Why not? True, there's always more to discover when we trod the paths of Torah, no matter how well worn they are. So, while I may have written in previous years about parashat Tazria, parashat Metzora, and their respective haftarot, there's still plenty more in there waiting to be discovered. Nevertheless, the opportunity presented itself to examine a different piece of text this week, and that's the direction my muse seemed to take me.
It's that hafatarah we read when Rosh Hodesh falls on a Shabbat, So, as we welcome the month of Iyar, let's take a look at Isaiah chapter 66.
It starts with an image, that, while anthropomorphic, is not truly intended to describe G''d in terms of human physiognomy. "The heavens are My throne, and the earth is my footstool." So yes, here we have that anthropomorphic image of G''d sitting on a throne as does a human ruler. But then, consider the rest of verse 1: "Where is the house you could build for Me, and where might be My place of rest?" Is it just that G''d is so much larger than us that we could hardly begin to conceive of a throne or a dwelling in which G''d might be accommodated? Or is the meaning deeper, telling us that to even consider such things as a throne or a house for G''d is foolish and meaningless?
Verse 2 again starts out anthropomorphically: "With these, My own hands, did I make all these things, and they came to be..." Now truly, it is not difficult to imagine a Divine hand creating and sculpting lofty mountains and scenic canyons. Yet science tells us that natural forces brought all these wonders into being. That doesn't preclude us from envisioning a G''d who set the big bang in motion.
I think the second half of verse 2 give us a clue on how to understand the first half. "Yet this is the one to whom I look--the poor and contrite spirit who trembles at My word." OK, we have that troubling little "trembling" idea. Well, troubling for some. Doesn't trouble me to think of us trembling before G''d. It's the "awesome/terrible" thing. G''d is a little of both, perhaps, at least as we comprehend G''d.
So the first half of verse 2 tells us, in yet another way, how great G''d is, to have created all these things. Yet the second half tells us that, great as G''d is, G''d turns to humans that are not haughty and powerful, but rather to the poor and contrite.
OK, then we get verses 3-6. Some critique, and some rebuke. G''d. according to Isaiah, definitely doesn't care for those who "slaughter oxen and kill humans" and most especially those who offer the blood of pigs and worship idols. In verse 4, a pronouncement of retribution, an "I told them but they didn't listen." Verse five has this reference to those who pretend to magnify, glorify and sanctify G''d, but are really in it for their own selfish reasons. A reference to the priests, perhaps. They get their comeuppance in verse 6.
I humbly beg to differ with the majority of eminent Torah scholars who describe Verses 7-9 as stating that G''d will be a midwife to Jerusalem, and the newborn Israel will not be accompanied by any birth pangs. I take a slightly different view, that these verses are, effectively, a plea for patience on the part of humanity. To not rush things. Things will happen in their due course, G''d will provide.
Verse 10 has well-used words celebrating Jerusalem, and verses 11 & 12 instruct us to hold tight to Zion, be consoled by her, for G''d shall bring great well-being to her. And then the verse that reached out to me this week.
13. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; You shall find comfort in Jerusalem.
Close as we are to Yom Ha'atzma'ut, I cannot help but find huge comfort in these words. Oh, the chapter goes on to present a grand image of the times to come, when all the nations shall turn to Jerusalem, a time of truly universal religion and faith. These remaining verses are also well manipulated by Christian interpretation, which deftly seizes upon ideas like choosing new priests and levites, the new heavens and new earth. Verse 23 presents a wonderful future vision when ""From new moon to new moon, and sabbath to sabbath...all flesh shall come to worship Me" also making that Rosh Hodesh connection. Sadly, the final verse, 24, is somewhat less pleasant - "They shall go and see the dead bodies of those who rebelled against Me, for worm and fire [that consumed them] shall still be visible." The rabbis were nice enough to fix that by insisting that we read verse 23 again after that! Phew!
So where was I? Oh yes, comforting. Jerusalem. Yom Ha'atzma'ut. Given all the modern realities, how is it that we, as a people, are to find comfort in Jerusalem? Perhaps it's time to stop being rationalistic and pragmatic, and allow the mystery to prevail.
We might live comfortably and even somewhat secure in galut, diaspora. Are we comfortable enough yet to toss away Jerusalem, to forego faith in G''d's promise of a Zion restored, and, from that, a truly healed and repaired world, a universalistic vision of all flesh come to worship G''d. Are we haughty enough to actually believe we could bring about tikkun olam by ourselves, without G''d's help? Perhaps some I--I know that I am not. And so for me, the mystery that is Jerusalem is as crucial a piece of my faith as any other.
In the text, G''d comforts "you (plural)" that is to say, us-the people. And it is you (plural, that is to say, us, we, the Jewish people, who shall find comfort in Jerusalem together.
May you find equal or even more comfort in our Jerusalem to that which I find in her.
©2006 by Adrian A. Durlester
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