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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Parashat Va'etchanan - the Haftara

Va’etchanan – the Haftara
Isaiah 40:1-26
Reading date: 1st August 2009 – 11th Av 5769

Our Highlighted Haftara text
"The nations are but a drop in a bucket,Reckoned as dust on a balance;The very coastlands God lifts like motes.Lebanon is not fuel enough,Nor its beast enough for sacrifice.All nations are as naught in God's sight;God accounts them as less than nothing." Isaiah 40:15-17

On Tisha B’Av we reflect on Israel's exile at the hands of the Romans and pray that we will have the strength to withstand the current attack!

This week with the recent events in Israel and the world, it seems fitting that we commemorate Tisha B'Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. Tisha b'Av marks the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people from the land of Israel. The first Shabbat after Tisha B'Av we read Parashat Va'etchanan, but the Shabbat is more commonly referred to as ‘Shabbat Nachamu’, this name taken from the opening words of the haftara from (Second) Isaiah: ‘Nachamu, nachamu’- Comfort, comfort My people. This is the first (of seven) haftarot of consolation that follow the past three weeks of haftarot of admonition.

The portion Va'etchanan contains both the Shema and a recapitulation of the Ten Commandments that differs in both slight and more significant ways from the text in Exodus.

Second Isaiah lived a century later than Isaiah, after the exile (586 BCE). The prophet addresses the exiles of Judah now in Babylon and brought words of comfort. Because of his message of consolation that Israel's sins are forgiven, we assume that these prophecies were delivered after Cyrus the Mede conquered Babylon and permitted the Judeans to return to Jerusalem (538 BCE).

I don't like to use this weekly commentary as a soapbox for political commentary around current events, including the actions of Barak Obama and the American legislature, put me in a position that I can't ignore the recent events in Israel. I am tired of Israel being attacked, both physically and in the media. "Pro-Israeli" websites present what seems to me to be a more balanced perspective; the rest of the world sees Israel as the aggressor, Israel as the source of violence and Israel as the reason for instability in the region. With every civilian casualty and Israeli air strike, the world goes on a media feeding frenzy to attack Israel's position.

It is tragic when civilians are killed by Israeli missiles, and it certainly does not advance the cause of peace. But it is never pointed out that these unfortunate (and I'll admit- all too often) incidents are, to use the military euphemism, "collateral damage". Too bad that the media also doesn't point out that Hamas shields itself behind UN posts and schools and other civilian positions, believing that Israel will not dare retaliate precisely to avoid civilian casualties. Israel doesn't target civilians, unlike Hamas who deliberately fire missiles onto Israeli schools and hospitals. Hamas’ hundreds of kassam rockets and mortars raining down on Israel (and Israeli casualties) don't make the front page. It seems Hamas has permission to attack.

As long as the conflict is about Palestinian sovereignty and land borders, I believe that eventually a peace settlement could be reached. But when Hamas raises the conflict to a new level I become anxious and question the safety of Gilad Shalit. We have to stop pretending that Iran's message that "Israel must be wiped off the map" and Al Qaeda's call to all Muslims to attack the western world is just empty rhetoric. Israel and the US are seen as the enemies of Islam, and the conflict is real. Good meaning Muslims must challenge these messages of hate and intolerance and work for a moderate Islam that can function in modern society.
So on Tisha B’Av we reflect on Israel's destruction at the hands of the Romans and pray that we will have the strength to withstand current attacks. This week's haftara words of comfort are therefore timelier than ever:
"Ascend a lofty mountain,O herald of joy to Zion;Raise your voice with power,O herald of joy to Jerusalem--Raise it, have no fear;Announce to the cities of Judah:Behold your God!" Isa. 40: 9

Shabbat Shalom

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