The Bible Says What? ‘God did not abandon Israel – Israel abandoned God’

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The Bible Says What? ‘God did not abandon Israel – Israel abandoned God’

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein takes a controversial topic from the Torah and offers a progressive response

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein

“I will greatly rejoice in the Eternal One, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for God has clothed me with the garments of salvation, God has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels…” (Isaiah 61:10-11).

This is the perfect way to end what have been a series of seven Haftarot of consolation following Tisha B’Av, the Jewish fast day for lamentation and mourning. The majority of this passage was written while the leadership of the Israelites were in Babylonian exile.

It is probable that King Cyrus of Persia had defeated the Babylonians and already there were signs the exiles would be allowed to return to their land and their people. In this passage, God has provided fine clothing and the marital language of God’s relationship with Israel has resumed. But the final verbs are in the future tense, redemption or conquest of the land is still yet to come.

In accord with the Deuteronomic theology, there is the notion God will act, but only once the people act first. This theology worked to explain that God had not been defeated or disappeared when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem on earth. God had not abandoned Israel – Israel had abandoned God by not observing the mitzvot.

A meaningful return to the loving relationship and the land is assured by Israel returning to God and following God’s mitzvot.

Today, this passage – and other ones in our Torah – are the motivation for us to never stay completely still. They acknowledge moments of stagnation, of rest, even times when we slide backwards. Yet our orientation is forward, with hope.

  •  Aaron Goldstein is Senior Rabbi at The Ark Synagogue

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