Lech-Lecha: Strength for the Journey

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Lech Lecha

This week’s haftarah is again from Isaiah, and like most selections
from the latter half of Isaiah, the theme is faith, hope and ultimate
redemption.

It’s a great text for this week, in light of the historic election
here in the United States- but for subtle and historical reasons. The
haftarah uses metaphors for faith which remind us to take the long view:

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is God from of old,
Creator of the earth from end to end,
He never grows faint or weary,
His wisdom cannot be fathomed.
He gives strength to the weary,
Fresh vigor to the spent.
Youths may grow faint and weary,
And young men stumble and fall;
But they who trust in the Lord shall renew their strength
As eagles grow new plumes:
They shall run and not grow weary,
They shall march and not grow faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

Note the contrast between God as tireless in the first part of this
passage, compared with the image of the faithful ones in the latter
part: they shall run but not grow weary. History is like a march: it
takes stamina, determination, and sufficient spiritual clarity to
overcome the inevitable discouragement and setbacks.

Now, please note, the give and take of human politics is never to be
confused with a religious vision for society; to do so debases
religion and corrupts it. Having said that, sometimes religious
language gives richer meaning to events with historical significance-
or, to put it another way, if language rooted in religious traditions
can be used without embarrassment in describing something, perhaps
that in itself can help us understand what is of true significance and
what is not.

To that end, I think it’s fair to say that many Americans, across the
religious and political spectrum, experienced this week’s election of
an African-American to the Presidency as redemptive moment in American
history. Regardless of party affiliation, who could not be moved by
the pictures of elderly and young alike being moved to tears, to
dance, to shouts of joy, upon realizing that America had just done
something unimaginable a mere 40 years ago?

In 1967, Martin Luther King evoked the language of the prophets when
he preached faith, taking the long view, to those in the midst of the
civil rights struggle:

“Let this affirmation be our ringing cry. It will give us the courage
to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet
new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of
freedom. When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds of
despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights,
let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe,
working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is
able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into
bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long
but it bends toward justice.” (Link below.)

Faith, in this view, is not dependence on miracles or believing the
irrational. It is action without despair- or, as Clarence Jordan put
it, faith is not belief in spite of evidence but a life in scorn of
the consequences. That is the significance of faith- it keeps your
feet moving when the spirit grows weary. That is the kind of faith
that is ultimately rewarded- not the kind of faith that believes
without evidence, but the kind of faith that says: never stop marching
towards justice. That is the kind of faith that kept the Jewish people
hoping for Zion throughout thousands of years of exile; that is the
kind of faith that sustained so many in this country until the day
they could see barriers of race forever discredited.

To those without hope, Isaiah says: keep walking, the journey is long,
but faith sustains the weary.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

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