigation of The SERVANT NATION in the Haphtarah of Genesis

Artist Phillip Ratner By Dr.  Yitzhaq Hayut-Man This last Shabbat (13.10.12) started a new yearly cycle of the reading of the Torah (Pentateuch) from the start – Bereshit/Genesis. I have already written about the Torah being actually written in future tense and thus forming a prophecy for our time, rather than a past history, and about the apparent three stories of Creation as corresponding to the three distinct levels of Being – Beri’ah, Yeẓirah and Ạssiyah.

There were also appendices about the Tree of Life Pattern, the Multidimensional structure of Genesis and about the New Jerusalem Diagram embedded within the first verse of Genesis. Now that we have raised the cause of the Universal New Israel as the global “Servant Nation”, we can check how the ideas of the Servant Nation and the Messiah connect with the first Portion of Bereshit/Genesis.

There is indeed a Midrash that claims that the “Spirit of (or Wind from) God hovers over the surface of the waters” (Gen 1:2, literal translation, respecting the original tense) “is the Spirit of the Messiah” (Bereshit Raba, 2:4).[1]

The main connection is through the Haphtarah – the Jewish ritual of reading sections from the writings of the prophets on Sabbaths and festivals after the reading from the Torah. The Haphtarah text is brought to amplify a certain point in the text of the Torah portion, a point that is explicit or implicit. On this first reading of Bereshit/Genesis, the Haphtarah section is from Isaiah, from 42:5 to 43:10 – which is largely about “The Servant of YHWH” – a concept that caused many debates between Jews and Christians over the centuries, arguing whether this is an individual or the entire Nation of Israel.

The concept of “The Servant of YHWH” already appears in the former chapter of Isaiah (“Second Isaiah” according to most Bible scholars) – “But thou, Yisra’el, art my servant, Ya’ạqov (Jacob) whom I have chosen” (Isaiah 41:8). So this is the entire nation as the Servant. But in chapter 42, just before the Haphtarah, there are four verses that describe this servant in more personal terms. The first of them says: “Behold My servant, whom I uphold;  My elect, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgment to the nations” (Is. 42:1). It could even be argued that the Haphtarah does not begin with the beginning of the chapter because the Jewish sages who selected the Haphtarah wanted to avoid this embarrassment. [2]

But the more likely reason the Haftarah starts on verse 5 is that here comes the Acts of Creation: “Thus says God the Lord (haEl YHWH), He that created the heavens, and stretched them out; He that spread forth the earth, and that which comes out of it; He that gives breath/Divine Soul (Neshamah) to the nation (Ạm) upon it, and spirit (Ru’aḥ) to them that walk therein” (Isaiah 42:5). This parallels the first verse of Genesis, only here there are four actions: heaven and earth – as in the Genesis account – but also giving of the Divine Soul (Neshamah) to the nation (ha’Ạm) and spirit to the people at large. The next verse repeats the notion of the nation and expands upon it: “I the Lord (YHWH) have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thy hand, and will keep thee, and give thee as a covenant of a nation (Brit Ạm), for a light of the nations” (Or Goyim).

In the Genesis account, God creates light as the first creation. Here Israel is conceived as “A Light for/of the Nations”. The notion of light then repeats several times in the portion, along the notion of blindness and overcoming blindness by giving light.

Let us look at the main themes of this passage by counting key words. The Name of the Lord (YHWH) appears 13 times, and He declares Himself as “Ani” (I) 6 times. The last time it comes as “Ani Hu” – “I am He” (who creates and does all the marvels listed before). Blindness is mentioned 7 times, of which three times that the Servant of God (identified once as “Meshulam”, literally “perfected” or “paid for”) is himself blind – “Hear, O deaf; and look, O blind, that you may see. Who is blind, but My servant? Or deaf as My messenger that I sent? Who is blind as he that is perfected and blind as the Lord’s servant” – and four times are about opening blind eyes. Against these there are seven mentions of seeing and of light, starting with the Servant Nation of the Lord being “Light of the Nations”.

These mentions of light, seeing and comprehending are again connected to the Genesis narrative. Recall that the first command or act is “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:2-5). Thus the Servant Nation of Israel emulates God’s creation and is in fact a co-creator.[3] This leads to the Midrash on the word “Bereshit” (at the beginning) – that the world was created “for the sake of Israel who are called “Reshit” (vayiqra Raba 36:4, based on Jer. 2:3). This may seem to any non-Israelite as sheer impudence. But to put it in perspective, the Midrash says that “each and every person (Adam, not necessarily Israelite) ought to say ‘the world was created for my sake” (Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5).

There is also still another implicit connection between the first portion of Genesis and this section from Isaiah. We noted earlier that there are three creation stories one after the other: one about the Creation of Heaven and Earth (1:1), second about the “generations” or products (Toladot) of the Heaven and Earth (2:4) and the third about the generations/ products of Adam (Mankind) starting 5:1. We have claimed these correspond to the levels of Being: Creation (Bri’ah) Formation (Yeẓirah) and of Making (Ạssiyah). These three terms are mentioned explicitly in the passage in Isaiah: “Every one that is called by My Name, for I have created him (bra’ativ) for My glory, I have formed him (yeẓartiv); yea, I have made him (ạssitiv”).

[1]  This concept is examined in detail by the Maharal, Be’er haGolah V3, 12

[2] The chapters in the Bible where later, Christian divisions and they do not oblige the Jewish reading. Many portions (Parashot) start or end in the middle of a chapter.

[3]  The claim that Israel, and specifically Zion, are the Nation of God and co-creators with Him of the New Heavens and New Earth is given clearly in the introduction to the (book of) Zohar.

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