Reeh – Haftarah of Consolation 3
The Jewish people have been shaken by the horrible and devastating siege of Yerushalayim, by Sancherev. They were miraculously saved by God, but they sensed their vulnerability as never before. Their hearts were not at peace.
Nechama is not only for those who have suffered destruction.”Storm tossed,” and vunerable need the comforting words of the prophet. Typical words of comfort will not work; focusing on something else, a different perspective, will fall flat; “Cannot be comforted.” A different sort of Nechama/comfort is necessary.
The ghetto Jews of Europe found comfort in dreams of the “Golene Medina” America where the streets were paved in gold. There was a price to be paid for the American Dream: people had to give up their religion, work on Shabbat, throw their Tefillin overboard the ship that was taking them to Freedom.
The dream of America was not a Nechama, but an escape from the tribulations of living as a Jew is societies that despised the Jew. One could leave his Jewishness behind in the Old World, become someone else in the New.
The dream actually increased the bitterness of their suffering. People resented who they were. They saw their Judaism as the cause of their pain and travails. Such a dream is not a Comfort.
The prophet, Yeshayahu, also speaks of streets magically paved with precious stones, windows made of diamonds. But these streets were not in a land where one rejected God, but a land in which all study Torah. In this magical land all experience the peace and wealth, the spiritual and physical rewards of studying Torah.
The dream will be realized only by enjoying who we are and what we do. The dream does not disconnect the people from whom they are. The dream described by the Navi is not a fantasy. It is a vision of stability for the vulnerable listeners. It comes wth two demands: 1) learn Torah. 2) tzedaka. The latter will bring financial security. The former, peace.
The enemies will be vulnerable: it is they who will feel insecure. “Is that not what they have done to you?” Asks Yeshayahu. “Why pay for food you will not eat?” Why pay taxes in fear? Your enemies are the ones who create the conditions for your “storm tossed hearts.”. Yeshayahu promises that they will feel helpless, not because of your power, but because of your relationship with God.
Nice vision, Yeshayahu. The Iranians will soon have a nuclear bomb. Hamas and Hezbollah have rockets and anti-aircraft missles. Oh, and by the way, they don’t seem envious of our relationship with God! Your dream is wonderful, but at the end of the day we still live in “storm tossed” waters. “Lo nuchama” we are not comforted. We have a booming economy. Many of us live well. We dreamed of this for two thousand years only for the storms to intensify!
There are more people studying Torah tan ever before and there is no peace internally or externally. We give fortunes to Tzedaka and we are still financially insecure.
I wonder if our response is any different from those storm tossed souls who were in the Navi’s audience.
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Yeshayahu does not ask us to study Torah. Nor does he tell us to give Tzedaka; he simply asks us to envision this magical dreamland with streets paved with precious stones, where all are studying Torah, all living in peace with one another, a world repaired with righteousness and Tzedaka, a world in which no one fears poverty.
“Can you dream? How do you dream? Of what do you dream?” These are Yeshayahu’s questions, his challenge.
There will be no nechama/comfort, no easing of the agony of vulnerability until you can dream this dream. Hence, the choice of this vision, Haftarah, for the Parsha called Re’eih, Vision. A vision of a balanced world for the third week of the 7 of comfort, the week of Tiferet.
Do not fear their weapons for I, God, will create something to destroy any weapon turned against you. Yeshayahu does not simply promise God’s magical protection; Yeshayahu takes us back to the first furnace that produced a weapon. “I, God, created the first bellows to make the first fire to make the first weapon.”
It took an act of Beriah, Creation, to produce the first weapon. It wil be an equal act of Creation to destroy all weapons. Yeshayahu is describing a new act of Creation!
The Navi first takes us back to the beginning of Creation, to Kayin (Cain) and his descendents. They, the children of the first murderer, manufacture the first weapons. The first act of violence resulted from the first “storm” the violence between two brothers who could not coexist in peace. Kayin, the spiritual visionary, limited by his frustrations, his inner “storms” and Hevel, who, once pointed in the right direction, strives for greatness. Kayin who is urged by God to reach higher, and fails. Hevel, who has achieved the top only because of Kayin’s failure. Hevel who is “confusion” and “nothingness” (Koheles) and Kayin, who introduces Teshuva, cities, music, bedouins, and weapons. Kayin, literally a force of creation, who plays a fundamental role in Creation, the one who introduces violence into the world.
Why does Yeshayahu take us, vulnerable and frightened, so far back in history? Is there any connection between those introduced in the opening verse of the Haftara, who cannot be comforted, and that first stormy relationship?
Yeshayahu has already challenged our ability to dream. He is also challenging those who are intimidated by their dreams; Kayin fails to rise when pushed by God. He “rises”, “and Kayin rose up,” only to “fall” on his brother and kill him. He knew what he could be, he even momentarily rose, but he failed and fell.
The opening word of the Haftara, “aniya” poor one, explains why they cannot be comforted. Their self perception is failure; listen to their cries of frustrtation flipped by the prophet; “why do we pay and not eat? Why do we work and never feel satisfied?” A cry of futility; the cry of Hevel! A cry of those who no longer believe in the dream, in the vision of Yeshayahu.
Yeshayahu is teaching us that the effect of learning Torah is the ability to envision greatness. This is the approach one must take to the toil of Torah. I want to dream of the greatness offered by God to Kayin. This will be the weapon that will destroy all others.
This approach to Torah is an act of Creation.
This is the approach of King David, who dreamed and led and opened new worlds to his nation and all the world.
Copyright © Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg