Ekev: Look to the Rock You Were Hewn From

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Ekev

Our haftarah this week is the second of the seven haftarot of
consolation, all taken from Isaiah, which we read between the sad day
of the ninth of Av and Rosh Hashanah. The theme of “consolation” seems
especially appropriate here in San Diego, where I’m visiting family
and yesterday took my niece to see the Braves stomp all over the
hapless Padres, who have the second-worst winning percentage in the
National League. Consolation, indeed. . . . . .

But I digress. Back to this week’s haftarah, which begins with a
lament that God has forsaken and abandoned Israel, the haftarah
proceeds with a series of rhetorical questions and flourishes, all
leading up to the idea that God has not forgotten the people, and
indeed, will redeem them from suffering.

Towards the end of the reading, at the beginning of Yeshayahu/Isaiah
51, the prophet calls out to the people who are still hoping or
yearning for justice, even in their harsh conditions of history:

Listen to Me, you who pursue justice,
You who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock you were hewn from,
To the quarry you were dug from.
Look back to Abraham your father
And to Sarah who brought you forth.
For he was only one when I called him,
But I blessed him and made him many. (Is. 51:1-2)

It’s a bit hard to tell from the translation, but there is a subtle
aspect of the Hebrew phrases “rodfei tzedek,” or “pursuers of
justice,” and “mevakshei Adonai,” or “seekers of God.” As Hirsch
points out, the words “pursue” and “seek” are in the noun form, not
the verb form; as he sees it, there are people for whom the pursuit of
justice and the seeking of the Divine are who they are, in their
essence, not just something they do. This to me speaks of a deep truth
about Judaism: it’s not just about changing what we do, it’s
ultimately about changing who we are, so that what we do flows from a
sense of profound connection to God, to humankind, and the world
itself.

However, even those people- the pursuers of justice and the seekers of
the Divine- can become discouraged in hard times. Justice often seems
so far away, and as soon as progress is made, it often turns out to be
a fleeting victory. So the prophet says to these forward-oriented
people: you can find your hope not only in your vision of the future,
but from your history, as well.

After all, who ever had more faith than Avraham and Sarah? Avraham
left his home, as a seeker of God, and argued with the Holy One at
Sodom, as a pursuer of justice. (Cf. Bereshit 18) Sarah, for her part,
bore Yitzhak [Isaac} when she was already an old woman; I understand
this story not as the history of a biologically improbable event, but
as a tremendous metaphor for the refusal to give up hope in the
renewal of life. Sarah was every bit as much a person of faith, of new
hope, of new life, as Avraham was, and when we remember how Avraham
was a “rock,” that is, one who stood by principles of fairness- even
for the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah – we can find new hope in the
capacity of humans for faith, hope, and justice.

yours from sunny San Diego,

Rabbi Neal

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