Introduction to Yeshaya
We will be beginning Neviim Achronim. This is radically different to our previous learning. In Neviim Achronim there is no chronology and few stories, it is therefore essential to understand clearly the context of each Perek (the topic can change mid-Perek!). Prophecies are very difficult to understand, thus we have instilled various Meforshim in our Summaries to give a comprehension of the deeper underlying messages the Novi is trying to convey; it may deviate from the literal meaning. The Rambam writes that some esoteric prophecies “even the Chachomim have no tradition of their meaning … there is a dispute of opinion about them” (Hilchos Malachim 12:2). Amongst the Meforshim there are disputes about the context and basic understanding of the prophecy. The key is to understand why the Novi is saying what he is, the background and the basic message. It is more essential than even to read through the Summaries to ensure you are aware of the meaning of these according to the Meforshim.
Sefer Yeshaya was written by King Chizkiyohu and his colleagues who were great Talmidei Chachomim. Chizkiyohu was Yeshaya’s uncle and thus he grew up in the King’s palace. Subsequently, Yeshaya received a better education than other Neviim like Yirmiya and thus the language in this Sefer is more developed and complex. Yeshaya did not have a chance to write it himself as he was murdered by Menashe aged 120. This Sefer is a collation of all of Yeshaya’s prophecies throughout his life time. Yirmiya used this Sefer for material to write Sefer Malachim. Yeshaya lived over a hundred years before the Beis Hamikdosh was destroyed. The Judean society at the time of Yeshaya was corrupt, secular and immoral (apart from during Chizkiyoh’s righteous kingdom for 29 years). Neviim were ridiculed as being pessimistic for predicting the Beis Hamikdosh’s obliteration and Golus (exile), people preferred to listen to the false Neviim who believed the Beis Hamikdosh would never be destroyed.
Yeshaya begins with the forecast of the culmination of the exile of the 10 tribes (he was alive during its beginning) and then the later destruction of Yehuda and the first Beis Hamikdosh. He then foresaw the rebuilding of the second Beis Hamikdosh and its destruction by Bovel who incredibly did not exist during his lifetime. Many prophecies relate to the surrounding nations whether allies of the Jewish people or enemies. Towards the end of the Sefer, Yeshaya focuses on the generation before Moshiach and the eventual coming of Moshiach. Like a unimpressed prince watching a royal procession, Yeshaya speaks the least about the esoteric episodes of the Maaseh Mercovoh. He was the greatest of the Neviim as cited by the Gemmora and therefore does not detail this, as he was familiar with Hashem’s presence.
Yeshaya presents prophecies of varying length and often interrupts them mid-flow. He often portrays the bleak times ahead and warns the people to stop their sinful ways, but tries to end on a positive note. He insists that Golus (exile) is necessary to achieve the redemption and be forgiven of the Jewish people’s iniquities. He delivers many positive, upbeat speeches to uplift the spirits of a people who would endure undue suffering throughout Golus. For us Yeshaya cannot be seen as something fulfilled in the past, we have to get involved in the text and realise it is our history as well as our future discussed with many lessons directed to our generation, there is a huge amount to learn and be inspired from.