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Friday, 20 August 2010

Isaiah 54-1-10 – 5th Haftorah of the 7 weeks of comfort

By Rabbi Simon Jacbson

Sing Barren One

Sing, barren one, you who have not given birth. Break into a song, and cry aloud, you who have never been in labor; for the children of the abandoned are more numerous than the children of the married wife, says G-d.

Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed. Do not be confounded, for
you will not be put to shame; you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.

For G-d called you as a wife abandoned and grieved in spirit. Can a
wife of youth be rejected? says your G-d.

For a brief moment I forsook you, but I will gather you with great
compassion. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid My face from you; but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you, says G-d, your Redeemer.

This is like the waters of Noah to me: I swore that the waters of Noah
would never again submerge the earth; similarly, I swore that I would not be angry with you and would not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart, and the hills may be removed; but My kindness will not depart from you, nor will My covenant of peace be withdrawn, says G-d, who has compassion on you.

Isaiah 54-1-10 – 5th Haftorah of the 7 weeks of comfort

My heart is hurting. My soul is singing.

Life is so strange. And paradoxical.

It’s now five weeks since I have been writing about one of the most
painful of life’s tragedies – innocent children hurt by adults. I never intended to continue writing about child abuse. But I could not ignore the overwhelming emotional response evoked by my first article (The Destruction and Restoration of Dignity) about my wounded childhood friend Michael.

All my years of teaching and writing – communicating with people about personal and emotional issues – have taught me that we must listen, and listen closely to the anguished voices and the deep outcries of people in pain. We must always listen to the “kol yeled boche” – the cry of the child.

Of all man-made human atrocities, perhaps the most devastating and demoralizing is silence. Silence in the face of abuse is not neutral; it is complicity.

So when I began reading the anguished e-mails elicited by my article
describing the perpetual wounds of childhood trauma – one e-mail more heart wrenching than the other – there was no way that I was going to ignore these crying voices.

I realized and continue to realize the deep grief of so many tormented souls; children whose lives were forever altered because of a self-indulgent, sick adult.

And then, once I applied myself to the issue, which is so “comfortable” to ignore, I could not stop writing. As much as can be said about this unspeakable topic seems never enough. Initially, I thought that it was hard to find a place where child abuse is discussed in the Torah; now, after studying these seven weeks of comforting Haftorahs, I came to realize that once you pay attention it’s hard to find a place where this issue is not mentioned: Virtually every Haftorah speaks about the wounded children, the abandoned sons and daughters.

This week we read: Sing, barren one, you who have not given birth. Break into a song, and cry aloud, you who have never been in labor; for the children of the abandoned are more numerous than the children of the married wife, says G-d.

Let us ponder this verse for a moment. Are we actually being told that the “barren one” has reason to sing more than the fertile one? And that the “the children of the abandoned” have an advantage over healthy children?

How sad: Abandoned children outnumber their healthy counterparts. Abuse is rampant, and yet we are told that this is reason for us to sing!

But that is exactly what the verse is telling us. Whether we understand it or (most likely) not, some mysterious metamorphosis occurs to the barren one and the children of the abandoned. And when we see it through, we celebrate.

Yet we cry and sing all at once. We cry for the loss. But we sing for the growth, and we sing for the fact that we ultimately are not abandoned; our abandonment is only for a brief moment, because the everlasting Divine kindness and compassion always remains with us.

Indeed, the barren and abandoned state revealed a deeper love and greater strengths. The fact that we remain standing after all that we have been through testifies to our invincibility.

It is an absolute miracle that a child is able to survive extreme abuse at the hands of people who were supposed to protect the child. And yet the child survives, and with work becomes someone far greater, far more refined than he or she may have been otherwise. Not that this is a consolation, but the harshest challenges in life bring out the deepest resources, ones we could never imagined to have existed. And yet… we cry; we cry for all the countless hours of loneliness and anguish. We cry for the sheer pain, regardless of the ultimate benefits. But as we cry, we also sing…

So, sing, barren one, you who have not given birth. Break into a song,
and cry aloud.

Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed. Do not be confounded, for you will not be put to shame; you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.

Shame. Ahh the shame resulting from abuse. The shame that demoralizes and poisons our every move; the shame that breaks our spirit, as we lose our inner dignity and sense of self-worth.

Yet, even if we were shamed, you will forget the shame of your youth, as you discover that you have not been rejected.

For a brief moment I forsook you, but I will gather you with great compassion. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid My face from you; but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you.

While reading and writing about this healing process, let us not forget that we are in the month of Elul: A month of love an compassion, when we have the power to rebuild after loss, as we learn from Moses who spent these days of Elul on Sinai beseeching G-d for resolution.

And yet, the sadness strikes me again. Here we are preparing for the High Holidays – awesome days that have the power to change our lives forever. Yet, how many people are aware of this fact? How many are looking forward to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as indispensable days, offering us the ability to realize our deepest aspirations and dreams?

Many today are disenchanted from the monotony of conventional Holiday services. Affiliated and traditional Jews often suffer from a mechanical, lip service, experience. Nevertheless, the paradox continues: Men and women regardless of background hunger for a meaningful High Holiday experience.

Much to cry about. But also much to sing about.

But then we read on and conclude this week’s reading:

For the mountains may depart, and the hills may be removed; but My kindness will not depart from you, nor will My covenant of peace be withdrawn, says G-d, who has compassion on you.

Despite the winds of assimilation and the forces of apathy, notwithstanding the spiritual quandaries and the decline of traditional commitment – the mountains may depart, and the hills may be removed – but My kindness will not depart from you, and this kindness and compassion will reach the depths of our souls and awaken us.

Thus, even our spiritual frustration and our skeptical attitude is essentially the voice of our souls searching – desperately yearning for something better. What greater tribute to human dignity?

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