There is an interesting connection between our parasha and it's haftarah. Most haftarot were chosen based on a connection that might remind listeners/readers of the parasha (it is said the haftarot were chosen during times when the reading of Torah was prohibited by the civil authorities.) Yet the haftarah that accompanies Ekev was chosen because it is part of the sheva d'nekhamta, the seven of consolation--those special readings read between Tisha B'Av and Rosh Hashanah. This is the second of the seven haftarot.
Nevertheless, there is also a connection. In our parasha we read that G"d disciplines us just as a parent might discipline their child. (Paraphrasing Deut 8:5.) The disciplines, these chastisements have come to be known collectively as "yisurin shel ahavah," chastisements of love. You know, from the "this is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you" school of thought. (For those familiar with the adult cartoon "Family Guy" there is a wonderful scene in which the son, Chris, spanks himself because his father, Peter, is too busy watching television to mete out the discipline that mother Lois had just asked Peter to do. As part of the ritual, Chris even says the infamous "this is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you." I think it's biting social commentary.)
Our haftarah too, from Isaiah 49:14-51:3 also utilizes parent/child metaphors and imagery. In response to Israel's claim that G"d has forsaken them, Isaiah asks "Can a mother forget her babe, stop loving the child of her womb?" (49:15a) Then, in a stinging rebuke, Isaiah says "Even these could forget, but I could not forget you." (That's the JPS translation. More accurately, "even these you [plural] could forget.")
In English, Isaiah's meaning could be a little unclear in terms of who the "you" that is the object of not being forgotten is, but from the Hebrew (tishkakhnah is imperfect tense 2nd person plural, i.e. you plural) and the subsequent text it is quite clear that it is G"d who will not forget "you" (singular.) (Still, it could an interesting read if we see it as Isaiah proclaiming his own faith in always remembering G"d.) And scholars have always found it interesting how the verse goes from plural to singular, which also happens in other places throughout this part of Isaiah. (Even in the very first verses we see this. "If, then, you [plural] obey...." it says" but the reward is couched in the singular. Deut 7:12) But I digress.
"Gam-eileh tishkakhnah." Even these you (plural) could forget. A mother, forget her baby, stop loving her child? Quite a condemnation of the mothers of Israel. Strong words, and easily overlooked amidst this particularly long haftarah.
What a mixed up creation we must be. Isaiah rebukes us saying that, as unthinkable as it might be, sometimes mothers do really forsake their children. And Moses tells us that G"d uses chastisements to teach G"d's children, just as we do. (Now there's a piece of fodder for my "im anakhnu b'tzelem Elokim, uv'tzelem anashim Ad"nai" idea that if we are made in G"ds image, then G"d reflects and is capable of all the things we can do, right and wrong, good and evil. The text is quite clear in Deut. 8:5. "ka'asher y'yaseir ish et-b'no Ad"nai Elohekha miyasrekha" - as chastises a man his son (so) Ad"nai your G"d chastises you. Just exactly who is imitating whom here?)
To Isaiah's credit, he first uses the positive image, asking if a mother can forget her child. And yes, I am certain it is more normative for parents never forgetting their children, or stop loving them. I think we, as a people, we as a species, we as G"d's creations, can feel good about that. We are, to some extent, nurturing and loving by nature, especially to our children. Yet all around us are signs and examples of parents forgetting their children, placing greater priority on other things-work, lifestyle, money. Some parents will even shun their own children when they do something they disagree with. So Isaiah is correct when he says ""gam eileh tishkakhnah" - these (children) can be forgotten (and unloved by their parents.)
Yet now, keeping faith with my own "b'tzelem Elokim uv'tzelem anashim" (in the image of G"d/in the image of people) concept, I feel compelled to ask if even G"d can forget G"d's creations, or stop loving them? As an example, for many years now, I have found comfort in the idea that the question to ask about the Shoah is not "where was G"d?" but rather "where was humankind?" Lately, some experiences, teachings, learnings and other things have challenged this viewpoint and compelled me to no longer so easily dismiss the "where was G"d?" question.
So now maybe it is time to paraphrase Isaiah 49:15 and say:
Hayishkakh Ad"nai ulimav, m'rakheim ben-bitno?
Gam-eileh nishkakh V'anochi lo eshkaheikh
Can G"d forget (his) babies, or stop loving the children of G"d's womb?
Even these, (G"d) can forget, but I could not forget You.
I remember G"d. I remember that perhaps You have forgotten. I remember that, if we are in Your image, thus so you are like us, and You, too, could forget your creations. This is not a comfortable place to be. I don't like it. I don't want to believe that G"d could forget us. And we are still here. Nevertheless, I am not as comforted as I have been.
Shakhakh-na Ad"nai oti
Shakhakh-na, Ad"nai otanu
Please remember me, G"d
Please remember us, G"d
These are my prayers this Shabbat.
©2005 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some other musings on this parasha:
Ekev 5764-KaYom HaZeh
Ekev 5760 (from 5759)-Not Holier Than Thou
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