“For the sake of Zion, I will not be silent; for the sake of Jerusalem, I will not be still!”
I often think of this verse from Isaiah, Chapter 62 when hearing and reading about the news coming out of Israel. The latter part of the book of Isaiah (Chapters 40-66) was likely tied to a prophet who preached to the Judean exiles in Babylonia, urging them to return home once Persia, led by Cyrus II, conquered their captors.
The prophet of that time (540 BCE) had much in common with the original prophet Isaiah, who is associated with chapters 1-39 of the book, set in the years before and after 700 BCE.
One recent report coming out of Jerusalem brought Isaiah the prophet into the limelight. In a recent article in Biblical Archaeology Review, Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar announced the discovery of a seal (bulla) clearly bearing the name of Isaiah in the Hebrew writing of that time. The line below his name on the seal may bear the word NAVI, prophet. Mazar explained that she feels mostly certain that the seal belonged not just to any Isaiah, but to Isaiah the prophet.
The Isaiah seal discovery is not only important for archaeology and history. It calls to mind the message of the prophet himself.
For most of the last two years, the Tanakh study class that meets every Wednesday morning at Temple Beth-El in Las Cruces has been reading and discussing the book of Isaiah.
We quickly encountered Isaiah’s pronouncement in chapter 1 to a people who did not sincerely practice their faith or its teachings. Isaiah declared, “Wash yourselves clean; put your evil doings away from My sight. Cease to do evil; learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow....If, then, you agree and give heed, You will eat the good things of the earth.”
The values of justice, compassion, caring for the most vulnerable members of society, and heartfelt repentance bear a strong message for us as we struggle to retain these values in challenging times.
If that was not enough, we soon encountered this famous passage in Chapter 2: “Thus God will judge among the nations and arbitrate for the many peoples, And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not take up Sword against nation; They shall never again know war.”
This month, we mark the end of Passover, commemorate Yom Hashoah V’Hag’vurah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), and celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel on Yom Ha’atzmaut.
Isaiah’s words can guide us at this time. There is much we must to do assure that people who know freedom stay free, and that those who are not yet free will taste liberty.
There is much work to be done that can emerge from the experiences of the Jewish people throughout the centuries. We have faced hatred, bigotry and prejudice and endured injustice upon injustice, all the while upholding the notion that all people are created in the divine image. We are called upon to help those victimized by new hatreds and to assure that justice and equality can be more of a reality in the human community.
We are all too aware of the threats to the very existence of the State of Israel, even as it thrives as a nation in many ways, and seeks to uphold the values of justice, compassion and peace of which Isaiah spoke on its very soil so long ago.
For the sake of these values that are fundamental to who we are, we, and our Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world, will not be silent or still.
We will continue to act in such a way that Isaiah’s vision of a world of peace will, one day, become real.