We live in difficult, dangerous, and uncertain times when many religious and political leaders have lost all credibility. Religion has become irrelevant to some; and a cause of conflict for others, rather than a source of idealism and reconciliation. Many young people abandon religious life; while others have become religious zealots who lead their fanatical followers to battle against those who do not share their own beliefs.
In the Catholic Church, many bishops are not trusted by their people. America’s Protestant evangelicals are criticized for being more interested in propping up Trump, than in gospel values.
In the world of politics, we see a general inability to deal with the real issues of our day: climate change, economic injustice, and conflict among peoples.
The rise of Anti-Semitism from both rightist, racist, reactionaries and leftist, populist, radicals in England, France, Germany, Spain, Hungary and Russia alerts us to the wisdom of the well known adage that ‘the more things change; the more they remain the same’.
For many Jews the recent revival of political and violent criminal Anti-Semitism is just the usual return of the ‘eternal’ scapegoating Jews suffered from in Egypt (“the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land [of Egypt] was filled with them.” (Exodus 1:7);
and in Persia (“Then Haman said to King Xerxes: There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.” (Esther 3:8)
For many other Jews the setbacks suffered in democratic countries in the two decades following WW1 produced not only Nazis, Stalinists, and Fascists in Italy, Hungary, Spain and Japan; but also, after the end of the horrible massacres of WW2, produced the end of almost all colonialism and the rebirth of the State of Israel.
In a more traditional religious image: Fruits and seeds fall from the trees and die; so that new trees will sprout and grow again. An example of this Jewish thinking is found in the following ancient and present Midrash on Jewish history since Sinai.
Rabbi Simai taught: When Israel (showed its commitment to God by) preceding “We will do” prior to “We will hear,” (Exodus 24:7) 600,000 angels came and tied two crowns to each and every member of the Jewish people, one corresponding to “We will do (action)” and one corresponding to “We will hear (trust in God)”.
When (in later generations) following the people sinning with the Golden Calf; 1,200,000 angels of destruction descended and removed all the crowns from the people; the Jewish People lost the monarchy in 587 BCE, and the Temple priesthood in 70 CE, as Prophet Ezekiel stated:
“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Take off the turban [of priesthood], remove the crown [of monarchy]. It will not be as it was.” (Ezekiel 21:26) This indeed has happened, for the new Zionist state is a democratic, secular Jewish, binational, republic.
Then Rabbi Reish Lakish, a convert to Judaism, said: In the future, the Holy One will return them [the crowns] to us, as Prophet Isaiah stated: “Those the LORD has rescued will return. They will return to Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)
Thus, when they return to Zion, the joyful songs that they once sang will again be upon their heads. As it says five times in the Book of Psalms: “Sing a New Song” (Psalms 40:3, 53:3, 96:1, 98:1, and 149.1)
In Biblical days, the number of songs from the first song and dance of our Rabbi Moses and his sister Miriam the Prophet, (Exodus 15:20) to the last song of the Maccabees were in the hundreds.
The Sephardic, Ashkenazic and Hassidic synagogue songs sung over 18 centuries from the end of the Second Temple in 70CE, number in the the thousands.
And the Zionist and Israeli songs sung since Naftali Inber wrote the first version of his poem HaTikvah in 1877, putting into words his thoughts and feelings following the establishment of Petah Tikva [literally “Opening of Hope”], with music by Samuel Cohen in 1888; number in the tens of thousands.
Zionist and Israeli songs are the most numerous of the five types of new Jewish songs. The four other types of new songs come from modern Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Renewal synagogues. All these Jewish songs together are evidence that the crowns are returning to the Jewish People. So do not lose hope for our future.