Posted by: gruvenreuven | July 23, 2010

The True Consolation

While browsing books on Hebrewbooks.org I came across a collection of Sermons pulished in 1926 by Zvi Hirsch Masliansky (1856-1943). Born in Belorussia, Rabbi Masliansky was forced to leave in 1894 and emigrated ot New York in 1895. During the three decades that followed, he helped popularize Zionism, wielding a great influence upon Yiddish-speaking immigrants, especially through his Friday evening sermons at the Educational Alliance on East Broadway. He combined the qualities of a maggid and those of a modern speaker. He was able to hold the attention of a popular audience and scholars as well.

Randomly selecting a page from the book I was surprised at the “Coincidence” in finding this D’var this being Shabbos Nachamu. Perhaps I should say this D’var found me. One thing is for sure, I found this D’var as relevant today as it was in the early 20th century, or since Yisheyah for that matter.

THE TRUE CONSOLATIONZvi Hirsch Masliansky
‘Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, saith your God. Bid Jerusalem take heart, and proclaim unto her, that her time of service is accomplished, that her guilt is paid off; that she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins”
(Isaiah, 40:1-2)

The great heritage, which the prince of prophets, Isaiah, left us in the sixty-six chapters of his book, is truly wonderful. When Israel, the aged wanderer, wishes to express his sorrow and his pain on the Sabbath preceding the Ninth of Av, he takes the first chapter of his beloved prophet’s writings and makes it the vehicle of his great grief. On the other hand when his days of mourning are over, he turns to the fortieth chapter and joyously proclaims his consolation: “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people.”

And even though Bible critics divide the Book of Isaiah into two parts, ascribing chapters 1-39 to Isaiah, and the remaining chapters to the unknown prophet of the Babylonian captivity, Deutero-Isaiah, the fact remains, that the first, like the second, are both ours, and belong to no other people. And so, irrespective of the authorship of these chapters, both chapter one with its expression of sorrow, and chapter forty with its expression of consolation, are to us sublimely inspiring.

Unfortunately, however, the two thousand years of exile and degradation have made of us slaves of habit and turned us into mere automata. The habit dulled our emotions, and we are not stirred by the significant difference between the sorrow of the one and the stirring joy of the other, between the solemn exhortation of the one, and the striking consolation of the other. The two contrasting prophecies became just two Haftarah in the Synagogue.

They are auctioned off by the same sexton, and those who are called to read them do it indifferently, except that a somewhat different chant is used for the former, which seems only to satisfy the vanity of him who reads it. Ah, the habit! It deadened all our national feelings. We do not see with our eyes; we do not hear with our ears; we me mechanical; sorrow and joy are alike to us. Indifferently and mechanically we recite our prayers, psalms of praise and dirges are alike; the verse “Why standest thou afar off, O Lord” is read by the professional readers with the same intonation as “This is the day which the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be happy in it”; the optimistic “”Song of Songs” is read with the same monotonous chant as the pessimistic Ecclesiastes; the verse in the “Song of Songs” -“He hath brought me to the banquetinghouse, and his banner over me is love”, like the verse in Ecclesiastes-“It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting; for that is the end of all men.”

The exile-bred reader of the Synagogue does not feel the difference between the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes between the house of feasting and the house of mourning, between the first chapter of Isaiah and the fortieth. Everything is alike to him; a spirit of mourning is hovering over everything; and the tunes of the broken strings from the harps by the rivers of Babylon and the broken tones of the present exile, resound throughout the globe, wherever the descendants of the old wanderer are dispersed. You have only to listen to the toasts of the Jews on joyful occasions, to become convinced that everything is frozen up, that all is covered with the ice of exile, that what is recited are but meaningless phrases learned and repeated from generation to generation.

“To Life” (L’Chayyim), toasts one Jew the other on joyful occasions, and after tasting a bit from the glass-“To your life; God grant the Jews salvation and consolation.” “To a happy life and peace,” answers the other, and lifting his eyes to Heaven and sighing mechanically, he continues: “Yes, ’tis time that God should have compassion upon us, lighten our burdens and send us salvation and consolation.” Ah, you poor children of exile! You ask for a lightening of the burdens of your exile, but it does not occur to you that you need not be in idle, and once out of the exile, you would no longer need that “salvation” and “consolation” for which you pray and wish!

Ah, you children of the ancient people who had an independent political life for fifteen centuries; you, the descendants of the world-teachers, the prophets, and of the heroic Maccabees, have you ever analyzed the meanings of the words “salvation” and “consolation”? What do “good decrees” mean? Do other nations need them? Have you ever heard children of other nations wishing for one another “salvation” and “consolation”? No! Never! And do you know why? Because to wish for “salvation” and “consolation” for some one is tantamount to saying:

“Brother, may God grant you salves and medicaments, excellent plasters and poultices.” Imagine how such a toast would be received. PIasters and poultices are good only in sickness and disease, but not in health and vigor. So, too, with good decrees; they are good for children of exile, not for the recognized citizens of a country. It is the helpless who is in need of “salvation”; it is the afflicted who seeks “consolation”

But that is what we have been doing for nearly two thousand years. We have wished for each other. plasters and poultices ; “salvation”, “consolation.” It seemed as though we would say: “We are well provided with troubles and pains ; calamities, and persecutions we have aplenty; our one desire is for a little rest, for an alleviation of our sufferings, that we might the better be able to bear the exile. “Ah, how sad it is for the people who brought light to the world to dwell amidst such gloom and darkness I When, on a joyous occasion, I hear my brethren wishing each other “salvation” and “consolation”, I pray in my heart; “God Almighty, grant Thy people, once and for all, a real deliverance, so that they may need no more help and consolation; relieve us, I pray Thee, of the need for these plasters and poultices!”

My people, bear in mind that the consolation the prophet speaks of is different in kind altogether. There is nothing of the spirit of exile, nothing that is of the nature of partial relief. ‘Tis real help he promises, the consolation that is final. “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, saith your God.” Comfort will not come to you except ye be a people and honorably claim all that is your due as a people. “Bid Jerusalem take heart,” whatever reason and logic may seem to say, as a people permit your feelings to hold sway, attempt not to stifle your national emotions. In very truth, “one calleth: ‘clear ye in the wilderness the way of the Lord, make plain in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the rugged shall be made level, and the rough places a plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shaIl see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” Cold, unemotional logic and observation, do find Palestine a wilderness, find difficulties and impediments, but the heart says, glowing faith says, “these hindrances must disappear, for “‘the word of our God shall stand forever.’

And this shall be the true consolation for our people. In our own generation we are witnessing the fulfillment of the prophecy, and what seemed impossible several decades ago is actually transpiring. The wilderness is becoming a garden, the deserted land repopulated. There is hope, there is light, the dawn has come. And thankfully we repeat: “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, saith your God.”

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