Yet this evening, I want to focus on one short section of our haftarah, Isaiah 50:11:
Hein Kul'khem kod'khei eish You are kindlers of fire M'az'rei zikot "Helping along" the firebrands L'khu b'ur eshkhem Walk by the light of your fire uv'zikot bi'ar'tam And the firebrands you have lit Miyad hay'tah-zot lakhem From My hand has this come to you: L'ma'atzeivah tish'kavun You shall lie down in pain.
Now, let's, for the moment, ignore the final couplet. Taken by itself, without any other context, this is open for interpretation is some rather positive ways. As s species, we are certainly prone to viewing our mastery of fire as a great achievement-one of which we can be proud. We should walk in the light of our proud achievements. Or should we?
If we begin to add a little context, let's see what happens. The previous verse states (in summation) that those who revere G-d and follow G-d's ways, even though they may walk in darkness, they can trust and rely on G-d.
Well, that could color our interpretation of verse 11 different ways. We may choose to continue to view it as supportive, positive and complimentary. If the fire, the lights that we kindle are but an expression of our faith and reverence for G-d, then walking in their light should be a proper, righteous and safe path.
On the other hand, it could be setting up verse 11 as a wry or satirical comment. It is in G-d that we should trust, and not the hubris that comes from our own mastery of fire.
And it is given further support when we mix in that last couplet from verse 11. In effect, it is punishment from G-d that we shall lie down in pain. Is this punishment for our hubris? Chastisement for our kindling our own lights when we should trust in G-d instead, and not worry about the darkness?
This is a fairly common interpretation in both Jewish and Christian commentaries.
Yet, though I humbly ask myself once again "who I am to take issue with the sages?" I do believe there is another possible interpretation.
After all, Torah is fire. Indeed, she is holy fire-eish hakodesh. If the fire that we kindle is the fire of Torah, then it is by the light of Torah that we would be walking. This is a righteous kindling, a righteous walking. Yet, what of the laying down in pain?
Well, to begin with, scholars continue to debate the exact meaning of "l'ma'atzeivah." It could be pain, it could be sorrow. Or grief. Or displeasure. Or torment.
The question is whether or not this final couplet is illustrating a negative consequence of the previous two couplets. I suggest it may not. Perhaps the "this" which has come to us from G-d's hand is G-d's Torah. And the reference to "lying down in sorrow/pain/whatever" is telling us that when we no longer are able to walk by the light of the fire of Torah that we have kindled, that is to say, when we die, it shall be in sorrow, for we shall no longer be walking in Torah's light.
A plausible interpretation? Perhaps. I am sure it can be disputed on many levels. The committee that assembled the current JPS translation chose to put a full colon after the first line of the couplet that ends verse 50:11 thusly:
This has come to you from My hand: You shall lie down in pain
though they take great pains to note that the meaning of the final line is uncertain. So assuming a colon is already going out on a limb. If such august personages can go out on a limb, well then, so can I. So I am going to walk upstream against the tide, and be proud of the fact that we are kod'khei eish, kindlers of fire. I will continue to kindle that fire, the fire of Torah that burns from within me, and walk by its light, until the time when I will finally lie down in sorrow. Be a kindler of fire with me . It might not be the negative thing centuries of interpretation have made it out to be. Blaze forth and walk in that light, chaverim!
©2006 by Adrian A. Durlester
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