March 29, 2013
Haftarah Shabbat Chol Ha-Moed Passover
It has been six months since Hurricane Sandyís waters have abated and mass transportation in the New York Metropolitan area has yet to be fully restored. Trees still sit on top of cars and homes, businesses and beaches will never be the same. People are still homeless and for many of them recovery, full recovery, might never occur.
The haftarah which was selected to be chanted on the Sabbath of the intermediate days (chol ha-moed) makes me think about those who lived through this destruction and might never recoup. The waters have devastated their homes. The land has caste them out.
If we were living during Ezekielís lifetime we would have asked why? If we had been living after the expulsion from Spain, Portugal, Holland, England, France and Germany we would have asked why? What did we do that merited this punishment?
Imagine how todayís victims ( modern exiles) and those exiled to Babylon must have felt being uprooted and forcibly transported to another country or forced to live in a public shelters until suitable accommodations can be found. It must have been and continues to be traumatic.
The destruction perpetrated by the Babylonians had far reaching effect. In addition to dismantling the Temple they cut down fruit trees, destroyed roads, fields, and granaries especially in the Negev and Jordan Valley resulting in long term devastation. It must have inflicted long term psychic damage on the morale of the people trying to survive. For the survivors living in Israel in the post destruction period, all that remained was a wasteland that stretched between the empires of Egypt and Babylon.
The prophets explained national agricultural disasters were a result of Godís will. For Jeremiah, the land was a victim of the peopleís immoral behavior and whose injury God would avenge. For Ezekiel the land represented the body politic, the sinful body whose unjust behavior was reflected through Godís punitive actions. Even though the land was innocent it was the instrument through which God punished his people.
I recently read an essay about trauma theory written by a biblical scholar named, Brad Kelle. In his essay he indicated that it is common practice to integrate traumatic experiences into a larger context in order to reconcile the inherent tensions. Ezekiel was one of the thousands of people exiled from Israel to Babylon in 597 B.C.E., that is to say, thirteen years before the Temple was destroyed. The experience must have been traumatic and further compounded thirteen years later when he learned of the Templeís destruction.
This morningís haftarah was directed to the exiles in Babylon and strove to explain Babylonian actions against Judah. Ezekiel offered a way to explain the trauma of destruction and defeat. Six hundred plus years later, the second Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people and the land of Israel experienced similar acts of devastation. While this period was witness to untold carnage it also gave birth to the rise of the rabbinate. The rabbis, living in the period following the Templeís destruction (70 C.E.) and the Bar Kokba rebellion (135 C.E.) looked to our ancient texts to find a reason for this destruction. They looked to Jeremiah and they looked to Ezekiel and they found hope.
While today, many of us might reject their response to national disaster as a punishment for immoral behavior and instead justify the landís abuse as a result of our own insensitivity, we might also choose to find a message of hope as a result of a national disaster that will reinvigorate and rebuild a people. The numbers of volunteers who came forward to re-build the devastated communities in New York and New Jersey was impressive. These men and women responded to a different call; one that motivated them to help others to rebuild their lives. If Ezekiel were alive today, one wonders if that would have been the focus of his message.
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 Community" Jewish Lights Publishing, and "Understanding the Haftarot: Everyperson's Guide."
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