Isaiah – Chapter 1

You've Got to Change Your Evil Ways

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Isaiah (Yeshayahu) was the son of Amotz, who was the brother of Amatziah, then king of Judah (Megillah 10b). He prophesied to the nation of Judah and its capital, Jerusalem. This prophecy is called a vision (“chazon”), which denotes a harsh form of prophecy.

In this chapter, Isaiah calls upon the heavens and earth to bear witness to what G-d has said: the Jewish people have rebelled against Him. An ox recognizes its owner and a donkey knows its home, but the Jews failed to recognize G-d. They’ve suffered punishments, from head to foot, but they continue to sin against G-d. The land is desolate and the cities have been burned, as in the Tochacha, the rebuke in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. If not for G-d’s mercy, the nation would have been completely obliterated, like Sodom and Gomorrah. (Isaiah even calls the Jewish people “leaders of Sodom” and “nation of Gomorrah.”)

Isaiah continues: G-d doesn’t want or need sacrifices. Sure, the people were great about bringing sacrifices, but then they’d turn around and wrong one another. A sacrifice from such a person is actually detestable to G-d. G-d no longer wanted them gathering before Him for Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh. When they spread out their hands to pray, it’s as if they were covered in blood.

What the people need to do is to cleanse themselves of the taint of their deeds. Give up their evil ways. Do good, seek justice, look out for widows and orphans. If they repent, their sins which are red like crimson will become white like snow. (This should be a familiar concept from Yom Kippur.) If the people shape up, they will enjoy the best produce of the land. If not, their enemies will devour them with the sword.

Judah was formerly a righteous place, a residence of justice. Now it houses murderers. (Rashi on verse 21 says this refers to the murders of the prophets Uriah and Zechariah. We alluded to the murder of Zechariah in II Kings chapter 12 and we will read of the murder of Uriah in Jeremiah chapter 26.) Everybody cheats everybody else; the coins are counterfeit and the wine is diluted. Princes consort with thieves and everybody is running after payoffs. Therefore, G-d will purge and purify the nation, restoring it to its former glory so that once again it will be known as a place of righteousness. The wicked will be destroyed, ashamed for their idolatry. They will be like a dry garden, easily consumed by a spark with no one to put out the fire.

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