A Time To Give Comfort
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The words of the Prophet Isaiah to be read in the synagogue this Shabbat take on a particularly poignant meaning this year, resonating in our hearts and instructing those of us removed from the Mideast conflict how best to be helpful at this painful time: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,” says the Lord, following the destruction of the Holy Temple. “Speak comfortingly to Jerusalem and tell her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.” Despite the deep despair that permeates the Jewish people following the tragic loss of the Temple, Isaiah, in Chapter 40, preaches that those with faith in God will come to understand that there is promise for the future. “The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” The power of the prophet’s message has caused this Shabbat to be known as Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of Comfort, coming as it does each year just after the Fast of the Ninth of Av, commemorating the destruction of the Temple. How timely to read Isaiah’s words at a moment when the traditional Three Weeks of Mourning in the Jewish calendar has paralleled the three weeks of Mideast combat, a time when Israel and her supporters have been brought low by the suffering of our people, under attack once again from enemies blinded with rage ­— from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza to a lone gunman in Seattle — and pledged to destroy the Jewish State and the Jewish people. How ironic are the prophet’s words in noting that the surrounding nations are not worthy of Israel, that “Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor its animals sufficient for a burnt offering.” Alas, there was much burning and sacrifice of human life in Lebanon these last several weeks, and even the most ardent supporter of Israel felt the ache of suffering of Lebanese civilians, however well we could rationalize that Hezbollah was the true cause of the tragedy. Our hearts are not made of stone, though. We maintain compassion for the innocents killed in the path of war even as our enemies target Israeli civilians and hide among Lebanese children as a strategy of war. We have not lost our humanity even as our enemies gloat in their murderous attacks and pray to Allah for the destruction of the Jews. Surely the recriminations, internal investigations and soul-searching, soon to begin in Israel, have their place. When Jerusalem decided to strike back with force after Hezbollah, in violation of all international rules, attacked Israel’s soldiers on July 12, killing eight and kidnapping two, the pledge of the Olmert government was to finish off Hezbollah once and for all. And the Israeli people were as one, recognizing they could no longer live under the threat of rocket attacks from a terror group whose sole purpose is to destroy the Jews. But there were miscalculations along the way, from an underestimation of Hezbollah’s ability to wage war, to the reliance on the air force to destroy the enemy without destroying innocents, to the belief that the international community would side with Israel in this effort to defeat the proxy of Iran and Syria. Somewhere along the way Israel’s objective went from smacking Hezbollah’s face to saving its own. Knowing full well that a military standoff was a defeat for Jerusalem, the army convinced the government to press on, hoping for a knockout punch that would justify all that went before. Already the myth of the invincible Israeli army has been dashed, along with the belief many had that the outnumbered Hezbollah militia would back down. But there will be time enough for assessments among Israel’s political and military leaders and analysts about what went wrong and how to adjust to a conflict that, tragically, will go on as long as Israel is hated simply for existing. Our primary role as Jews in the diaspora is to support our brothers and sisters, lending aid and giving strength, knowing full well that the rockets fired at Haifa and Karmiel and Afula were aimed at all of us as well. We can be proud of our large and dedicated network of social service agencies, the missions to Israel and the grassroots efforts that have sprung up in the last few weeks, all pledged and poised to lend a hand and a heart. That is still what we do best as an American Jewish community in times of crisis for Israel; we have been generous in our support in the past and must continue that tradition now. In doing so, in helping Israel at this difficult time, we emulate the ways of God, as Isaiah notes four verses after the end of this Shabbat’s Haftorah: “He gives power to the weak, He gives strength to he who has no might.” Those with trust in God, the prophet promises, will “renew their strength and mount up with wings like eagles.” It is a message of hope that could not be more timely or needed, reminding us not only of how we can help those who have been brought low, but that the power of faith — in our people, our values and our Creator — can unite and sustain us. May we be blessed to celebrate together even as we have mourned.

Last Update:

10/09/2009 - 12:14

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