"All Who Are Thirsty"


Free Food?

Yeshayahu 55 opens with the announcement that "all who are thirsty" should head for water:


(א) הוֹי כׇּל צָמֵא לְכוּ לַמַּיִם וַאֲשֶׁר אֵין לוֹ כָּסֶף לְכוּ שִׁבְרוּ וֶאֱכֹלוּ וּלְכוּ שִׁבְרוּ בְּלוֹא כֶסֶף וּבְלוֹא מְחִיר יַיִן וְחָלָב. (ב) לָמָּה תִשְׁקְלוּ כֶסֶף בְּלוֹא לֶחֶם וִיגִיעֲכֶם בְּלוֹא לְשׇׂבְעָה שִׁמְעוּ שָׁמוֹעַ אֵלַי וְאִכְלוּ טוֹב וְתִתְעַנַּג בַּדֶּשֶׁן נַפְשְׁכֶם.

(1) Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye for water, And he that hath no money; Come ye, buy, and eat; Yea, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price. (2) Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? And your gain for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat ye that which is good, And let your soul delight itself in fatness.

Yeshayahu provides no background to his call, making one wonder what prompts the proclamation.  Are the people in economic distress, in dire need of food and drink? Why is it that they spend money and get nothing in return?  The prophet also suggests that to benefit from Hashem's promise, the people must first heed Hashem's words.  Which is the primary focus of the prophecy – this exhortation to repent or the earlier promise of prosperity?

Additional Questions

Several other verses raise questions which impact upon our understanding of the prophecy:

  • Historical background – The chapter is not explicitly dated to any time period, making its historical background unclear.  Is Yeshayahu addressing people living during his own time period, the Babylonian exile, or the current exile?  Does the chapter provide any clues which might make one prefer one option over another? How do the various possibilities affect the meaning of the prophecy?
  • Scope of the prophecy – As with many prophecies in Sefer Yeshayahu, it is not clear where this one ends.  Does the whole chapter constitute one unit, or does the new cry of verse 6, "דִּרְשׁוּ י"י בְּהִמָּצְאוֹ", introduce a new prophecy?  How do the two possibilities affect one's understanding of Yeshayahu's message?
  • "שִׁמְעוּ וּתְחִי נַפְשְׁכֶם" (v. 3) – Does the word "נפש" here connote a soul or simply a person? Is the prophet speaking of physical or spiritual good?
  • "הֵן עֵד לְאוּמִּים נְתַתִּיו" (v. 4) – Why does the prophet speak of David's role as a leader of nations right now?  How is this related to the messages of the surrounding verses?
  • "הֵן גּוֹי לֹא תֵדַע תִּקְרָא וְגוֹי לֹא יְדָעוּךָ אֵלֶיךָ יָרוּצו" (v. 5) – Why are the foreign nations turning to Israel?  Does the verse suggest that they will recognize Hashem, or that they will be politically subservient to the nation?  How does this promise relate to the earlier blessing of free drinks?