Every Shabbat morning, two different texts are read: the parashah, the Torah portion taken from the first five books of the Torah (Breishit/Genesis through D'varim/Deuteronomy) and the haftarah, taken from the second section of the Hebrew bible, Nevi'im/Prophets.
This week, the haftarah is a passage from the prophet Isaiah. It concludes with these verses:
In a surge of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you," says the LORD your Redeemer.
"To Me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again.
Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor My covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
Since the very first moment of divine revelation, prophets, poets, and psalmists have attempted find adequate imagery to convey the quality of the relationship between God and us. It's an elusive goal, especially when you consider that we barely understand ourselves, never mind having much real knowledge of God!
In these few verses, we witness God struggling with overwhelming emotion: "In a surge of anger I hid My face from you for a moment . . ." As we have succumbed to our own human weaknesses, a wave of anger and disappointment wash over our Creator . . . who then recovers, remembers, and promises: "my unfailing love for you will not be shaken."
A challenge to us lies behind these words: what have we done (or not done) that brings our Creator, who loves us eternally and compassionately, to the brink of such overwhelming emotion?
A consolation for us is offered to us in these words: no matter how outrageously we may behave, God will recover, will unfailingly love us, will stand by our eternal "brit shalom", our covenant of peace.
We may approach these coming Days of Awe with solemnity and humility . . . but there is no need for dread. Our God waits to embrace us, strengthen us and inspire us . . . and that's a promise.