The Waters Meet Their Limit

Fifth Haftarah of Comfort: Isaiah 54:1–10

For this is like the waters of Noah to Me:
for as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more cover the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
nor will I rebuke you.
Though the mountains depart and the hills be shaken,
My love will not depart from you,
nor will My covenant of peace be shaken,
says Adonai who has compassion on you. Is. 54:9–10 TLV

Hashem comforts Israel with the assurance that there’s a limit to his chastisement. Just as he promised after Noah’s flood that he would never send such a flood again, so he promises Israel that his hesed or lovingkindness will never depart. In a sad irony, as we began the week with this reading from the prophet, Hurricane Harvey was bringing floods upon Houston and Southeast Texas. As the week draws to a close, the ordeal continues. Yesterday BBC.com posted this story:

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said “the worst is not yet over” for the south-east of the US state, after devastating Tropical Storm Harvey.

Rain continues to fall, he said, and flooding in certain areas may last another week.

More than 20 people are reported dead and large parts of Houston, Port Arthur and Beaumont are under water.

Texas has carried out more than 8,500 rescues and more than 32,000 people remain in shelters throughout the state, Governor Abbott said.

Another 10,000 members of the National Guard are said to be on their way, joining the 14,000 already deployed to tackle the disaster.

Those enduring four feet of rainfall and days of rising waters are still in the midst of a chaos and uncertainty, but it’s clear that there’s a limit. The rains are abating, the clouds over Houston drift apart to reveal blue sky, and recovery efforts are mounting. In a similar way, Isaiah reminds the Israelites of his day that there’s a limit to their trials. God will not allow the return-to-chaos flood of Noah to recur.

The God-given boundary transforms the tragedy of suffering into something purposeful. Rabbi Alan Lew writes,

Our suffering, the unresolved element of our lives, is also from God. It is the instrument by which we are carried back to God, not something to be defended against, but rather to be embraced. – This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared:  The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation

I wouldn’t show up in Houston right now, however, and encourage folks to embrace their sufferings. It’s not something we can lightly suggest to someone else, but something we first have to tell ourselves and put into practice. Then we might qualify to convey that sort of comfort to others. But this is clearly woven into the comfort that Isaiah provides: our afflictions have meaning, and glimpsing that meaning enables us to bear them, and even to be bettered by them.

To underline this reality, Isaiah contrasts the brevity of Israel’s chastisement with the everlasting reality of God’s hesed.

For a brief moment I deserted you,
but I will regather you with great compassion.
In a surge of anger
I hid My face from you a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,” says Adonai your Redeemer. (54:7–8)

God’s absence could never feel brief and momentary to those experiencing it, and the prophet isn’t trying to minimize their sufferings. Rather, he’s comparing the passing nature of suffering, no matter how profound, with the endless, unlimited compassion—hesed olam—of God, hesed that “will not depart from you” (54:9). Life in this world inevitably encounters the flood, the outbreak of chaos and the breaching of all our sources of security. Hashem assures us nonetheless that “the covenant of my peace” (literal translation of 54:10) remains.

This is the peace Messiah Yeshua brings: “Shalom I leave you, My shalom I give to you; but not as the world gives! Do not let your heart be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27).


It wouldn’t be right, however, to use the Houston flood just as an illustration for my commentary. In fact, one point of receiving reassurance and comfort amid our trials is to pass that comfort on to others. Therefore I’ll conclude with a post on this subject by our UMJC president:

Hurricane Harvey support update:

Friends, I have been working in conjunction with Ari Waldman [of Baruch Hashem, Dallas] whose team will be coordinating the efforts of MJBI, JVMI, Gateway Church, Baruch Hashem and the UMJC to bring a strategic response on behalf of the Messianic Jewish community to the greater Houston area.

We will be partnering with these teams and several other MJ congregations to bring a focused and strategic support effort in the areas of prayer, finances (and material need) and eventually volunteer work teams.

I have already told Ari that he can count on me and several of our congregation who plan to travel to Houston and serve in manual labor roles once the time for that becomes clear.

Until then I am asking each and every one of you to do the following:

  1. Pray for the families of the congregations in this area. Pray for the leadership teams, the emergency workers and their families, the Governor, mayors, and governing bodies responsible for managing this emergency. Pray for the President, FEMA, Red Cross and all volunteer agencies.
  2. Publicly share that you are committing time to prayer for all of the above parties and any other I’ve missed; invite people to pray with you or to gather together and pray. Communicate this on Shabbat each week, on your social media streams and in your daily conversations, and encourage others to do the same.
  3. Rally financial support and give online at http://www.umjc.org/donate/. Under special instructions please write “Hurricane.” We will send these funds to Baruch Hashem where the team will distribute them to the specific congregations and teams who can meet the needs of the families who have been directly affected! Please share this information, this Shabbat and for the near future as you are willing.

Let us not be silent when our brothers and sisters are in need, we must be a visible voice and hand of strength and support during this terrible tragedy.

Jesse

 

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