on Wednesday, 01 August 2012.
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
-- Albert Einstein
Fear not, be not ashamed... for a brief moment I turned My back on you. But with eternal love I will gather you to Me.
-- 2 Isaiah, 54:4, 54:7
The past four or five years have been trying times for most Americans. If you don't believe that, just watch any political speech or ad in this presidential election year... The Great Recession was deep and the Not-So-Great Recovery has been slow. Things are getting better now, but it's a gradual process. Our Jewish tradition has a great deal to teach us about overcoming disappointment, and that reassurance can help, both now and whenever we feel low, collectively or personally.
We are in the period of the Jewish calendar between Tisha B'Av, which commemorates the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, and Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year. Each Shabbat of this seven-week period we chant a Haftarah from the great prophet 2nd Isaiah, who preached to the exiles in Babylonia (today's Iraq) and sought to provide comfort, consolation, and most of all hope. These summer Isaiah selections, full of wonderful poetry, travel a roller-coaster of emotions. But ultimately they return to the constancy and comfort that God provides.
I am reminded of these Haftarot each Friday night when we chant Lecha Dodi, the beautiful love poem that completes the Kabbalat Shabbat section of our evening service. Written by the Kabbalist Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabets in Tzefat in the 16th century, Lecha Dodi, the song of welcome to the Sabbath bride, is filled with short quotations from 2nd Isaiah that seek to shake us out of our gloom: "Hitna'ari mei'afar kumi, arise and shake off the dust!" throw off your depression, regain your dignity and self-respect; "Hit'or'ri hit'or'ri ki va oreich, kumi ori! Awake, awake, your light has come!" get up and let your inner energy shine; "Lo teivoshi v'lo tikalmi, no more shame or degradation," and "v'nivn'tah ir al tilah, rebuild the city on its ruins," move from humiliation and loss to rebuild what you had; then, still paralleling Isaiah, "yasis alayich Elohayich, kimsos chatan al kalah, God will rejoice in you as the bridegroom does with his bride!" the time for celebration is close; and finally, "yamin usmol tifrotsi, you will need to enlarge your buildings" to accommodate all the new children of your joy.
Each verse of Lecha Dodi, borrowing from 2nd Isaiah, carries at least a triple message: first, the time for sadness is past. Second, welcome God's ability to rouse us from slumber and to renew our strength, commitment and energy. And third, celebration is near at hand: we need only to rebuild, and to rejoice in what our unified spirit and work can create.
We have surely been through challenging times. And just as surely, it is time to renew our commitments and return to our true nature, as a creative, giving, committed people dedicated to our best ideals. In this time of consolation let us take comfort and strength in the message of our ancient and yet immediately relevant faith: God remembers us and cares deeply about us. And we need only turn to God to find the hope and optimism that will allow us to flourish again.