Monday, 24 August 2015

Dvar Torah on Joel

Yesterday, I was speaking in Shul as part of our series on the Minor Prophets. 
I was down to do the prophet Joel. This is what I said:

Honestly, you’ve probably never considered Joel to be an important book in the Tanach.

Not everyone remembers that Joel even IS a book in the Tananch.

But in the next three minutes I want to convince you that Joel is worth reading carefully.

To start with the text itself is beautiful.

It contains that lovely line that Debby Friedman quotes in her song:

“And the old shall dream dreams, and the youth shall see visions”

Secondly it asks big questions about where is God in the world.

Thirdly it is incredibly relevant to a situation happening in Israel right now.

Joel is made up of four chapters. At the centre of book is a scene in the Temple Courtyard where the people of Israel gather, fast and lament.  (That’s the part we read as part of the Haftorah on the Shabbat before Yom Kippur) 

The Temple Courtyard is a stone’s throw from the area in front of the Western Wall, where people gather today. When I was growing up, they used to called it the Wailing Wall.

Ibn Ezra, commenting on Joel, says that the Temple Courtyard was the place for mass supplication because the Temple proper was an unseemly place for wailing.

The first two chapters of Joel describe the terrible damage done by swarms of locusts.  The locusts destroy the crops- the wheat and the barley.  Everything is destroyed - the fig trees, the apple trees, the vines, the new oil fails.  The cattle and sheep have nothing to eat. The sky goes black from the swarm.

The text says:

“Before them it was the garden of Eden, and after them a desolate waste”

In response to this crisis, the people of Israel are called to return to God and these are the qualities of God described – 

“gracious and compassionate and slow to anger, abounding in kindness and renouncing punishment”

A call goes out to come to the Temple Courtyard – everyone is called - the babies and the old, the bride grooms and the brides, the priests and the congregation,

They stand together in the Courtyard, and the priests say:

“Oh spare your people Lord let not

Your possession become a mockery to be taunted by nations

Let not the peoples say

Where is their God?”

I was wondering that myself.

I was wondering a lot of things when I saw a photo recently of 250 thousand people attending a mass prayer rally in the area in front of the Western Wall for the three kidnapped teenagers Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel. 

I wondered if they were my children would I want people to stand there quietly praying or go out knocking on doors in Hebron to look for them.

I thought about the futility of prayer, and the purpose of prayer. 

If nothing else, standing together brings comfort, knowing you are not alone in your suffering.

But it’s possible that communal prayer in that context serves another function.  It could function to remind people to remember the qualities of God and not to take vengeance into their own hands. 

God forbid 250 thousand angry people knock on doors in Hebron.

The second half of Joel is about days when God will avenge all the damage done to the children of Israel

It’s God who will "roar from Zion

And shout aloud from Jerusalem

And Egypt will be a desolation and Edom a waste because of the outrage to the people of Judah

In whose land the blood of the innocent was shed"

This is the dream, the vision, the prophesy of Joel.   2500 years later we are once again in Jerusalem, still wailing in the courtyard, and waiting for our children to come home.

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