Foreigners and Eunuchs in Yeshayahu 56
Who Needs Comforting?
As with many other prophecies in the second half of Yeshayahu, Chapter 56 opens with a promise of salvation and calls for the nation to act righteously. Soon into the prophecy,1 however, Yeshayahu surprisingly singles out two specific subgroups in the nation, "בֶּן הַנֵּכָר הַנִּלְוָה אֶל י"י" and "הַסָּרִיסִים":
(ג) וְאַל יֹאמַר בֶּן הַנֵּכָר הַנִּלְוָה אֶל י"י לֵאמֹר הַבְדֵּל יַבְדִּילַנִי י"י מֵעַל עַמּוֹ וְאַל יֹאמַר הַסָּרִיס הֵן אֲנִי עֵץ יָבֵשׁ. (ד) כִּי כֹה אָמַר י"י לַסָּרִיסִים... (ה) וְנָתַתִּי לָהֶם בְּבֵיתִי וּבְחוֹמֹתַי יָד וָשֵׁם טוֹב מִבָּנִים וּמִבָּנוֹת שֵׁם עוֹלָם אֶתֶּן לוֹ אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִכָּרֵת. (ו) וּבְנֵי הַנֵּכָר הַנִּלְוִים עַל י"י לְשָׁרְתוֹ וּלְאַהֲבָה אֶת שֵׁם י"י לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לַעֲבָדִים כׇּל שֹׁמֵר שַׁבָּת מֵחַלְּלוֹ וּמַחֲזִיקִים בִּבְרִיתִי.
(3) Neither let the alien, That hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying: 'The Lord will surely separate me from His people'; Neither let the eunuch say: 'Behold, I am a dry tree.' (4) For thus saith the Lord Concerning the eunuchs that keep My sabbaths, And choose the things that please Me, And hold fast by My covenant: (5) Even unto them will I give in My house And within My walls a monument and a memorial Better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting memorial, That shall not be cut off. (6) Also the aliens, that join themselves to the Lord, to minister unto Him, And to love the name of the Lord, To be His servants, Every one that keepeth the sabbath from profaning it, And holdeth fast by My covenant:
Who are these foreigners and eunuchs? What are their concerns, and why does the prophet comfort them specifically? What message might the rest of the nation take away from the prophecy?
The chapter raises several additional questions which might bear on the above:
- "כִּי קְרוֹבָה יְשׁוּעָתִי לָבוֹא" –The prophet speaks of an upcoming redemption but does not specify to which event he refers. Is Yeshayahu speaking of his own time, the Second Temple period, or Messianic times?
- "שֹׁמֵר שַׁבָּת מֵחַלְּלוֹ" – The prophet mentions Shabbat observance three times in the short unit. Why is this specific commandment emphasized to such an extent?
- "הַנִּלְוָה אֶל י"י" – The foreigners are identified as those who have "joined themselves to Hashem", suggesting that they were converts. Is this appellation different in meaning than the term "גר"? What status did these individuals hold?
- "וְנָתַתִּי לָהֶם בְּבֵיתִי וּבְחוֹמֹתַי יָד וָשֵׁם" – What is meant by a "יָד וָשֵׁם"? Elsewhere in Tanakh a "יד" appears to be some sort of monument or memorial; is the prophet suggesting that such an edifice will be established in the Mikdash ("בְּבֵיתִי") itself?
- Attitude to Gentiles – How does Yeshayahu's attitude to Gentiles here compare to that of other prophets?