Last Wednesday evening entailed for me a moving event where the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism was so kind to host an event to celebrate my departure from the position of chairperson as well as the launch of the book of a collection of my sermons delivered over the past decade, “Ha’azinu Mi’BeReshit – Listen from the Beginning”. After that I spoke to our own Rabbi Edgar Nof who leads the “Natan Ya” Congregation and he suggested that I devote the next year of sermons to learning of the Haftarah of each week. I decided to accept this challenge because I believe it is wise to keep to traditions on one hand and challenge them on the other hand.
The Big Bang of the creation described in Genesis, displays to us a God that is somewhat of a super-engineer. Creating space and large structures moving there through such as the sun, the moon and stars. A world that has water and skies, animals and fishes, trees and shrubs, and finally also human beings. In the first five chapters of Genesis the human character is exposed on its complexity, ingenuity and treachery. It can be the triangle of Adam, Eve and a defiant serpent, or the story of Cain and Abel. When Lamech fathers a son he calls him Noah proclaiming that “This one will give us rest (נוח) from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed.” The situation was that bad.
This was most likely not what was envision to be the grand plan for mankind. This would not have been a good reason to let thinking people roam the earth. Something there went totally wrong. A mighty force brought about the possibility for humans to inherit the land but control was lost on how people will control their destiny. Maybe that is the reason for the election to read the Haftarah from the book of Isiah on this Shabbat. It begins with a proclamation of the God as a might creator. “Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it And spirit to those who walk in it.”
In a total opposite to this grand force the following sentence speaks in a different language. “I am the Lord, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the dungeon And those who dwell in darkness from the prison.” While on one hand it is spoken on the creation of a whole world, it is not what is demanded from us, not even a fraction thereof. It is not that we cannot be involved in that but it is not our primary business. Before everything else there comes righteousness so that we can enjoy a hand that holds us tight. So that we can live in a covenant with God and be a light upon nations we must work so that people are capable of leaving rigid frameworks to which they find themselves imprisoned, jails that are dark and lightless, so that they can enjoy the light. “Let there be light” of Genesis becomes here a drive to change from a place where there is no differentiation between light and darkness, a state of void, to a place where there are boundaries, and differences, and observations from which we can make deductions.
The prophet also makes an interesting call, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.” Sounds kind of promising however when considering the previous century that began with pogroms, continued with the Holocaust, and can include some of Israel’s wars, especially the Yom Kippur War, it is a little difficult to accept this as a realistic work plan. I also doubt that this is what Isiah actually meant it to be. I do not think it is a promise to us that we are non-volatile and safe from the dangers of the world. In fact it is contrary to that and accepts the fact that these may happen and that we need to go through them with the belief that we will be able to challenge them successfully even if they seem insurmountable, unsolvable. There is always hope, always a place to believe that we can and will endure the suffering crossing the obstacle. We have to find a way to do that, the method to overcome the difficulty, the solution that will destroy the problem.
Many of us watch these days in disbelief in the way our leaders handle themselves after a second elections that were imposed upon us in an unprecedented move after a failure to form a government. It is a complicated situation where the public is almost split on the issue some going in one directions while others go in another direction. However now is the time to try and get people closer to each other not finger point at the other side and blaming him with the results of the elections. Isiah says that best, “I will bring your offspring from the east, And gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring My sons from afar And My daughters from the ends of the earth.” The ability to get closer does not mean necessarily to agree on everything but rather to find that which is common and above issues in dispute. It is not in vain that when we pray for the State of Israel we recite, “bestow Your light and truth upon its leaders, judges, and elected representatives, and grace them with Your good counsel so that they shall walk the way of justice, and freedom and integrity”. That same light of Genesis, the light upon nations, should guide the leadership as it must be guided by light, justice, honesty and aspire peace.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov.
Reuven Marko, 25 October 2019, 27 Tishrei, 5780