In Yeshayahu’s prophecy of consolation read as the haftara for Parashat Eikev, he calls upon us to reflect on the lives of Avraham and Sara: “Look back to Avraham, your father, and to Sara who brought you forth, for he was the only one I called, and I blessed him and made him numerous” (Yeshayahu 51:2). Why does the prophet want us to “look back” at Avraham and Sara? How does their story relate to the message of comfort and encouragement in this prophecy?
Rashi explains this verse to mean that just as God blessed Avraham because of his singular status (“he was the only one I called”), so does God promise to bless Am Yisrael because of their singular status. God forged a unique relationship with Avraham, and as part of this relationship, He granted him special blessings. In this prophecy, God reassures the people that despite the calamities and upheavals which they have endured, God still maintains His special bond with them, and will bestow upon them great blessings just as He bestowed great blessings upon their ancestor.
Metzudat David offers a different explanation, interpreting this verse as referring to the loneliness and vulnerability which we experience as a small nation. Avraham was all alone in his belief in God, without any support from family or peers, but he received God’s support and assistance. Likewise, the prophet assures us that although we are a very small minority, and we often find ourselves alone, without the support of other peoples, we can place our trust in God’s assistance, just as He assisted Avraham in his struggle against a world dominated by paganism.
The Radak, citing his father, explains this verse as introducing the subsequent verse, in which the prophet famously proclaims, “For the Lord has comforted Zion; He has comforted all her ruins. He has made her desert like Eden, and her wasteland like the garden of the Lord…” Avraham and Sara were, for many years, “only one” – alone, without offspring, even in old age. It appeared as though they could never bear children together, and yet, “I blessed him and made him numerous” – they eventually produced a large nation. This is God’s message to Benei Yisrael as their land lay in ruins, having become a desolate wasteland after centuries of exile. Just as God produced a large nation from Avraham and Sara when this seemed impossible, so would He produce “Eden” from the desert of Zion. It might seem that Am Yisrael would never again return to its homeland, and that its homeland would never again blossom into a flourishing country, but God assured them that this would happen – just as a large nation emerged from Avraham and Sara after it had seemed impossible for them to reproduce.
Our generation has witnessed the miraculous fulfillment of this promise, as Zion once again blossoms and flourishes. The miracle of the Land of Israel’s transformation from an empty wasteland into “Eden” should assure us of God’s ability to transform any situation from crisis to jubilation, that even circumstances which seem hopeless can be resolved and turned into joyous occasions. Having seen how God can turn a desert into “the garden of the Lord,” we can appeal to God and plead that He turn any “desert” we ever face into a “garden” of success, happiness and good fortune.