Sunday, August 10, 2008

קָצַפְתָּ עָלֵינוּ עַד-מְאֹד

As I often do following the night's reading of Eicha, since my shul only has these ancient kinot booklets instead of real books, I looked it up in the English in order to get a better understanding of what was read. I have a passing understanding of Biblical Hebrew, but to really get at the little phrases and deeper meanings some further examination with a translation is helpful. Anyway, I found something interesting that I hadn't noticed before.

The final couple of pasukim from the megillah are as so:

כא: הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ ונשוב (וְנָשׁוּבָה) חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם. כב: כִּי אִם-מָאֹס מְאַסְתָּנוּ קָצַפְתָּ עָלֵינוּ עַד-מְאֹד

Which mean, according to my understanding, '21: Bring us back to you, God, and we shall return, renew our days as of old. 22: For even if you totally rejected us, you have exceedingly raged against us.' The point being - we've been punished enough and it's cold outside, let us back in and we'll be good.' The Artscroll translation basically agrees with this assessment - 'For even if You had utterly rejected us, You have already raged sufficiently against us.'

But what I had been reading initally was, I confess, not the Artscroll but rather the NIV, which goes:

21 Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old 22 unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.

Now that certainly gives the whole thing a different flavor, doesn't it? UNLESS? Clearly, in the Christian mindset there's a distinct possibility that God may have rejected the Jewish people and thereby explaining the whole reason for their religion. God needs to outsource his message since his chosen company isn't being reliable.

This is even more clearly seen in the older King James Version which I subsequently reviewed out of curiousity:

21Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old. 22But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us.

BUT? Here the Christian assessment is that hope is lost for the Jews. God has rejected them utterly.

Ok, so that's an interesting little tidbit about the basic historical Christian understanding of Jewish persecution, but let's hear a nice dvar about this whole fasting deal in the face of theological skepticism.

Sure. See, a great thing about these terrible days is that few skeptics doubt that what they describe actually happened - at least not in any foundational detail. The Temples were destroyed, many Israelites were killed, the people were exiled or enslaved and basically the Jews were on the losing side of overwhelming ancient conquests. All of this before the adoption of the Geneva conventions. But what about the theological implications traditionally employed? Did God really [literally] send Babylon and Rome as means of punishing the sinning Jews?

Well, here's my take on it. While I wouldn't say that God plotted out the rise of those nations to pour out his wrath in such and such a way, but that to a certain extent a society's welfare is bound directly to the moral standards of its people and its leaders. When corruption abounds, when the rich abuse the poor, when brother cannot trust brother and the whole edifice of civilized society is on the brink then that decadent society has become weak at its heart and can be easily overcome by outside pressures - especially by foreign invasion. Isaiah, as related in this past haftorah, particularly remarks on the failings of the corrupt leadership and we are all familiar with the classic sinat chinam before the fall of the Second Temple. These things are cancers of society.

So with that, we have the traditional Jewish approach of following a tragedy with mussar. We look into ourselves to see what we can improve to perhaps prevent anything like it from happening again. I think this is a great approach. Producing something morally constructive out of something terrible. But we shouldn't be thinking of it in terms of satisfying a metaphysical Umpire (though perhaps metaphorically), rather it should be seen as a proactive effort to strengthen our moral ties to each other and to society at large. We can prevent the threat of moral decadence and the dangers it poses to society in general.