|November 4, 2011 / 7 Heshvan, 5772
Ashkenazim: Isaiah 40:27-41:16
Lekh Lekha is the third Isaiah haftarah in a sequence that connects us to the book of Genesis. It speaks to us on both a personal and national level. It is linked to the Torah reading because the word, “Abraham” is mentioned in both places. The Torah is concerned with the promise that God makes to Abraham and the haftarah re-enforces this promise by stating the phrase in the “seed of Abraham my friend” in Chapter 41:8. Just as God promised Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky; so too will God remember his people even when they live in exile because Abraham’s descendants will remain God’s friends.
For those living in times of hardship and duress who sought to return to Israel the Haftarah offers hope. “Take courage” the prophet claims, I will fix it. I chose you I will not reject you. I will fight for you and those who struggle with you will be less than nothing.”
The haftarah speaks both to a people and to the individual and is not limited to a specific time or place. It proclaims a message of hope and remembrance that transcends the way the Torah has shaped our view of Jewish history. This is an important point and needs to be further clarified because if you agree, I believe it will increase the possibility that the haftarah will resonate with you.
This haftarah offers a message of hope to those who lived in exile. It didn’t matter whether the exiles were our ancestors in who lived Babylon, Europe, or North Africa. At the same time it reaches out and speaks to individuals who live in other centers of Jewish life today. But today the message might be more personal than national.
The Torah and Jewish historians up until recently explained Jewish history as lineal. It begans at a point, creation, and concluded at a point, the end of days or messianic times. Within this Torah-centric view, Jerusalem was and is the center of the world and anyplace outside of Jerusalem is described as peripheral, the other, galut, or exile. In recent decades a school of cultural historians has emerged who understands the interaction of Jewish life differently and who challenge this linear view.
They understand Jewish life as being more complex and conceptualize it as a grid composed of different Jewish cultures each of which impacts upon the whole. This means that instead of one center, there are many. There is Toronto, Paris, New York, Los Angeles and London, to name just a few. Each center creates Jewish life and Jewish living a bit differently as it interacts with its surrounding and in most cases majority culture. The place where these cultures intersect and rub against one another, is on the fringes, the borders. The borders are the places where ideas and values are transferred and transmitted.
The most visible ways cultures interact and are manifested on the borders is through literature, art, theater and music. Consider how film or music has impacted on how we and our non-Jewish neighbors perceive Jewish life. Consider how many Jews have remained Jews because their lives were touched by the work of Jewish artists? Consider how their struggles and their creative efforts have affected our thinking and our doing.
The three selections of Isaiah that we have read these past three weeks speak of a God of the heavens and earth; a universal God who continues to care, doesn’t forget, and is ever present, even though we cannot discern his ways. Could it be that the work of those with creative ability, manifest the work of the Creator? Could it be that through these works and as cultures continue to grow, adapt, and mingle that the message to Abraham’s seed that needs to be transmitted becomes more than a simple “we will not be forgotten”. Perhaps the message we need to hear is that God’s presence can always be perceived on the borders where cultures and individuals struggle with one another.
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.
The opinions expressed in this Unraveller are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the FJMC.
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