By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
Shimon ben Azai declared that he found a scroll in Jerusalem that contained a historical fact not otherwise recorded in the Prophets. It was inscribed in the scroll that Yeshayah HaNavi died at the hands of King Menasheh, his own grandson.
King Menasheh was steeped in idolatry and other sins. He wanted to kill Yeshayah HaNavi because Yeshayah represented the Torah and rebuked Klal Yisrael for straying from it, so Menasheh’s soldiers pursued Yeshayah. Yeshayah uttered the Divine Name and was miraculously absorbed inside a cedar tree. Menasheh’s soldiers realized what had happened, and Menasheh ordered that the tree be cut down. He further ordered that the tree be cut to pieces. When the ax reached the place of Yeshayah’s mouth, his soul departed.
The Ben Yehoyada explains that technically Yeshayah did not die at the hands of the soldiers, but Hashem miraculously took his soul a moment before he would have been killed. Why did Hashem ordain that Yeshayah’s soul depart specifically at that moment, right before the ax reached his mouth? It was to illustrate that Yeshayah was deserving of punishment because of something he said. Yeshayah HaNavi said, “I dwell among people of impure lips.” Rashi notes that if this statement had been said in the context of rebuke, it would have been perfectly acceptable. However, in the context in which it was said, it was extraneous. Hashem punished Yeshayah HaNavi for maligning the Jewish nation without a constructive purpose.
How did the servants know that Yeshayah was absorbed into the tree? The Yerushalmi says that his tzitzis were sticking out! Why did Hashem ordain that tzitzis be instrumental in Yeshayah’s death? The Ben Yehoyada explains that tzitzis represent that Hashem loves Klal Yisrael even if they are sinful and rebellious. Every corner has 8 strings and 5 knots. This represents the number 13. There are 4 corners; 13 times 4 is 52, which has the gematria of “ben” (“son”). Further, two corners are in the front and two are in the back to illustrate that Hashem loves us like a son whether we are acting appropriately, symbolized by the front, or are unfortunately sinful, symbolized by the back. Hashem was teaching us to not malign Klal Yisrael, whom He loves like children, even if they are rebellious. Hashem knows that no matter how far a person has strayed, there is still a spark of righteousness within him.
The pasuk says that Yitzchak Avinu smelled the garments of Yaakov before bestowing the blessings on him. The Midrash says that the word “begadav,” “his garments,” can also be understood to mean “bogdav,” “his traitors.” Before blessing Yaakov, Yitzchak first wanted to ascertain the nature of the traitors that descended from him. Yitzchak prophetically saw examples of Jewish traitors. One such example was Yosef Meshisa.
When the Romans conquered Yerushalayim, they were initially afraid to enter the Beis HaMikdash. It was decided that a Jew should enter first. They announced that any Jew who enters the Temple could keep what he steals. Yosef Meshisa entered and brought out the Menorah. The Romans then said that the Menorah was too splendid to be used by a commoner, and they directed him to enter a second time and take something else. Yosef Meshisa had a sudden change of heart and declared, “Is it not enough that I angered Hashem once—shall I anger Him again?” They urged Yosef to go in again, but he steadfastly refused. Yosef Meshisa died al kiddush Hashem.
When Yitzchak prophetically saw this and other similar examples, he conferred the berachos on Yaakov. There are many tzaddikim who willingly gave their life for the sake of sanctifying the Divine Name. What was so special about these examples? Yosef Meshisa, to all appearances, had already forsaken Judaism. He was ready to collaborate with the Romans. But in one moment he had absolute clarity of vision and had an instant transformation. He proved that even those who forsake the Torah still have that spark buried deep inside of them.
Yitzchak foresaw that even the traitors of Klal Yisrael have the inner potential to instantly achieve the greatest heights. Therefore, Yitzchak surmised that Yaakov and his descendants were deserving of the blessings. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.