17 July 2020

‘Redemption stands to history as does
Shabbat to the six days of creation’

Patrick Comerford

I was watching Helen Mirren reading poignant passages from Anne Frank’s Diary in the Netflix movie Anne Frank: Parallel Stories last night. I was the same age as Anne Frank when she wrote her diaries when i first read them as a 14-year-old schoolboy while I was spending the summer of 1966 in Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry.

No, 75 years after World War II, I am left wondering what we have learned in the intervening 75 years, what we have learned about war and peace, justice and racism. A recent survey reals that one third of Americans now do not believe that over six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. What we ignore we empower.

In my personal prayers and private meditations, I often use the Authorised Daily Prayer Book, and I have been refreshed and renewed on many occasions by the introduction, commentaries and notes provided by the former Chief Rabbi, Lord (Jonathan) Sacks.

In his commentaries on ‘Welcoming Shabbat,’ he notes how Psalm 29 interrupts the sequence of psalms read on Shabbat evening, following on from Psalms 95 to 99, and how it ‘is powerful in both imagery and language.’

He points out that many interpret this as a poetic description of the giving of the Torah. The Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 4: 3), noting how this psalm mentions the word kol (‘voice’) seven time, relates this to the seven days of Creation.

Its mood is significant, he says. ‘It describes an earth-shattering storm which subsides, so that the last word of the psalm is ‘Peace.’

Lord Sacks goes on to describe Psalm 92 as ‘a song for the Sabbath day.’ He points out that it was sung by the Levites on Shabbat and was understood by the Sages as ‘a song for the time to come, for the day which will be all Shabbat and rest in life everlasting.’

He says Shabbat is ‘not merely a day of rest’ but ‘is a rehearsal, within time, for the age beyond time, when humanity, guided by God’s call, moves beyond strife, evil and oppression, to create a world of harmony, respecting the integrity of creation as God’s work, and the human person as God’s image.’

He says that ‘at that time people looking back at history will see that though evil flourished “like grass,” it was short-lived, while the righteous grow slowly “like the cedar of Lebanon”.’

Because our time perspective is short, he says, ‘we seem to inhabit a world in which evil prevails. Were we able to see history as a whole, we would know that good wins the final victory; in the long run, justice prevails.’

Earlier, in his notes on Psalm 29, Lord Sacks explains that ‘the storm of human history’ will one day ‘be transfigured into peace. Redemption stands to history as does Shabbat to the six days of creation.’

Helen Mirren closes Anne Frank: Parallel Stories with a words she finds inside Anne Frank’s Diary: ‘Be kind and have courage.’

Shabbat Shalom!

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