Isaiah 40:27-41:16: It’s rough goings for Abram’s tribe in this week’s parsha. Desert wandering, famine, Abram’s brush with death at the Pharaoh’s palace, Lot falls captive to the allied armies of Chedorlaomer at the evil city of Sodom. Not exactly a sweet deal following world flood and the promise of a new, great nation.
In the haftorah, Isaiah addresses Israel’s complaint: “My way [of serving G‑d] has been ignored by the Lord, and from my G‑d, my judgment passes [unrewarded].” Isaiah reminds Israel of the Creator’s greatness and promises “He will give the tired strength, and to him who has no strength, He will increase strength. Youths shall become tired and weary, and young men shall stumble, but those who put their hope in the Lord shall renew [their] vigor, they shall raise wings as eagles; they shall run and not weary, they shall walk and not tire.”
The life metaphor here is nagging but utilitarian: sometimes we’ve just gotta wait for the payoff. Delayed gratification is never easy, particularly when we work slavishly for what seems like a frustratingly futuristic reward.
We work our way through school hoping to pave our way for a career; we put in long hours away from friends and family for what typically feels like little pay. We put up with bosses and clients we’d often rather not. We scrimp and save, think twice about superfluous purchases. We try to keep an eye on the future and hope that all our efforts will “pay off” in the future. Sometimes it feels like we do everything right and still can’t catch a break. We are Israel, face up to the heavens, wondering why we go unrewarded.
Yeah, I’d feel like I just got the brush off if I got Isaiah’s reply as well—a pat on the back and an ‘attagirl’ for all my hard work!? I could sit around and wait to fly like an eagle, but unless I crank up some Steve Miller Band to go with it, that probably won’t make me feel better.
I think there’s more than just the “have faith” consolation going on. When we don’t get that long-awaited reward for our good behavior, maybe it’s time to shake it up a bit. Feel stuck in a dead-end career? Your employer “reward” your years of faithful service by downsizing you? Just mired in some mid-life existential muck? Nobody said “sit and wait,” did they? Isaiah just promises that one day, things will be better. He didn’t say you wouldn’t have to make that happen. Because along with all that free-will stuff comes a responsibility to ourselves to take the reins on our own pursuit of happiness.
Casey (Kefira) McCarty is a published author living in Ohio. She is the Assistant Director of the Columbus Idea Foundry, a community workshop space, and is an artisan who crafts jewelry, Judaica and fine art available online and in Central Ohio galleries and boutiques. You can find her online shop at www.sinemetudesigns.etsy.com