Haftarah Reading for Yom Kippur morning (Isaiah 57:14-58:14), a slightly midrashic translation by Arthur O. Waskow

Source (Hebrew) Translation (English)

ישעיהו נז׃יד – נח׃יד
Isaiah 57:14-58:14

יד וְאָמַ֥ר
סֹֽלּוּ־סֹ֖לּוּ פַּנּוּ־דָ֑רֶךְ
הָרִ֥ימוּ מִכְשׁ֖וֹל
מִדֶּ֥רֶךְ עַמִּֽי׃
טו כִּי֩ כֹ֨ה אָמַ֜ר
רָ֣ם וְנִשָּׂ֗א שֹׁכֵ֥ן עַד֙
וְקָד֣וֹשׁ שְׁמ֔וֹ
14 And God said:
Open up, open up, Clear a path!
Clear away all obstacles
From the path of My People!
15 For so says the One
Who high aloft forever dwells,
Whose Name is Holy:

מָר֥וֹם וְקָד֖וֹשׁ אֶשְׁכּ֑וֹן
וְאֶת־דַּכָּא֙ וּשְׁפַל־ר֔וּחַ
לְהַחֲיוֹת֙ ר֣וּחַ שְׁפָלִ֔ים
וּֽלְהַחֲי֖וֹת לֵ֥ב נִדְכָּאִֽים׃
I dwell on high, in holiness,
And therefore with the lowly and humiliated,
To breathe new life into the humble,
To give new life to the broken-hearted.

טז כִּ֣י לֹ֤א לְעוֹלָם֙ אָרִ֔יב
וְלֹ֥א לָנֶ֖צַח אֶקְּצ֑וֹף
כִּי־ר֙וּחַ֙ מִלְּפָנַ֣י יַֽעֲט֔וֹף
וּנְשָׁמ֖וֹת אֲנִ֥י עָשִֽׂיתִי׃
16 I will not do battle against you forever,
I will not be angry with you forever.
From Me comes the breath that floats out to make the world.
I breathe the breath of life, I am the Breath of Life.

יז בַּעֲוֹ֥ן בִּצְע֛וֹ
קָצַ֥פְתִּי וְאַכֵּ֖הוּ
הַסְתֵּ֣ר וְאֶקְצֹ֑ף
וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ שׁוֹבָ֖ב בְּדֶ֥רֶךְ לִבּֽוֹ׃
17 For your sin of greed
I grew angry and smashed you,
I even hid My face.
Yet you wander off the path as your own heart,
wayward, takes you.

יח דְּרָכָ֥יו רָאִ֖יתִי וְאֶרְפָּאֵ֑הוּ
וְאַנְחֵ֕הוּ וַאֲשַׁלֵּ֧ם
נִֽחֻמִ֛ים ל֖וֹ וְלַאֲבֵלָֽיו׃
יט בּוֹרֵ֖א נוב [נִ֣יב] שְׂפָתָ֑יִם
שָׁל֨וֹם׀ שָׁל֜וֹם לָרָח֧וֹק וְלַקָּר֛וֹב
אָמַ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה
וּרְפָאתִֽיו׃
18 I see the path you need —- and I will heal you.
I will guide you and comfort you
With words of courage and of comfort
19 For those who mourn among you.
Peace, peace … shalom, shalom!… to those who are far and near,
Says the Breath-of-Life —
And I will heal you.

כ וְהָרְשָׁעִ֖ים כַּיָּ֣ם נִגְרָ֑שׁ
כִּ֤י הַשְׁקֵט֙ לֹ֣א יוּכָ֔ל
וַיִּגְרְשׁ֥וּ מֵימָ֖יו רֶ֥פֶשׁ וָטִֽיט׃
כא אֵ֣ין שָׁל֔וֹם אָמַ֥ר אֱלֹהַ֖י
לָרְשָׁעִֽים׃
20 But the wicked are like a troubled sea
Which cannot rest,
Whose waters toss up mire and mud.
21 There is no peace, said my God,
For the wicked.

א קְרָ֤א בְגָרוֹן֙ אַל־תַּחְשֹׂ֔ךְ
כַּשּׁוֹפָ֖ר הָרֵ֣ם קוֹלֶ֑ךָ
וְהַגֵּ֤ד לְעַמִּי֙ פִּשְׁעָ֔ם
וּלְבֵ֥ית יַעֲקֹ֖ב חַטֹּאתָֽם׃
ב וְאוֹתִ֗י י֥וֹם יוֹם֙ יִדְרֹשׁ֔וּן
וְדַ֥עַת דְּרָכַ֖י יֶחְפָּצ֑וּן
כְּג֞וֹי אֲשֶׁר־צְדָקָ֣ה עָשָׂ֗ה
וּמִשְׁפַּ֤ט אֱלֹהָיו֙ לֹ֣א עָזָ֔ב
1 Cry out aloud, don’t hold back,
Lift up your voice like the shofar!
Tell My people what they are doing wrong,
Tell those who call themselves the “House of Jacob” their misdeeds.
2 For day after day they go out searching for Me,
They take some kind of pleasure in getting to know My ways —
As if they were a people that actually did righteous deeds
And never ignored the just rulings of their God.

יִשְׁאָל֙וּנִי֙ מִשְׁפְּטֵי־צֶ֔דֶק
קִרְבַ֥ת אֱלֹהִ֖ים יֶחְפָּצֽוּן׃
They keep asking Me for the rules of justice
As if they would take delight in being close to God.

ג לָ֤מָּה צַּ֙מְנוּ֙ וְלֹ֣א רָאִ֔יתָ
עִנִּ֥ינוּ נַפְשֵׁ֖נוּ וְלֹ֣א תֵדָ֑ע
3 They say: “Why is it that we have fasted, and You don’t see our suffering?
We press down our egos — but You don’t pay attention!”

הֵ֣ן בְּי֤וֹם צֹֽמְכֶם֙ תִּמְצְאוּ־חֵ֔פֶץ
וְכָל־עַצְּבֵיכֶ֖ם תִּנְגֹּֽשׂוּ׃
 
ד הֵ֣ן לְרִ֤יב וּמַצָּה֙ תָּצ֔וּמוּ
וּלְהַכּ֖וֹת בְּאֶגְרֹ֣ף רֶ֑שַׁע
 
לֹא־תָצ֣וּמוּ כַיּ֔וֹם
לְהַשְׁמִ֥יעַ בַּמָּר֖וֹם קוֹלְכֶֽם׃
Look! On the very day you fast you keep scrabbling for wealth;
On the very day you fast you keep oppressing all your workers.
 
4 Look! You fast in strife and contention.
You strike with a wicked fist.
 
You are not fasting today in such a way
As to make your voices heard on high.

ה הֲכָזֶ֗ה יִֽהְיֶה֙ צ֣וֹם אֶבְחָרֵ֔הוּ
י֛וֹם עַנּ֥וֹת אָדָ֖ם נַפְשׁ֑וֹ
 
הֲלָכֹ֨ף כְּאַגְמֹ֜ן רֹאשׁ֗וֹ
וְשַׂ֤ק וָאֵ֙פֶר֙ יַצִּ֔יעַ
 
הֲלָזֶה֙ תִּקְרָא־צ֔וֹם
וְי֥וֹם רָצ֖וֹן לַיהוָֽה׃
5 Is that the kind of fast that I desire?
Is that really a day for people to “press down their egos”?
 
Am I commanding you to droop your heads like bulrushes
And lie around in sackcloth and ashes?
 
Is that what you call a fast day,
The kind of day that the God of the Burning Bush would wish?

ו הֲל֣וֹא
 
זֶה֮ צ֣וֹם אֶבְחָרֵהוּ֒
6 No!
 
This is the kind of fast that I desire:

פַּתֵּ֙חַ֙ חַרְצֻבּ֣וֹת רֶ֔שַׁע
הַתֵּ֖ר אֲגֻדּ֣וֹת מוֹטָ֑ה
וְשַׁלַּ֤ח רְצוּצִים֙ חָפְשִׁ֔ים
וְכָל־מוֹטָ֖ה תְּנַתֵּֽקוּ׃
Unlock the hand-cuffs put on by wicked power!
Untie the ropes of the yoke!
Let the oppressed go free,
And break off every yoke!

ז הֲל֨וֹא פָרֹ֤ס לָֽרָעֵב֙ לַחְמֶ֔ךָ
וַעֲנִיִּ֥ים מְרוּדִ֖ים תָּ֣בִיא בָ֑יִת
כִּֽי־תִרְאֶ֤ה עָרֹם֙ וְכִסִּית֔וֹ
וּמִבְּשָׂרְךָ֖
לֹ֥א תִתְעַלָּֽם׃
7 Share your bread with the hungry.
Bring the poor, the outcasts, to your house.
When you see them naked, clothe them;
They are your flesh and blood;
Don’t hide yourself from them!

ח אָ֣ז יִבָּקַ֤ע כַּשַּׁ֙חַר֙ אוֹרֶ֔ךָ
וַאֲרֻכָתְךָ֖ מְהֵרָ֣ה תִצְמָ֑ח
וְהָלַ֤ךְ לְפָנֶ֙יךָ֙ צִדְקֶ֔ךָ
כְּב֥וֹד יְהוָ֖ה יַאַסְפֶֽךָ׃
ט אָ֤ז תִּקְרָא֙ וַיהוָ֣ה יַעֲנֶ֔ה
תְּשַׁוַּ֖ע וְיֹאמַ֣ר הִנֵּ֑נִי
8 Then your light will burst through like the dawn;
Then when you need healing it will spring up quickly;
Then your own righteousness will march ahead to guard you.
And a radiance from YHWH will reach out behind to guard you.
9 Then, when you cry out, YHWH will answer;
Then, when you call, God will say: “Here I am!”

אִם־תָּסִ֤יר מִתּֽוֹכְךָ֙ מוֹטָ֔ה
שְׁלַ֥ח אֶצְבַּ֖ע
וְדַבֶּר־אָֽוֶן׃
י וְתָפֵ֤ק לָֽרָעֵב֙ נַפְשֶׁ֔ךָ
וְנֶ֥פֶשׁ נַעֲנָ֖ה תַּשְׂבִּ֑יעַ
If you banish the yoke from your midst,
If you rid yourself of scornful finger-pointing
And words of contempt;
10 If you open up your life-experience to the hungry
And soothe the life that has been trampled under foot,

וְזָרַ֤ח בַּחֹ֙שֶׁךְ֙ אוֹרֶ֔ךָ
וַאֲפֵלָתְךָ֖ כַּֽצָּהֳרָֽיִם׃
יא וְנָחֲךָ֣ יְהוָה֮ תָּמִיד֒
וְהִשְׂבִּ֤יעַ בְּצַחְצָחוֹת֙ נַפְשֶׁ֔ךָ
וְעַצְמֹתֶ֖יךָ יַחֲלִ֑יץ
Then even in darkness your light will shine out
And your moments of gloom turn bright as noonday.
11 Then the Breath of Life will always be your guide,
Will soothe your own life in your own times of dryness
And strengthen your bones when they are weary.

וְהָיִ֙יתָ֙ כְּגַ֣ן רָוֶ֔ה וּכְמוֹצָ֣א מַ֔יִם
אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־יְכַזְּב֖וּ מֵימָֽיו׃
יב וּבָנ֤וּ מִמְּךָ֙ חָרְב֣וֹת עוֹלָ֔ם
מוֹסְדֵ֥י דוֹר־וָד֖וֹר תְּקוֹמֵ֑ם
וְקֹרָ֤א לְךָ֙ גֹּדֵ֣ר פֶּ֔רֶץ
מְשֹׁבֵ֥ב נְתִיב֖וֹת לָשָֽׁבֶת׃
Then you shall be like a garden given water,
Like a wellspring whose waters never fail.
12 Those who spring from you shall rebuild the ancient ruins
And you shall lay foundations for the coming generation.
You shall be called “Those who mend torn places,”
You shall be called “Those who build lanes to live in.”

יג אִם־תָּשִׁ֤יב מִשַּׁבָּת֙ רַגְלֶ֔ךָ
עֲשׂ֥וֹת חֲפָצֶ֖יךָ בְּי֣וֹם קָדְשִׁ֑י
וְקָרָ֨אתָ לַשַּׁבָּ֜ת עֹ֗נֶג
לִקְד֤וֹשׁ יְהוָה֙ מְכֻבָּ֔ד
וְכִבַּדְתּוֹ֙ מֵעֲשׂ֣וֹת דְּרָכֶ֔יךָ
מִמְּצ֥וֹא חֶפְצְךָ֖
וְדַבֵּ֥ר דָּבָֽר׃
13 If you refrain from trampling my Renewal-time[1]*I have translated “shabbat” here more broadly as “Renewal-time” because when we look at the content of what Isaiah is calling for and his imploring, “Lift up your voice like a shofar,” it may be he is calling for the Jubilee itself — which was to begin with the blowing of the shofar on Yom Kippur.
And from being busy-busy on My holy day;
If you will not only call Renewal-time[2]see note above. delightful
But also turn far from your usual way
And set aside your business and your chatter
To be yourselves the rays by which God’s Holiness
Can turn this world into a radiant joy —

יד אָ֗ז תִּתְעַנַּג֙ עַל־יְהוָ֔ה
וְהִרְכַּבְתִּ֖יךָ
עַל־במותי [בָּ֣מֳתֵי]  
אָ֑רֶץ
וְהַאֲכַלְתִּ֗יךָ
נַחֲלַת֙ יַעֲקֹ֣ב אָבִ֔יךָ
14 Then indeed you will find delight in YHWH.
For then — when you have joined the lowly —
I will set you all with Me,
Astride the heights of earth.
Then — when you feed others — I will let you eat your fill
From what is truly due you as the heirs of Jacob.

כִּ֛י
פִּ֥י יְהוָ֖ה
דִּבֵּֽר׃
Now!
For this word come from the Mouth that
Breathes all life.


the subversiveness of prayer, there’s a leopard loose in the Yom Kippur siddur (credit: Shoshana Michael Zucker, license: CC BY-SA)

As we move not just toward a new “year” (shanah) but toward a moment when repetition (sheni) becomes transformation (shinui), I hope we will remember —

the roots of Jewish renewal in the upheavals of the 1960s as well as the upheavals of the 1760s,

the roots of Judaism in the great “political” speeches of the Prophets,

and the teachings of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who said that in a great civil rights march his legs were praying, and who argued again and again that “spirituality” and “politics” cannot be severed.

As Heschel also said, “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive.”[3]Full quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s speech, “On Prayer” (August 1969, National Liturgical Conference, Milwaukee Wisconsin): “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.”

I often introduce the Isaiah haftarah with a great short-short story by Franz Kafka.[4]See his wonderful and troubling book of midrash, PARABLES AND PARADOXES. More or less, the story goes:

“One day a leopard stalked into the synagogue, roaring and lashing its tail. Three weeks later, it had become part of the liturgy.”[5]Actual quote by Franz Kafka from his The Zürau Aphorisms, “Leop­ards break in­to the tem­ple and drink all the sac­ri­fi­cial ves­sels dry; it keeps hap­pen­ing; in the end, it can be cal­cu­lat­ed in ad­vance and is in­cor­po­rat­ed in­to the rit­ual.”

What can we do to un-tame the leopard — let God off the leash of the liturgy?

What, for example, can we do for Yom Kippur — and for all those other times when the religiously or spiritually committed begin to think they can get high on God without gittin’ down with the lowest of the low?

On Yom Kippur morning, we read a prophetic passage of Isaiah, describing what happened when he interrupted the prayers and fasting of a crowd that thought it was fulfilling its religious obligations.

Isaiah seems to be saying that he actually walked into the crowd of some large Yom Kippur assemblage.

He faced people who were feeling good because they were feeling bad (having fasted for 18 hours or so). He shouted at them that it was all beside the point. He sneered at their “drooping their heads like bullrushes.” He demanded that they pay attention to the poor, to those in prison, and also to their own scrabbling for wealth.

He notes that on the holy day itself, as they heard his words, they shook their fists at him. (They were probably angry because he was interrupting the beautiful songs the Levites were singing.)

He insists that the “high” they were feeling when he arrived was a fake: they can have a real high, real ecstasy, only by lifting the lowest of their community along with them. By actual material acts of feeding, clothing, liberating.

He shattered the traditional liturgy, he shattered the equanimity of those spiritual folks, he denied the authenticity of their experience. He did not have a civil debate with them.

And this is the text the rabbis set before us to read on the very day when the community is most likely to be feeling exactly as Isaiah’s crowd did.

But in many many synagogues, this passage itself has become just a set piece for recitation, just another part of the liturgy. So I have tried over and over to invent ways to read it in such a fashion, with “interruptions” from the real world, that it can shake people as it is supposed to.

I have interrupted the verses of Isaiah with headlines about homeless people freezing to death on Philadelphia streets. About 300 jobless people applying for work when only ten jobs were advertised. About mothers having to choose between food and medicine for their children. About the torture of prisoners in Iraq, in Israel, in America. (“Strike off the handcuffs!” says Isaiah.)

Are these “politics”? Are they God crying out to us, as the homeless, the imprisoned, the tortured, cry out to God?

I urge and invite us to begin NOW to imagine how to let God’s leopard loose on Yom Kippur. Or at any other time, to let the subversiveness of prayer leap from the letters in the prayerbook.

Notes   [ + ]

  1. *I have translated “shabbat” here more broadly as “Renewal-time” because when we look at the content of what Isaiah is calling for and his imploring, “Lift up your voice like a shofar,” it may be he is calling for the Jubilee itself — which was to begin with the blowing of the shofar on Yom Kippur.
  2. see note above.
  3. Full quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s speech, “On Prayer” (August 1969, National Liturgical Conference, Milwaukee Wisconsin): “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.”
  4. See his wonderful and troubling book of midrash, PARABLES AND PARADOXES.
  5. Actual quote by Franz Kafka from his The Zürau Aphorisms, “Leop­ards break in­to the tem­ple and drink all the sac­ri­fi­cial ves­sels dry; it keeps hap­pen­ing; in the end, it can be cal­cu­lat­ed in ad­vance and is in­cor­po­rat­ed in­to the rit­ual.”

Comments, Corrections, and Queries


בסיעתא דארעא