Archive for August, 2011

August 31, 2011

the Hineni hint

We’re in the middle of seven haftarot of consolation, seven readings from Isaiah that take us from Tisha B’Av to Rosh Hashanah. The haftarah for this week is Isaiah 51:12–52:12 and the haftarah for next week is Isaiah 54:1–10, so it’s pretty obvious that we’re going to skip right over Isaiah 53 (which begins at 52:13). Those of us who see Isaiah 53 as the greatest portrayal of Messiah Yeshua in the Hebrew Scriptures might be tempted to claim that it was left out of the reading cycle on purpose. But to be fair, there’s another explanation for its absence, since it doesn’t explicitly include the theme of comfort or consolation, or mention the return from exile that’s so prominent in other passages.

In fact, rather than being left out of the haftarah readings, it almost looks like chapter 53 got inserted as a parenthetical statement into the book of Isaiah between this week’s haftarah and next week’s. But, of course, that interpretation misses the point too, a major point that Isaiah is making in the way he composed his prophecy.

The key to this major point is one word, Hineni, which appears at the end of Isaiah 52:6.

August 28, 2011

Focus on one thing

During the month of Elul, Jewish tradition recommends that your take some time each day for cheshbon ha-nefesh, or taking an account of the soul.

All the month of Elul before eating and sleeping let every man sit and look into his soul, and search his deeds, that he may make confession. (S.Y. Agnon, Days of Awe, citing Maharil)

Alan Lew notes the same idea in his book, This is Real and You are Totally Unprepared. (My good friend Rube–Richard Rubinstein–recommended this book on the High Holidays to me last year, not long before he died of cancer, so it’s especially meaningful to me.)

All the rabbis who comment on this period make it clear that we … must set aside time each day of Elul to look at ourselves, to engage in self-evaluation and self-judgment, to engage in cheshbon-ha-nefesh, literally a spiritual accounting. But we get very little in the way of practical advice as to how we might do this.

Rabbi Lew goes on to give some practical advice.

August 26, 2011

Review: The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels

The Gospels are Jewish. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who preserved them and transmitted them through the centuries, but the time has come for us to reclaim what is ours. The Gospels belong to the Jewish people, as does the central character in the Gospel story.

These words introduce a new translation of the four Gospels, not from the Greek of its oldest and best original manuscripts, but from Hebrew. Still, we might ask why we need another Jewish-oriented translation of the Gospels. And even if we do, why base it on a text that is itself a translation?

The answer lies with the Hebrew Gospel text itself, which was created by the renowned 19th century biblical scholar, Franz Delitzsch.

August 18, 2011

Impossible pursuit

Tisha b’Av marks the beginning of exile; Rosh Hashana celebrates creation and renewal. During the seven weeks from Tisha b’Av to Rosh Hashana, to provide transition between the two days, we read the seven haftarot of consolation or comfort, beginning with Isaiah 40:1, “‘Comfort, yes, comfort my people!’ says your God.”

Right now we’re in the second week, and our reading concludes with this:

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many. For the LORD will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. (Isaiah 51:1-3)

I’m struck by “you who pursue righteousness,” because that’s what we’re supposed to be doing this time of year, as we prepare for the Days of Awe.

August 15, 2011

the one essential

I’ve been blogless for too long and it’s time to jump back in with some reflections leading up to the month of Elul and the Days of Awe (for the uninitiated, the 40 days of spiritual focus from the first day of the sixth Jewish month through Yom Kippur, August 30 through October 8 this year).

I’ll start with something that might seem at first tangential, justification by faith, one of the most cherished doctrines of the Protestant Reformation, referring to salvation as a free gift to be received by simply believing, apart from any deeds or human effort at all. Faith is often presented as the Christian (or at least Protestant) response to God in contrast with works, which is the misguided Jewish attempt to earn one’s salvation.