Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem. — Isaiah 52:9
The Torah portion for this week is Shoftim, which means“judges,” from Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 51:12–52:12.
The Western Wall in Jerusalem on Friday night is a sight to behold. Hundreds of people from all walks of life come to celebrate the Sabbath with prayers, songs, and dancing. On any given Friday night you will find groups of people huddled together, smiling and singing. A glance around the circle will reveal that these people probably never met before and will most likely never cross paths again, but for that moment, in that holy place, they are united in their love for God.
One time, when I was privileged to pray at the Western Wall on a late summer Friday night, I noticed a group preparing to go down the many steps to the Wall. Their guide was giving them some last-minute advice and preparing them for the unusual experience they were about to encounter. She warned them that people most likely would come over to greet them and ask them to join the dancing and singing. To someone who has never experienced this before, the experience can feel either strange and uncomfortable or wonderful and familiar!
As the guide finished her cautionary words, she said some things that caught my attention: “When you get closer to the wall, you will hear a lot of singing. At first it will sound like a bunch of different songs all being sung at the same time by different groups of people. But, if you listen with your heart, you will hear that it is really all one song, with many parts of harmony.” She added: “We are all here for the same reason and we all want the same thing. We have one purpose and one goal.”
As I sung my own songs that Friday night, the guide’s words were ringing in my ear: It’s all one song.
In this week’s Haftorah, which is part of the seven comforting readings we read leading up to the High Holy Days, the prophet Isaiah described the bright future of Jerusalem. He remarked, “Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem . . .” The prophet described a time when there will be many songs of joy in Jerusalem again. That time is now!
As it says in the Psalms, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1, NKJV). Whether you are in Jerusalem, America, or anywhere in the world, join us in singing together in harmony. While we may sing different tunes, we are all singing parts of the same song – one that celebrates God, Jerusalem, and the coming of a time of peace, justice, and righteousness.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President