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October 22, 2011 / 24 Tishri, 5772

Haftarat Bereshit

“Sing to the Lord a new song!” (Is. 42:10) Yeah. Easier said than sung. That's what our rabbis tell us, over and over again, during this season of rising and standing and sitting and fasting and feasting-Sing to the Lord a new song. In the midst of so much tradition and choreography, is there room for a new song?

We're in the last week of Tishrei. Even Shmini Atzeret is behind us. We crave the holy-lessness of Cheshvan. Inspiration is tiring. Acute consciousness is exhausting. And if we took home the message of the season and actually made amends with people, haven't we discharged our obligations for a while? There's something so punitive about beating your chest for your transgressions in the ma'ariv service right after Yom Kippur!

“Sing to the Lord a new song!” Sorry, my throat is sore.

But, Isaiah, the Isaiah of our haftarah, is waiting for a new song. The old one didn't work out so well. The only thing left of the old song is human capital-the headquarters in Jerusalem was destroyed and the people of the Land were exiled to the empire of their enemies. Their only hope is for the new. Inertia equals despair. The Judean remnant must rally now if they're ever to sing a new song. If not now, never. Fading away into the background babble of Babylonia is the road of least resistance. No need, as Isaiah had demanded two chapters earlier, to clear a new road.

Complacency can be tolerated--but not ingratitude. How can we not respond to God's call? In the Torah portion of Genesis, God created and retired. Isaiah re-visions God creating the heavens and the earth continuously (42:5). God isn't retiring, He's retrying; and we won't? We've been given the divine gift of creation and re-creation, and we're too _____________ to use it! (However you filled in the blank is worth beating your chest for.)

Our Torah portion says that both men and women are created in God's image. Our haftarah has God manning up and slaying His dragons. Once the field is clear, the image shifts. Far from lying passively, God screams, pants and gasps “like a woman in labor” to create a new reality (42:14). God creates and recreates, and so can we. Rav Joseph Baer Soloveitchik wrote, “Repentance is an act of creation, of self-creation.”

The Days of Awe are a deadline. And thank God for deadlines. But the new song is a life line, a posture of peacefulness that proactively resolves misunderstandings before deadlines are met--or not. The Zohar points out that Adam and Eve never spoke to each other. One remedy for their transgression is dedicated communication.

The Hebrew root shema, listen, is found seven times in our haftarah. We hear God's new song, and we respond with our own. Gratitude leads to reciprocity. How much easier is it to respond “I love you” than to be the first to go out on the ledge of love?

The genius of Haftarat Bereshit is that it provides strength to the weary. After a full, Fall season of high holidaying, Isaiah reminds us that God is girded for a new creation, a new song. What possible combination of indifference, indolence, and ingratitude could justify not joining God's choir? As the Midrash threatens, if we are not God's witnesses (43:10) and partners in this holy drama of re-creation, then God's gamble on humanity was for naught. That should be enough to get us all singing!

This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Shai Cherry, Ph.D., who serves as the madrikh (guide) of Shaar Hamayim, A Jewish Learning Center (www.shaarhamayim.com).
He is the author of Torah through Time:  Understanding Bible Commentary from the Rabbinic Period to Modern Times and the feautured lecturer for The Teaching Company's Introduction to Judaism course.

The opinions expressed in this Unraveller are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the FJMC.

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