Friday, July 23, 2010

Random Musing Before Shabbat-Va’etkhanan/Shabbat Nakhamu 5770


New musings are on a short inconsistent hiatus while I'm at camp. Some weeks I can find the time, others not. This is one of those "not" weeks.

It has been a tradition over the years to send out my musing "The Promise" every year for parashat Va'etkhanan. As it is also Shabbat Nakhamu, I'll start first with a musing from a few years back for Shabbat Nakhamu. I wish you are yours a shabbat shalom - Adrian

Random Musings Before Shabbat-Va'etkhanan--Shabbat Nakhamu 5764--Mah Ekra?

Our solemn day of mourning, Tisha B'Av, is over, and the rabbis cleverly present us with this first Shabbat of Consolation, Shabbat Nachamu, taken from the opening words of the haftarah from Isaiah 40:1-26:

Nakhamu, nakhamu ami, yomar El"hekhem.
Comfort, oh comfort My people, says your G"d.

This passage from Isaiah is replete with well worn quotations. But this year (5764) in reading the passage again, a phrase I had often overlooked before caught my attention:

Kol omeir k'ra, v'amar mah ekra

A voice rings our: "Proclaim!"
Another asks, "What shall I proclaim?" (Isaiah 40:6a)

Isaiah goes on to provide an answer to this question. And it is not an unexpected answer. Yet it is one that bears repeating over and over, for I submit that we have, indeed, lost our perspective over time (and lost our perspective in time.)

In today's world, we're more likely to proclaim our great achievements. Civilization, medicine, science, and more.  Each nation proclaims for itself those things it holds dear. Nazi Germany proclaimed Aryan superiority. The Soviet Union proclaimed the virtues of communism. Yet because this country has outlived those two historical developments, we proclaim our triumph over them.

Religions proclaim their superiority. Some within the Christian community still proclaim supercessionism. Some with the Islamic community proclaim its supercessionism. Judaism proclaims its longevity and endurance.Yet, whether we measure in decades, centuries, or millennia, our perspective remains localized in what is a rather insignificant period of time consider the age of the Universe. And even more so considering the perspective of a Divine presence that, at least according to Jewish tradition, was around before the universe came into being, and will be there after it is gone.

The lesson Isaiah teaches us is one we find repeated many centuries later in Shelley's poem "Ozymandias". Here's what the great and powerful Ozymandias proclaimed:

"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Yet all that is left of this once mighty person are mere ruins, in a vast wasteland.

If we have the same hubris, the same haughtiness, then Ozymandias' legacy might be our own.

Perhaps we should heed the words of Isaiah, who answers the question "What shall I proclaim?" thus:

"All flesh is grass,
All its goodness like the flowers of the field.
Grass withers, flowers fade
When the breath of the L"rd blows upon them.
Indeed, man is but grass.

Grass withers, flowers fade--
But the word of our G"d is always fulfilled!" (Is. 6b-8)

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for us, G"d fulfills in G"d's time.

Isaiah continues to drive home the point in subsequent verses.

"The nations are but a drop in a bucket..." 40:15

"He brings potentates to naught,
Makes rulers of the earth as nothing..." 40:23

Yet, some ask "Where is G"d today? What has G"d done for us recently? Where is G"d's compassion, G"d's love, G"d's miracles? Why should I proclaim G"d? Perhaps I should proclaim the death of G"d, or the non-existence of G"d"

Sadly, more and more these days espouse that viewpoint. And even more sadly, more and more of us refute these proclamations with the weak and hackneyed fallback on G"d's ineffability. The "Job" answer. Where were we when G"d fashioned the earth?

Others argue that the "our perspective of time is limited" apology is no better than ineffability.

If we are true believers, then we must confront these challenges rather than side-stepping them.

In this post-Shoah, post Hiroshima, post 9-11 world, we need more than ever to proclaim G"d and heed G"d's messages to us. The world needs to heal, to get past the conditions that allowed the Shoah and other atrocities to occur--our response to the religious and ethical failures that underlie these horrible events should not be a rejection
of faith, but an embracing of those very ethics that had to have been rejected or ignored for them to occur. (An argument I gleaned from the words of Rabbi Yitz Greenberg.)

What are you going to proclaim?

Shabbat Shalom,

  ©2010, portions ©2003 by Adrian A. Durlester

And now, as promised, "The Promise."

Random Musings Before Shabbat- Va'etkhanan - Redux 5759ff:

The Promise

What a stunning prediction. If we don't keep G"d's commandments we shall be scattered among the nations, there to serve man-mad gods of wood and stone. (Silica isn't exactly stone, but I wonder if the computer gods we are serving kind of fit that description?) D'varim 4:26-28

And here we are. We didn't keep the commandments. Now we are scattered among the nations. And we serve man made G"ds of wood and stone. Oh yes, we keep the ancient faith alive as best we can, but I sometimes wonder if even the most pious among us are meeting the ethical and moral standards set forth in G"d's commandments?

What a depressing scenario-what a depressing situation for us. But the answer is right there in the following verses (29-31.) Even if we search for G"d in the midst of our scattered lives, we can find G"d. For G"d will keep the promises, G"d is compassionate and will not fail us.

I don't know about you, but when I look about the world today, and consider all the horrible mess we have created, keeping these verses in mind is almost a pre-requisite to being able to cope. Now, some will claim that G"d has abandoned us, that G"d no longer responds to our searching. To them I would remind them of the second half of v. 29, which tells us that G"d can be found even in the midst of our diaspora, but only if we seek with all our heart and soul.

I am reminded of a discussion we had one night on Erev Tisha b'Av. The question was raised, as it often is, why we modern liberal Jews would mourn the loss of the Beit haMikdash when indeed it was that very event that precipitated the formation of portable Judaism, rabbinic Judaism, that has enabled us to survive all these years in galut. Before the Beit haMikdash was destroyed (both times) G"d sent us prophets to warn us that if we didn't get our act together, we'd lose out. Both times we ignored the warning and suffered the consequences. And here we are, almost two millenia later, and we're still not getting it. And so we rail that G"d has abandoned us, when it reality it may be we who have abandoned G"d. Despite all the tragic events, the persecutions, we're still around. If we're not finding G"d amidst all this, we're just not looking hard enough.

We mourn the loss of the Beit haMikdash to remind ourselves of the folly of our still failing to heed the message. And to remind us to look for G"d, even among the ruins of what once was. This anamnetical connection with our history keeps the message ever fresh in our minds.

I am also reminded of mass e-mail that was forwarded to me some years back, entitled "Letter of Intent," a whimsical piece in which the Jews explain why they are not planning to renew the covenant with G"d. It goes into a whole litany of complaints. I wrote the following response to those who forwarded the piece on to me:

"You know what's wrong with this whimsical piece? It completely ignores the fact that, despite our perceptions that G"d has not kept up one end of the bargain, that we have done far worse at keeping ours, and that despite that--we're still here!!! If that's not G"d watching over us, I don't know what is, and renouncing our covenant is sheer folly, and certain to lead to the end of even the remnant that remains of the Jewish people. We didn't listen to the prophets, and we're still not listening. Yet, somehow, mir zenen doh. When, if ever,
we actually try to do the things that G"d wants us to do, at least most of the time, and we're still put upon, tortured, killed, etc., then maybe we have a right to complain. But I don't think we've earned that quite yet.

Torah tells us that G"d is always there for us to find--if we search in the right way-with all our heart and soul.

This Shabbat, seek with all your heart and soul. G"d is there waiting to be found. Even if you have already found G"d in your life, seek deeper.

Shabbat Shalom,


©, 2010 by Adrian A. Durlester Portions ©1999 2001, 2002, 2007 & 2008 by Adrian A. Durlester

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