What does God offer His people when they reach rock bottom?

Published 07 September 2017  |  

Last Shabbat's Haftorah of Consolation addressed Jerusalem as a barren woman who has reached rock bottom.

And here is what she is offered as therapy: 'Break out into glad song, and broaden your tents.'

Chris Gallimore/Unsplash
The Sea of Galilee, in Israel

If someone were unable to give birth today and really wanted to, or felt so down and depressed that she turned to a therapist for help, is this really what she would expect in response?

But G-d is telling the Jewish people to use their situation in order to change it. Once you are so low – abandoned, rejected and despised, things can't get any worse – rejoice that you have been given the opportunity to look at the bigger picture and this will alter your whole being – from barrenness you will move to fertility.

And this is what Jerusalem did: she picked herself up, expanded her borders and disseminated Torah teaching to the entire world.

And eventually Judaism gave birth to two new religions. For Christianity and Islam both grew out of Judaism: often, it must be conceded, misunderstanding her core teachings (as children often misunderstand their parents), but hopefully one day learning through their mistakes.

And after the Holocaust, people who had miraculously survived the concentration camps, often having witnessed the extermination of their entire families of husbands, wives, children, grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, moved to the new State of Israel and dealt with their interminable grief through building: hospitals, schools, mikvehs, places of learning and synagogues.

They got involved and 'broadened their tents' and this is how they altered their status of impotence to one of empowerment:

In this Fifth Haftorah of Consolation (Isaiah 54: 1-10), G-d is depicted as Jerusalem's husband – equal partner in the building work. No longer is He, as in the previous Haftorot, a parent. Jerusalem, and the Jewish people in exile are now depicted as having learned through total rejection and dejection how to implement the divine plan for the betterment of all.

The Hebrew word for barren is 'akar, also signifying extermination. Out of the extermination of Auschwitz, the Jewish people arose and built anew: not for nothing does the related word 'ikaron signify 'back to basics'.

And the Jewish religion, which was for so long depicted as a second-class citizen, if not obsolete, is now being seriously studied all over the world by theologians, law-makers, politicians and philosophers of every colour and creed.

And some are even thinking the unthinkable: does the observant Jewish way of life maybe have something to offer the rest of humanity?

These are the thoughts that accompanied us through our rendering of the Fifth Haftorah: 'Ki Tetze', 'When you go out ....'

'For the mountains may be moved and the hills falter, but My kindness will not be moved from you, neither shall the covenant of my peace falter.'

Dr Irene Lancaster is a Jewish academic, author and translator who has established university courses on Jewish history, Jewish studies and the Hebrew Bible.

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