Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Some Thoughts from Rosh Hashana

As Rosh Hashana draws to a close, I am pondering the Haftarah portion from today (which I was volunteered to read and managed to alas mangle pretty badly -- not the best way to start of the new year, I reckon, but considering I don't read Hebrew all that well and pretty much know the trope only from the blessings, I think I did pretty well for only having had a day to prepare). No doubt, a lot of people have said a lot about this portion (Jeremiah 31:2-20), but what is interesting to me about it is what it is saying about the eventual salvation of the Jewish people and the world as a whole.

Jeremiah refers to Jacob (note: not Israel ... why the use of the name Jacob here? I do not know) being ransomed by God. While many Christians claim this refers to Jesus, an interesting question is by what payment is the ransom made? The Haftarah actually answers this question in verse 16: the ransom is the reward for labor -- i.e. even though God delivers the ransom, it is not God who provides the ransom for captive Israel, but rather ourselves. And in as much as we are to be a light unto the nations, we are showing all the peoples of the world that the ransom to deliver the world from the bondage of strife and into the hands of the Messiah will come not from God but from our own labors. If (and only if) we build a better world, we are redeeming ourselves from our sins.

Interestingly, the language used around verse 16 is remaniscent of the language used at the end of Psalm 126, which is about a redemption: we labor in tears but shall reap the rewards of our labor in joy. This passage appears to contrast with the wise advice of Antigonos of Socho who urges us to labor without a reward in mind. However, when we labor in tears as suggested both by the Psalmist and Jeremiah, we obviously are not laboring thinking of our reward but thinking of our current state, so the passages do not conflict. Moreover, the reward of which Antigonos speaks, is the reward of the afterlife. As Maimonides says, we mortals cannot comprehend what may or may not exist in the afterlife. But as Jeremiah and the Psalmist suggest, we must labor to improve the world in this life and for future generations. There is a sense in which we hope our afterlives will give rewards to us, but to focus on the afterlife is to deny God's creation in this world. We must praise God by laboring to improve Creation, not by emitting vain praises in the hope of getting into heaven.

A question remains in my mind: IIRC, Jeremiah is writing at the time of the destruction of the Temple -- so why the emphasis on Ephraim and Rachel and not on Judah?

p.s. pardon my spelling errors -- I cannot figure out how to spell check on blogger yet.

Happy New Year!
Wow! My first poster.

Thank you for your best wishes!
Spell checker works, or not, depending on the browser you use. Works okay in firefox on the mac, IE on win32, not so good on other browsers.
Hi Neil! How are you?

I am using Firefox on Red Hat Linux. I am not sure what version of either.

It seems to have issues on my computer. Does it involve a pop-up window by chance?
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