August 16, 2003
A little over a week has passed since Tisha b’Av. The angst and religious insecurity prompted by it are still fresh. It should not surprise us, then, that the opening words of the second of the haftarot of consolation (nechamta) reflect this religious, psychological ambiguity: “Zion says, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.’ (Isaiah 48:14)
The following proem midrash from Pesikta d’Rav Kahana picks up on this religious insecurity by linking this verse from Isaiah with a verse from the book of Lamentations (Eicha) which we read on Tisha b’Av: “[Commenting on the verse:] ‘Why should any living person complain, any mortal who has sinned? Let us examine our ways and put them to the test and turn back to the Lord’ (Lamentations 3:39-40), Rabbi [Yehudah Hanasi] said: ‘They are complainers who are the children of complainers.’ [meaning: They constantly complain.] For Adam, the first man, I was busy trying to find him a companion… still he complained: ‘The woman whom you gave to me is the one who gave me…’ (Genesis 3:12) Jacob also treated Me the same way. I [God] was busy helping his son Joseph become ruler over Egypt…nevertheless Jacob complained: ‘My way is hid from the Lord’ (Isaiah 40:27) Jacob’s children also acted the same way during their sojourn in the desert coming out of Egypt. I [God] was busy making them special bread [manna] like the kings eat so that they should not become sick, still they complained: ‘Our souls are filled up with this light bread.’ (Numbers 21:5) So, too, Zion [the Jewish people] treat me the same way. I am busy trying to remove their enemies from the world. Haven’t I already rid the world of Babylonia, Media, and Greece, and am I not going to rid the world of this wicked kingdom [Rome]? Yet, Zion still complains, saying: ‘He has forsaken me, He has forgotten me. ‘Zion say: The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me’” (adapted from 17:3 Mandelbaum ed. pp. 284-5)
This midrash points out a very simple human reality. It is very hard to have faith and to be optimistic when faced with constant danger and troubles. This malady afflicted Adam and Jacob. It afflicted the desert generation, and the people at the time of the destruction of the first and second Temples. It afflicts Jews today. This attitude, however, is religiously and psychologically destructive. It does not allow a person to be grateful for the blessings they do have. It produces an attitude of blaming rather than building. It inspires inertia rather than action. God’s answer to this attitude is found throughout this week’s haftarah but can be summed up in the following verse: “Though a person walk in darkness and have no light, let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God.” (Isaiah 50:10)
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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