Zion and Sarah: A Hebrew Word Study

This week’s ‘Haftarah’ – weekly Prophet’s portion – is found in the Book of Isaiah, chapters 49-51 and speaks about the Lord’s comfort for Zion. This week Prophet’s portion ends with the following verses:

“Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him. For the LORD comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” (Isaiah 51:2-3)

The connection between Abraham, Sarah and the comfort of Zion was not clear enough and drew the attention of Jewish Bible commentators over the years.
One of the most interesting interpretations comes from Rabbi Aaron the son of Chayim (lived in Smyrna – today İzmir in Turkey – during the 17th century) who pointed out the following unique Hebrew figure of speech ‘En Lah’ (אין לה) – which means ‘she had no’ – that can be found in the story of Sarai (Sarah) in the Book of Genesis:

“Now Sarai was barren; SHE HAD NO child.” (Genesis 11:30)

And later on, the Bible tells us that:

“The LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as He had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son…” (Genesis 21:1-2)

This unique Hebrew figure of speech suggests that ‘she had no NOW’ but ‘she WILL have in the future’ and can be found in the Hebrew Bible in relation to another issue, as mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah:

“For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the LORD, because they have called you an outcast: ‘It is Zion, for whom no one cares!’” (Jeremiah 30:17)

There, the English phrase ‘for whom no one cares!’ appears in the original Hebrew as ‘En Lah Doresh’ (אין לה דורש) – the same Hebrew figure of speech as we found in the story of Sarah (keep in mind that in Hebrew both Sarah and Zion, meaning Jerusalem, are feminine and therefore referred to as ‘she’). That means that the same thing that happened to Sarah will happen to Zion as well, as it is written and prophesied in the Book of Isaiah:

“And a Redeemer will come to Zion…” (Isaiah 59:20)