`124 Frustrated? Learn from Yeshaya
Chananya Weissman
August 12, 2021

Are you feeling frustrated? Do you feel that you've wasted your time over the last couple of years (or even longer) trying to get through to people? Do you believe it was all for nothing?

The navi Yeshaya felt the same way:

ואני אמרתי לריק יגעתי לתהו והבל כחי כליתי

And I said I toiled in vain, I used up my strength for emptiness and for nothing... (Yeshaya 49:4)

Day in and day out Yeshaya was warning the people and exhorting them to do teshuva. He probably influenced some people, but overall his efforts were unsuccessful. What is the point of spending your life warning people who never listen, resent you, and even wish to harm you? Yeshaya was troubled by these very thoughts.

Then he continued in the same pasuk:

אכן משפטי את ה' ופעלתי את אלהי

Indeed, my judgment is [revealed before] Hashem and [the reward for] my work is with my God.

Yeshaya took solace in the knowledge that he had done his job faithfully. Hashem would reward him in full even though the people did not listen to him; that was not his responsibility.

It is not our job to convince people, which is not in our power. We are responsible only to share the truth. As frustrating as it can be to be ignored, insulted, mocked, slandered, bullied, and abused, this is an occupational hazard of following Hashem in the present time. Hashem is absolutely lovesick with us for all that we are doing in His service.

In fact, in a certain sense our service is superior to that of the prophets. They were explicitly charged to deliver messages to the people, messages which were generally unwelcome. The prophets had no choice in the matter; a prophet who refuses a mission is liable for death at the hands of Heaven.

We, on the other hand, were not instructed to warn people day after day. We could easily absolve ourselves from this unpleasant, even dangerous task, especially if we see little fruit from our efforts. Yet we continue to stand for Hashem and try to awaken others.

Do you think Hashem doesn't notice? Do you think this counts for nothing?

Hashem responds to Yeshaya:

ויאמר נקל מהיותך לי עבד להקים את שבטי יעקב ונצירי ונצורי ישראל להשיב ונתתיך לאור גוים להיות ישועתי עד־קצה הארץ

Is it trifling for you to be My servant? To establish the tribes of Yaacov and bring back the besieged of Israel? [Behold] I will make you a light of nations, so that My salvation will be until the ends of the earth. (Yeshaya 49:6)

Not only would Yeshaya receive the full reward for his service, despite seeming to toil for nothing, he would get much more than he ever imagined. Instead of only preaching to a generation that generally dismissed him, his words and work would live on thousands of years later, to return the Jews, inspire the nations, and bring salvation to the world.

After hearing this, it's fair to assume that the next time a Jew made a snide remark to Yeshaya, it didn't ruin his day.

Indeed, we find a completely different reaction in 50:6:

גוי נתתי למכים ולחיי למרטים פני לא הסתרתי מכלמות ורק

I gave my back to those who strike and my cheek to those who ripped out my hair. I did not hide my face from humiliation and spitting.

Radak notes that it is not mentioned anywhere that Yeshaya faced such abuse – he enjoyed high social status – but it is possible that this still happened. Either way, he was willing to subject himself to that with love to carry Hashem's message. This is a drastic change from complaining that it was for nothing.

Rashi sees in this an allusion to a dialogue between Hashem and Yeshaya at the beginning of his prophetic career. “My children refuse to listen,” Hashem told him. “My children are burdensome. [I give you this job] on the condition that you don't get angry at them.” Yeshaya agreed.

This is an extremely timely lesson for us as well. Many of our fellow Jews, including people close to us, are refusing to listen and being extremely burdensome. If we wish to follow in the ways of our prophets, we need to try our very best not to get angry at them. We have to remind ourselves that their bodies and minds have been severely affected. It is fair to say that many of these people have become mentally ill and spiritually distant. Whatever responsibility they bear for their behavior does not change the fact that they have been severely abused, brainwashed, and traumatized. They are sick. We will not help them or serve Hashem by getting angry at them.

It isn't easy by any means, but we need to accept this upon ourselves.

Hopefully, if nothing else, we will be able to convince them not to get angry at us, either. If we can agree on little else at the present time, hopefully we can agree on that. That alone would be a game-changer.


One additional message of support. Even if we remain unpopular to the end of our days, we should not despair. The Gemara in Shabbos 153A teaches in the name of Rav that we can tell from a person's eulogy whether he is destined for the world to come. If the attendees are roused to emotion (even if it requires effort from the speaker) it is a sign that he has a place in the world to come, otherwise not.

When Abaye heard this teaching, he was very disturbed. His teacher, Rabba, was hated by the Jews of Pumbedisa, his province, for they were cheaters and Rabba rebuked them. Who would be roused at his funeral?

Rabba reassured his student that he would have two such people, Abaye and Rabba bar Rav Chanan. That would be sufficient.

Hopefully we will be universally loved for our efforts to bring people closer to Hashem. If not, so be it. We are not trying to win a popularity contest or an election. If we were, we wouldn't be who we are, and our messages would have no meaning. Even if virtually no one appreciates us, we should follow in the footsteps of Rabba and keep trucking on.