Saturday morning at 10:15 AM, Beorn, my sister, and I returned to the Lubavitch Jewish Center for shacharis service and musaf (morning and intermediate service). Lubavitch is about as observant Jewish as you get (men and women sit separated by a divider and the service can last three hours straight). Most of my guests haven’t been in a shul in years, and I wasn’t going to request they do that, not even Paul, so it was just the three of us. Beorn was given the maftir aliyah (last reading of the weekly Torah portion) to chant the blessings over, and then chanted the weekly HafTorah, which happened to be Isaiah, Chapter 60.
You can hear the blessings before the HafTorah, the portion Beorn chanted (Isaiah 60:1 - 60:22), and the blessing after the HafTorah, all in Hebrew, that Beorn chanted. Of course, this isn’t him doing the chanting on this website, but it is what he chanted.
The rabbi then asked Beorn to say a few words.
He had forewarned us that he expected Beorn to give a speech, and we know that the rabbi and his six year old son, always talks about the weekly Torah reading, so Beorn’s speech concentrated on his HafTorah portion. I will blatantly admit Paul wrote the speech. But, he and Beorn sat down together and went over the portion and the different themes Beorn wanted to talk about. Here is Beorn’s morning service speech. Mendel is the rabbi’s six year old son.
Since I know Mendel is going to speak to us today on this week's Parshah, I decided to talk a little about the HafTorah portion I just chanted. The Haftorah to Parsha Ki-Tavo is Isaiah, Chapter 60. This passage is certainly one of the most widely quoted in the Torah. Verses from Isaiah have been used to support the programs of Freemasons, Mormons, Fundamentalists, and Kabbalists alike, and there are even references to this chapter in Islam. But what does the passage say to the modern practicing Jew?
The special blessings of G-D have called forth the Jewish people to become “a light unto the nations.” It is up to Jews to set a spiritual, moral, and practical example that all others can look up to. Even a humble person who is enlightened by devotion to G-D can teach a mighty king. The gathering together in Israel of Jews from around the world, and the transformations that they have wrought in the Holy Land, have attracted the attention of the entire world community. It is clear that prosperity and support from the world inevitably follow the blessings of G-D.
Isaiah tells us that even former enemies of Israel will one day accept the will of G-D and trade peaceably. On that day the world will be glorious. But some do not believe or apply themselves to this vision, out of fear or envy. Isaiah reminds us that G-D will not abandon his people, but reward them. This is always true even though in the past some enemies of the Jews gained advantages over them, for G-D was displeased; but now He shows favor and mercy. Have no fear of your neighbors, but trade freely and prosper, for enemies of the Jews will not survive.
Even the most dire foes such as Lebanon will work in the plans of G-D to make Israel a more beautiful place. Instead of fighting, there will be reconciliation and apology. Then Jerusalem will become a heavenly city, and all those who receive such blessings and those who live to see this come to pass will have proof positive of the power of G-D to accomplish even what may seem impossible. With prosperity will come justice. With justice will come peace, honor, and respect. With all these will come joy and thankfulness. The world will be enlightened in the truest sense, far more brightly than ever the sun or moon could accomplish. This light will never go out, and sadness itself will pass away. And by this new light we will see clearly, pursuing what is right and producing what is excellent to glorify G-D through our service to one another. On that day even the least among us will become mighty and our children will have multiplied beyond counting.
So the essence of this beautiful passage that longs for the Kingdom of M’Shiach is threefold: First—the glory of G-D transforms the whole world through the perfection of His light. Second—the transformation brings ease, peace, beauty, and justice to all people who believe and accept the will of G-D. Third—we are not there yet; there remain the fearful, the envious, and the hatemongers.
Those who study Kabbalah might comment that this chapter has twenty-two verses, an important number to be sure. But many emphasize rather the transcendent nature of the light of G-D, especially the passage where the sun and moon are eclipsed by the true light.
On that day, the children of Israel will shine as stars in the sky, fulfilling in yet another sense G-D’s promise. The light of G-D brings worldly (and therefore imperfect) justice and prosperity to their full potential, because it is only in a land without shadows that we can see our neighbors clearly.
So what does this mean in the daily life of a Jew? We anticipate the coming, perfected world and turn our faces toward the light of G-D, and then shine for our fellows. In this way the coming-together of the nations will be a fulfillment of prophecy and not a gathering of wolves; in this way the world of M’Shiach will be established despite all opposition; in this way there will be peace.
I want to thank Rabbi Goldman and the Lubavitch Center in Gainesville for constantly being there for me and my family since first grade. The experiences I had here on Friday nights and at Camp Gan Israel taught me that Judaism is much more than just Connie's amazing chicken soup, but is really a part of who I am and affects everything I do. I look forward to helping Lubavitch be a light to the Gator Nation for years to come.
Of course, we had the other aspie moment when the rabbi turned to Beorn and said, “Would you like to say a few words?” and Beorn answered right back, “No…” But he did say the speech after I shot him a very stern look.
After we finished services, a Kiddush lunch was served and we returned home about 2:30 PM. I still had to assemble and frost the torah-shaped cake before getting ready for the main ceremony at 6:00 PM. We all barely made it on time, but we did it.