Friday, January 27, 2017

Jewish prophets, Israel, the UN--and Redemption?

Each Shabbat of the year, Jews around the world read from both the Torah (the weekly Torah Portion) and an additional excerpt from (typically) the Prophets. We call these additional excerpts our weekly Haftorah reading.

Both of these readings (Torah and Haftorah) are generally pre-set. This means that, for most of the year, you can see in advance which Portions of the Torah—and Haftorah--will be read each week.

Occasionally—as will occur this Shabbat, January 28, 2017—the regularly-scheduled Prophet excerpt is replaced. This particular Shabbat coincides with the very first day of a new Hebrew month. In such a case, the regular Haftorah is replaced by a special ‘New Month’ Haftorah.

Therefore, this Shabbat we will not read the scheduled excerpt from the Book of Yechezkel (Ezekiel). We will read instead an excerpt from the Book of Yesh’ayahu (Isaiah).

Nevertheless, a look at both Haftorahs might be wise. Both of these Prophet readings remind us of current events. They also teach a potentially unknown but important lesson about how our Redemption unfolds.

Yechezkel prophesied in Israel when the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed the First Jewish Holy Temple (app 586 BCE).  In the years leading up to that destruction, Israel had desecrated its holiness (Yechezkel, 28:25-29:21; see Yechezkel, The Arts Scroll Edition, Mesorah Publications, New York, 2012). As a consequence, Israel didn’t experience peace and tranquility. Instead, its non-Jewish neighbors became like a ‘malignant curse’ to Israel (ibid, commentary, p 474-5). For Israel, those ‘curses’ meant no peace, tranquility or constructive normalization with its neighbors (paraphrase from ibid, p 475).

Sound familiar?

Because Israel had abandoned its spiritual greatness, it had become ‘just like any other nation’ (ibid, pp 474-6). It was therefore totally subject to all the political conspiracies, diplomatic plots and military actions of its neighbors.

Sound familiar?

As the regularly scheduled excerpt from Yechezkel begins, Israel is besieged. It faces complete disdain and treachery from other nations (28:17-20, a description that precedes and gives a background for this week's excerpt).

Sound familiar?

Yechezkel says that part of the future Jewish Destiny will include Jews returning to the land that HaShem, the G-d of Israel, gave to our forefather Jacob (ibid, 28:25-26). He says those Jews will build houses upon that land (ibid). They will settle there (ibid).

Sound familiar?

The special New Moon reading we will actually read this Shabbat echoes this theme from Yechezkel of nations showing disdain and contempt for Israel (Yesh’ayahu, 66:1-24).  Yesh’ayhu lived app 110 years before Yechezkiel, during Israel’s troubles with the invader Sennacherib of Assyria. Yesh’ayahu describes the Temple Mount as His (G-d’s) “resting place” (66:1). The Temple Mount is G-d’s “House” (ibid). 

Put another way, the prophet declares the Temple Mount to be  fully and exclusively Jewish. He makes this declaration more than thirteen hundred years before Islam. 

Yesh’ayhu also speaks of how Esav (putatively, the Christian world) and Ishmael (putatively, the Islamic world) both hate Jacob—Israel (The Living Nach, Mozanim publications, 1995, commentary on 66:5).

Sound familiar?

These two Prophet excerpts declare how the nations, including the descendants of Esav and Ishmael, will show disdain towards Israel—and hate Israel. We certainly saw such disdain and hate yet again on December 23, 2016. On that date, a treacherous United Nations Security Council voted unanimously against Israel. It voted to call all of Judea-Samaria—part of the land HaShem, the G-d of Israel, identified as His gift forever to the Jewish people—to be illegal according to Man’s UN Law.

There is no greater disdain—and hate—towards a religious people than to declare that the directives and gifts of that religion’s G-d are ‘illegal’ according to Man’s Law. That is, essentially, oultawing that religion. 

There is no greater hatred towards Judaism than to say that Judaism’s holiest site on earth is not Jewish, but Islamic. But that’s exactly what the UN voted to do in October, 2016, before its treacherous December, 2016 vote.

To make sure we all saw the Biblical connections of these attacks against the Jewish G-d, news outlets reported in January, 2017 that 70 nations (an echo of the Jewish Tanach) gathered in Paris after the UN vote to validate the UN’s anti-Israel Resolution (“70 nations gather in Paris to discuss two-state solution, Israel & Palestinian Authority skip”, rt, January 15, 2017).

Despite such disdain and acts of hate against the Jews, the prophet Yesh’ayhu is optimistic. He says Jerusalem will flourish (ibid, 66:10-11).

If you have ever been to Israel, you know that Jerusalem flourishes.  You know that Israel flourishes.

If you have never been to Israel, you still know about HaShem’s Biblical directive to build and settle the land of Israel. You know that because the nations which so disdain Israel won’t let you forget that 'settlement'.

This week’s Torah Portion (V'eira, in Sh'mot, 6:2-9:35) adds to these images. It reminds us that the beginning of Redemption isn’t a smooth ride. It’s filled with troubles.

The Jewish leader Moshe has troubles. He fears the Jews don't believe him. He fears Pharaoh won't believe him. 

The Jewish people have troubles. Moshe arrives and announces the Redemption has begun--and Pharaoh simply makes life for the Jews more miserable. 

Even the one who hates and would destroy the Jews--Pharaoh--has troubles. He has to negotiate with one he hates. He has to watch his people and his land suffer. 

Yes, our Redemption isn't instant. It's marked by effort, suffering, more effort, more suffering. 

This week, our Torah and Haftorah texts tell clearly that Jews have a Destiny. That Destiny is Redemption.

The unreported lesson of these texts is that the beginning of Redemption isn't necessarily 'peaches and cream'. The beginning of our Redemption may intertwine triumph with trouble.   

Our Destiny is real. Our Redemption is real. The triumphs and troubles we face are real.

Remember, our Redemption begins with our ingathering into our ancient homeland. That ingathering has begun. 

Our Redemption also begins after Torah-learning and observance have returned to Israel. They have returned.  

Has our Redemption begun?

Stay tuned.

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