Virtual Talmud

The violence in Israel continues to worsen, and now wide-scale evacuations of the North are finally under way as it appears Israel is preparing to enter Southern Lebanon in force. I pray for the well-being of the brave Israeli soldiers who go into enemy territory to defend their country, and for the Lebanese civilians who may hope that the more targeted Israeli campaign will reduce innocent casualties even as the soldiers put their own lives at even greater risk.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese government and its backers have rejected a ceasefire plan that could have actually provided for enough international commitment to truly stabilize the situation, demanding instead an immediate Israeli withdrawal that would only worsen the current chaos.

It is very easy to fall into despair at moments such as these, when each new day’s news seems worse than what came before. At moments such as these, it’s worth realizing that our tradition has rich resources for addressing such despair, a despair that, sadly, seems almost timeless for our people.

And so the second of the Hafatarot of Consolation that we read this Shabbat begins with a natural skepticism of the promises of comfort that the Prophet brought last week: “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.’” (Isa. 49:14). What follows, however, is stunning, as God reassures the people: “Your builders outdo your destroyers, and those who laid you waste go away from you… Surely your waste and your desolate places and your devastated land–surely now you will be too crowded for your inhabitants, and those who swallowed you up will be far away.” (49:17-19)

For the people of the North, forced to flee their homes under an unending barrage of Katyusha rockets, the description of “destroyers” and “those who laid you waste” and “desolate places” reads more like newspaper headlines than biblical prophecy. Sadly, we are reminded once again that the dangers our people face are nothing new, are not simply responses to one modern-day policy or another, but have a much deeper and darker root in those who have sought to stamp out our presence in our homeland down the ages.

It is against this long view of history that the perspective of our tradition–the knowledge that we have endured before and we will endure again–provides comfort, as Isaiah concludes his prophecy with the promise: “For the Lord will comfort Zion; God will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” (51:3)

May we all draw strength and comfort from this promise, even as we work together to help make it a reality.

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