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August 10, 2012 / 22 Av, 5772

This commentary is a reprint of an original written and published in 2010 by Rabbi Charles Simon. It's one of the commentaries that Rabbi Simon was writing when he began to work on his new book, described below.

Parashat Eikev
Isaiah 49:14-51:3
2nd Consolation

We assume the seven haftarot of consolation were placed in their current positions sometime in the 4th and 5th centuries. But we haven't considered what motivated the rabbinic authorities to make this decision and to disrupt the normal haftarah/torah portion relationship. It is possible that the three special haftarot leading up to the Ninth of Av were fixed centuries earlier and the rabbis linked these haftarot to the Ninth of Av in order to preserve the significance of the Temple and to maintain a longing for return to Zion. The Bar Kokba rebellion could have seemed like a distant memory to our ancestors living in a prosperous relatively free Roman society one hundred plus years later.

We know very little about what transpired during the fourth and fifth centuries in Europe, Anatolia, and the Middle East, but we do know that these centuries were marked by the fragmenting and weakening of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity. Is it possible that the seven weeks of consolation leading up to rebirth and renewal that occur on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were a reaction to larger events occurring in the ancient world?

Consider the following: in the period between 321 and 383 the Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Eastern Church from Nocomedia (Anatolia) to Byzantium which came to be called Constantinople and Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire. The early church or churches, since there were many, became more theologically formalized while variant traditions were slowly eliminated. Just as this was a period of physical growth for the early church it was also one of theological growth.

Developing sacraments, such as Baptism, began to be formalized. Baptism which appeared quite early in Hebrew/Christian practice changed from a ceremony that required complete immersion, like mikvah, into one of submersion or partial submersion. This was accompanied by public and private fasting in order to remove one, or a community, from sin. Not unlike the Deuteronomic theology suggested by the prophets prior to the destruction of the first Temple, the non-Jewish world continued to believe that fasting and prayer were vehicles to avert a historical dilemma or a severe decree.

Theological authority trumped secular power and in 452 C.E. it was the Pope not the Emperor who negotiated with Attila the Hun in order to prevent the destruction of Rome.

From the 4th century to the 15th Church theology, which advocated, piety, fasting, penance and prayer in order to achieve salvation, dominated the ancient world. It is possible that the increased piety which is emphasized in each of the seven Isaiah haftarot were inserted into our liturgy in order to guide our people spiritually from the destruction of the Temple into a world where God will remember us, renew us, and restore us as in days of old. The increased emphasis on piety in the early Church could have been parallel in the Jewish world by the repetitive requests for comfort, renewal and return.

The Haftarah: Zion, (the nation) moans that she has been forsaken and God responds that this could never be the case. Just like a mother cannot forget a child; so God will always remember and love his nation. God will never divorce himself from Israel. They are eternally married. Last week Isaiah told a nation in exile that God will provide them with comfort and the opportunity to be restored. This week, Israel, Zion, wallows in self pity not truly believing that this possibility exists.

How many times have we had these types of discussions with loved ones who aren't yet prepared to change their ways, or accept a new reality? How many times have we attempted to provide comfort and finally after repeated attempts realized that one can only offer and attempt to provide comfort for a specific amount of time; after that the person grieving needs to take responsibility. The message of Isaiah calls to us in a number of ways. It asks “when will you stop feeling sorry for yourself?” It offers guidance and says, “Take a step forward and trust.” And finally, it re-enforces week by week the need for increased national and personal piety as we lay the groundwork for a new beginning as we prepare to become engaged on the High Holy Days.

This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Charles Simon, Executive Director of the FJMC and author of
"Building A Successful Volunteer Culture: Finding Meaning in Service in the Jewish" Jewish Lights Publishing, and the forthcoming "Understanding Haftarot: An Everyperson's Guide."

New Publications

Leadership - Innovation - Community
Understanding the Haftarot:
An Everyperson's Guide

In this stimulating and unusual book Rabbi Charles Simon, Executive Director of FJMC, provides the reader with the context to understand how the haftarot were organized, why they might have been selected and suggests reasons for finding meaning and value.
You can purchase it a number of ways.
Intermarriage: Concepts & Strategies for Families and Synagogue Leaders
If family members and community leaders wish to become engaged in the process of Keruv they often need to ask, "Does Keruv have an ideology and theology? And if so what is it?" Then they need to learn how to respond to intermarriage from the perspective of both gender and religion. This publication reflects the most current thinking about intermarriage to date and attempts to provide family members and community leaders with the needed understanding to effectively work with intermarrieds or potential intermarrieds.
You can purchase it a number of ways:
It's time for Build-A-Pair
The best way to teach about tefillin!

HeneniThe "Build a Pair" Program is a comprehensive and fun learning program to introduce 5th, 6th or 7th graders to the joy and mitzvah of Tefillin in Jewish life. Multiple components interplay to explore the religious significance, the construction of, and the practice of "laying" Tefillin. A comprehensive education program with videos helps the religious school teach students the meaning of Tefillin in Jewish life and practice. Students practice writing their Hebrew/Jewish names and the SHEMA (first line) to insert into pre-made wooden Tefillin boxes. Students decorate the boxes in any creative way they wish, allowing for personal expression. Students either compete or cooperate in writing a "wRAP" song to sing at a Big Event. The Big Event can be the World Wide Wrap (WWW), sponsored by the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs (FJMC), held annually on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday. The WWW program is designed to introduce and re-introduce Jewish men [and women] to the significance of "laying" Tefillin. The "Build a Pair" student program attracts the parents to see their children in their model Tefillin sing the "wRap" songs, allowing two generations (or more!) to join in the mitzvah together, and to let the students' sing their "wRAP" song for an appreciative audience.

World Wide Wrap is Sunday, February 3, 2013
The Bar Mitzvah Wrap!

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