I’m in the midst of preparations for my relocation back to the east coast in just over another week, so forgive me if I offer a retread musing for this Shabbat.
D’varim/Shabbat Hazon 5771/5766
Refractory Recalcitrant Recidivists
So, before the mournful Tisha B’Av, we get Shabbat Hazon, the Sabbath of Prophecy (vision? foresight?) named after the first words in the haftarah reading from Y’shayahu (Isaiah) chapter one. Talk about a downer.
Isaiah reports G”d’s words, spoken like a true parent “I reared children and brought them up–and they have rebelled against Me!” The children of Israel are labeled “goi khotei”-sinful nation, an “am keved avon”-a people heavy with iniquity. (I love the use of the kaf, bet, dalet root, more often seen in a positive light as honor or glory–“kavod”–yet here it reverts to the root’s base meaning – heavy – we are heavy with (laden) with sin. Perhaps our sin is that we have taken what should be our honor, and have viewed it instead as a heavy burden which we can shuck off.)
We are “zera m’rei’im”–seeds from evilness (JPS poetically uses “brood of evildoers”) and “banim mash’khitim” –children who have become spoilers (and, though we can’t impute a more modern meaning, I daresay that perhaps we had become not just spoilers, but “spoiled children” ourselves. Maybe we still are.)
“Why,” asks G”d, “do you seek to be beaten further, adding to your apostasy?”
Why, indeed? What is it about human beings that make us prone to being refractory, recalcitrant, and recidivist? Could you think of a worse innate trait? Stubbornness combined with obstinacy, resistance, and a tendency to fall back on old bad habits?
Can we truly blame the high incidence of recidivism among those sent to prison for crimes solely upon the weaknesses and problems with the penal system? And why is it that some are able to overcome their demons and others not? Why are some alcoholics and addicts successful in keeping their recovery going, and others on a constant cycle of falling off the wagon?
So many in our prison system appear to find G”d in some fashion. Yet when these are warrior gods of Norse mythology, or a pure white Aryan Jesus. And Isaiah tells us that G”d isn’t interested in our sacrifices or our prayers when what is in our hearts is evil. When we lift up our hands, G”d will turn G”d’s eyes away from us, though we increase our prayer, G”d will not listen, for our hands with bloods are full. (1:15)
So just how defiant and off-task must we be before G”d will no longer listen to our prayers? Can any of us truly say that our hands are not somehow tainted with the blood of others? When evil happens in our world, are we not responsible as a community to do something about it? If we follow the Sodom and Gomorrah example, if at least 10 of us are trying to do something about it, is that enough for G”d to continue to listen to us, hear our prayers, show us favor and mercy and kindness? Is there another “tipping point?” If so, why the different standard, you might ask. That, my friends, is the price for being a people covenanted with G”d. Yes, we will be held to a higher standard.
“That’s not fair! I didn’t ask to be born into this covenant” I hear some cry. Opt out then. But don’t come crying to G”d the next time you’ve run out of other options.
G”d not listening to us. It’s not a very comforting thought. It seems harsh-it’s not the loving, all-forgiving G”d we all want. Yet did we always get what we wanted from our parents?
Nevertheless, how many of us were, in the eyes of our parents, sometimes refractory, recalcitrant, and recidivist? So probably sometimes our parents had to turn a deaf ear to our please in do what they felt they needed to do in order to get to to do family t’shuva. They continued to love us (at least most of them, for even parents are imperfect.) And so does G”d.
Our criminal justice system, to some extent, tries (though often fails) to heed Isaiah’s reminder from G”d that “sins like crimson, they can be turned into snow-white; be they red as dyed wool, they can become like fleece.
All negative messages from our parents (or from G”d) are not likely to be successful at getting us to return to the path of righteous living. And just as our parents knew to temper their “tough love” with a little kindness, so, too, does G”d. We see it throughout our sacred scriptures, and we see it here at the end of this haftarah.
“Zion shall be saved in the judgment, her repentant ones, in the retribution.” (JPS, 1:27)
Yet we cannot depend solely on G”d’s ultimate mercy. Our Jewish understanding is that this is a two way street. That is why, perhaps, Isaiah has G”d saying:
“L’khu-na, v’nivvakh’khah.” It’s somewhat odd morphology makes it difficult to translate, but scholars believe the meaning to be something like “Come, please, let us reason together” or, as the JPS committee decided to translate it “Come, let us reach an understanding.”
Refractory recalcitrant recidivists that we are, let’s go reach an understanding with G”d.
©2014, 2011, and 2006 by Adrian A. Durlester
For another take on this haftarah for Shabbat Hazon, see D’varim 5762-L’chu v’niva’ch’chah and the Twelve Steps
Other musings on this parasha:
D’varim 5773 – The Pea in Og’s Bed
D’varim 5772 – Revised 5762 – L’chu v’niva’ch’chah and the Twelve Steps
D’varim 5769-Torah of Confusion
D’varim 5764–Eleven Days
D’varim 5763–Remembering to Forget or Forgetting to Remember?
D’varim 5762-L’chu v’niva’ch’chah and the Twelve Steps
D’varim 5759-Owning Up
D’varim 5760-1-Kumu v’Ivru