Student Teaching in the New Millenium

5771 Noach – Haftorah (Isaiah 54:1 – 55:5)

In Genesis on October 12, 2010 at 2:12 am

54:1: Connection to Abram and Sarai here. You said we are a Frozen people. Are we barren as well? If we do not question, and we idolize the past, how can we thrive? Is modern idolatry debasing? Or a form of death? Are the truths of the past true today? Or are they idols? Is the past an idol? The ancient Israelites were in physical exile; are we in spiritual exile? So many Jewish people today are disconnected from the basic mores, text, and mission of their tradition, like we were from Judah millenia ago. Others, instead of moving forward, try to bring a dead past forward. Old truths we cling to are no longer true and are no longer Torah. Are we in diaspora from Truth? If Truth and Torah are one, are we in diaspora from Torah too?

54:9 What you said about a flood never coming again, understood. What about the promise “So I swear that I will not be angry with you or rebuke you.” Understanding the Noahide covenant as universal between mankind and God, what about all of the suffering from natural disasters lately? The tsunamis? The hurricanes? The bee illness? Cancer? Climate change? How do we rule out God being angry? Were the righteous in Hiroshima and Nagasaki spared? If we set the universality of Noah’s covenant and focus on the personal aspect of this verse, between God and the Jewish people, why was there a holocaust? Why is anti-semitism becoming fashionable again? Floods of pain, suffering, hatred and anger? How do we know God isn’t angry?

54:10 Does this answer my questions about 54:9? The Gates of Repentance are never closed.

54:11-12 Can we apply this to us? We are at sea, searching for landfall. Nothing satisfies. Is this a reason for questioning? Similar to Noah questioning “Is there dry land yet?” by sending out the birds? He did not stop until he was satisfied.

I have a problem with this verse. Today, a carbuncle is a blemish, a nasty one. This is the first definition that comes up in Google. Further research says that a carbuncle was a rare precious stone, but this definition is obsolete. A potentially worse definition is an ugly building. Sesame Street teaches us that the precious stone definition fits in with the theme of sapphires and rubies. Does Isaiah mean another precious stone, or is the modern translation of the term equally valid? Does this present the wrong idea? If we take this as a promise of renewal, how good of a renewal is it if our altars are seen as blemishes and our Temples as ugly buildings? How good a renewal is it if all of these great things we are trying to do – heal the world, find new meanings, find new truths – are perceived as built with rotten flesh?

54:13 What about people who don’t want to be happy?

54:15 Has God consented to harm? Examples abound in the Tanakh. In fact, God tells us to kill entire nations without mercy or regret. Why?

54:16 Why would a God of love create instruments of havoc?

54:17 A lot of our heritage has been lost to wars and the Holocaust. Abraham Joshua Heschel was the last survivor of a great Jewish tradition wiped out in World War II. Arguably, World War I killed Romanticism, and World War II nailed the coffin shut. Artists struggled with the concept of God allowing that kind of destruction. I know many Jews did the same. Did these sentiments influence modern Judaism? In the state of Judaism now the true horror of the Holocaust? In this way, did the Holocaust succeed?

55:1-3 Is this what we are doing? Are our questions the food, wine and milk? Or is this a metaphor for engaging Torah? Is all the distraction and detachment and certitude, non-truths, “what does not satisfy”? We were and are the People of the Book, but we were at our most innovative when we were the People of the Question. This is the source of the Rabbis’ genius. We no longer question. Can we read “Hearken, and you shall be revived” as “Question, and you shall be revived”?

55:5 What nation? Is this verse another expression of the promises made to Abraham? Is the nation our children? What does this mean?


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