7.28.2006

Innocent Laughter and a Delightful Sabbath

I wrote this a few weeks ago, but I thought it was particularly apt for the erev Shabbat before Tisha B'Av, as it deals with both Shabbat and fasting, at least somewhat. A peaceful, relaxing, safe, nourishing, calm Shabbat to all! May we know of no more sorrow...
"For I do not believe God means us thus to divide life into two halves--to wear a grave face on Sunday, and to think it out-of-place to even so much as mention Him on a week-day. Do you think He cares to see only kneeling figures and to hear only tones of prayer--and that He does not also love to see the lambs leaping in the sunlight, and to hear the merry voices of the children, as they roll among the hay? Surely their innocent laughter is as sweet in His ears as the grandest anthem that ever rolled up from the 'dim religious light' of some solemn cathedral?"
--Lewis Carroll (1832 - 1898)

Isaiah 58:
ה הכזה, יהיה צום אבחרהו--יום ענות אדם, נפשו; הלכף כאגמן ראשו, ושק ואפר יציע--הלזה תקרא-צום, ויום רצון ליהוה 5 Is such the fast that I have chosen? the day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
ו הלוא זה, צום אבחרהו--פתח חרצבות רשע, התר אגדות מוטה; ושלח רצוצים חפשים, וכל-מוטה תנתקו 6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the fetters of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
ז הלוא פרס לרעב לחמך, ועניים מרודים תביא בית: כי-תראה ערם וכסיתו, ומבשרך לא תתעלם 7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
ח אז יבקע כשחר אורך, וארכתך מהרה תצמח; והלך לפניך צדקך, כבוד יהוה יאספך 8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy healing shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee, the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward.
ט אז תקרא ויהוה יענה, תשוע ויאמר הנני: אם-תסיר מתוכך מוטה, שלח אצבע ודבר-און 9 Then shalt thou call, and the LORD will answer; thou shalt cry, and He will say: 'Here I am.' If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking wickedness;
י ותפק לרעב נפשך, ונפש נענה תשביע; וזרח בחשך אורך, ואפלתך כצהרים 10 And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in darkness, and thy gloom be as the noon-day;
יא ונחך יהוה, תמיד, והשביע בצחצחות נפשך, ועצמתיך יחליץ; והיית, כגן רוה, וכמוצא מים, אשר לא-יכזבו מימיו 11 And the LORD will guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make strong thy bones; and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
יב ובנו ממך חרבות עולם, מוסדי דור-ודור תקומם; וקרא לך גדר פרץ, משבב נתיבות לשבת 12 And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places, thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called The repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.
יג אם-תשיב משבת רגלך, עשות חפצך ביום קדשי; וקראת לשבת ענג, לקדוש יהוה מכבד, וכבדתו מעשות דרכיך, ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר 13 If thou turn away thy foot because of the Sabbath, from pursuing thy business on My holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, and the holy of the LORD honorable; and shalt honor it, not doing thy wonted ways, nor pursuing thy business, nor speaking thereof;
יד אז תתענג על-יהוה, והרכבתיך, על-במותי (במתי) ארץ; והאכלתיך, נחלת יעקב אביך--כי פי יהוה, דבר 14 Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD, and I will make thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and I will feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father; for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

Compare and contrast. Especially the bold parts from Isaiah, where he, like Lewis Carroll, reflects on the sort of Sabbath that he thinks God wants. Is calling the Sabbath "a delight" analogous to "see[ing] the lambs leaping in the sunlight, and [hearing] the merry voices of the children, as they roll among the hay"? Both Lewis Carroll and Isaiah also point out serious inconsistencies in people's behavior. In Carroll's case, the problem is people who "divide life into two halves--to wear a grave face on Sunday, and to think it out-of-place to even so much as mention Him on a week-day," and in Isaiah's case, people who "fast for strife and contention, and to smite with the fist of wickedness," instead of fasting "so as to make your voice to be heard on high."

More on Isaiah, but not Lewis Carroll:

Isaiah 58:8 is one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible. Like a love-struck girl, I copied it into my notebook in high school, when I first learned the book of Isaiah. I think my love of this verse is at least partially because I love the word "yeevaka." To me, it sounds like what it means ("will break forth"). It sounds like something cracking wide open. I also love the way this verse divides the passage in two--the first part being all of the things that people are doing wrong, and the second part being what they can expect if they do right, and what doing right entails.

Isaiah 58:9 is also pretty cool, because God says "hineini," or "here I am." This is what Abraham says to God in Genesis 22, what Jacob says to an angel or God in Genesis 31 and 46, and what Moses says to God in Exodus 3. Later in the Bible, Samuel says "hineini" to God in 1 Samuel 3. This is the way that mankind responds to God's call.

What is more unusual is for God to respond to humanity that way. Such a simple statement:
"Here I am" -- "Hineini"
Yet how much so many of us would give to hear those words from God , especially in these scary times!

These verses tell us that only after we "deal [our] bread to the hungry" and "bring the poor that are cast out to [our] house" and cover the naked when we see them, will we merit to hear God say "hineini," "here I am." I'd say that we have a long way to go. Sigh...

1 comment:

alg's dad said...

This is beautiful, and I'm surprised no one has commented on it. I especially appreciate it as a fan of Lewis Carroll, and as a fan of Martin Gardner who was a big fan of (and authority on) Lewis Carroll. No doubt Lewis Carroll, like all educated Englishmen in his time, was familiar with Isaiah.

Many (25?) years ago, I visited a relative of ours (second cousin of my maternal grandfather, on Grandma Luba's side, and her husband), born about 1905, who had been brought up Orthodox but became a socialist, etc. He (the husband) told me that, although he no longer believed in the religion, he still liked to read Isaiah, which he thought was absolutely beautiful, and made him cry.