Tuesday, April 29, 2008

667. Two haftarot

I was given a choice of both or either, and—mostly as a challenge to myself, but also because I was feeling a little greedy—chose both. So I read haftarah twice during Pesah, on the second and seventh days. I almost regretted this decision once I began to study, though, since the seventh day's text was long and melodically repetitive. I did like the much more interesting second day, the story of how King Josiah brought Torah to his people, abolished cults (and "the necromancers and the mediums, the idols and the fetishes—all the detestable things..."), and taught everyone about Passover. "There was no king like him before who turned back to the Lord with all his heart and soul and might, in full accord with the Teaching of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him." You go, Josiah.

The haftarah for the seventh day took me longer to grasp. It's a warriors song of gratitude to a God who granted victory in battle. You can almost see David, utterly exhausted, desperate with panic and relief, covered in mud and crawling on the edge of a field littered with bodies:

For the breakers of Death encompassed me,
The torrents of Belial terrified me...

The Lord thundered forth from heaven,
The Most High sent forth His voice;
He let loose bolts, and scattered them;
Lightning, and put them to rout...

He reached down from on high, He took me,
Drew me out of the mighty waters;
He rescued me from my enemy so strong,
From foes too mighty for me.

David knows why has had been spared:

For I have kept the ways of the Lord
And have not been guilty before my God...

To humble folk You give victory,
And You look with scorn on the haughty.

and that his own violence was according to God's will:

You have girt me with strength for battle,
Brought low my foes before me,
Made my enemies turn tail before me,
My foes — and I wiped them out.
They looked, but there was none to deliver;
To the Lord, but He answered them not.
I pounded them like dust of the earth,
Stamped, crushed them like dirt of the streets.

This was the challenging part. I understand paralyzing fear, and gratitude so great that you want to tear you heart out in thanks. I don't understand being glad because God chose to ignore the pleas of someone in pain, even if that person is an enemy. I have also never fought in a war, and can imagine it makes you a little crazy. As I sang, I envisioned David telling this story to his children with pride and strength--but also a little tenderness, wistfulness, when he came to the verse above. He is still a warrior, single-minded and obstinate, but as he gets older is beginning to entertain the idea of peaceful alternatives. Maybe he's a little sorry for some of the actions of his youth. But he doesn't regret a single moment.

Keeping this imagined scenario in my mind helped me sing, and I think for a few minutes I wasn't even standing at the bima--I was somewhere else in time, just occupying space and voice.

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