The Next Step
“Excessive sorrow laughs. Excessive joy weeps.” William Blake
I’ve been mulling Blake’s words all week. I admit that although I have a sense of what he means, I am not certain. The Seven Weeks of Nechama address deep, deep sorrow, leading into the Days of Awe, which culminate in The Time of Our Joy. Would Blake consider a sorrow so deep that it demands seven weeks of consolation, to be excessive? Would he consider almost an entire month of Simcha, to be excessive joy?
“O afflicted, storm-tossed, unconsoled one,” (Isaiah 54:11) begins this week’s Hatarah, speaking to the distraught Jews of Jerusalem. They were inconsolable. Would Blake consider their situation as excessive sorrow? Is there any hint that they were laughing?
The prophecy continues with magnificent promises of countless blessings: “And I will make your pinnacles of rubies, and your gates of carbuncles, and all your border of precious stones.”
“And all your children shall be taught about God; and great shall be the peace of your children.”
“No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper.” “For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle.”
Is Isaiah promising excessive joy, the kind Blake predicts will lead to weeping?
The Jewish calendar is filled with intense periods of joy and sorrow. (See ‘The Dance of Life‘) There are, of course, many who observe the all the commandments of the different holidays without experiencing the joy and/or sorrow. For those of us who not only observe, but experience the Mitzvot, the joy and sorrow are palpable. They are real. They become part of our development. The joy of one holiday heals the sorrow of the other. The sorrow of Tisha B’Av tempers the joy of Shavuot.
It is not a cycle, but a steady process of growth. One Tisha B’Av is different from the one before. One Elul is of a higher joy than a year earlier.
A cycle of joy and sorrow is not real. It is not excessive joy or sorrow; it is the absence of real joy and painful sorrow.
However, a process, our process of growth, shaped by intense joy and potent sorrow, is real. Because it
is a process, it will never be excessive. There is always the next step.
This is the real message of the Haftarah: It promises a life of constant growth, filled with both joy and sorrow, but never excessive. The inconsolable Children of Israel were not suffering excessive sorrow; Isaiah reminds them that their situation was only one step of a process that leads to eternal growth. He offered them the ultimate consolation; he promised them there will always be the next step.
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