Recently I was in Poland and spent a day at Auschwitz. Having previously visited Yad Vashem and having read several books on Jewish History, I had prepared myself for what to expect. However, the vast size of Auschwitz with the endless rows of barracks shocked me as to the size and depth of the horrors of the Shoah.
While standing there reflecting on this modern horror, I noticed a group of people draped in Israeli flags. It was a group of young people, teenagers mostly. As they paid their respects to the many people murdered at Auschwitz, they sang the Israeli national anthem. I recorded it on my phone.
It struck me that these young Israelis singing the Israeli national anthem, on the eve of Israeli Independence Day, in the ruins of Auschwitz, symbolize so well the tragedy but also the hope and the life-from-death history of the Jews.
Jewish history has seen the circumstances of a people bound to their ancient book, to their land, and to surrounding nations in a way that no other people has experienced. Like a long running dance, the back-and-forth between the Jewish people, their land, and other nations has spanned millenia. Their ancient book (Tanakh or Bible) claims that this dance is directed by the Creator of the universe, and that it will have a conclusion – that there will finally be shalom for not only the Jews but for the all other nations as well.
This promise of shalom is first hinted when G-d, blessed be He, first called Abraham to leave Ur for Canaan – the promised land, when He stated
I will bless you…
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:2-3)
With the dark pages of history behind us, and the grim reality of events and enemies encircling today, many have given up on this ancient book with its vision of peace. But the promise did not say that the blessings would be immediate, or that they would come without struggle. In fact Israel means ‘he struggles with God’ (Genesis 32: 28) and the lives of the patriarchs were filled with testings, fears, as well as failures – so we should not be so surprised that this has been the path of the Jews through history also.
The themes, promises, warnings, commands and history recorded in the Tanakh are certainly worth exploring first-hand. They have proved to be a source of hope and comfort to many. Exploring the Tanakh does take work, it is not easy, and it will require us to re-evaluate our assumptions, beliefs and what we choose to trust in. But as the Psalms say
The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is pure,
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.
10 They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
11 By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression. (Psalm 19: 7-13)
If finding refreshment for the soul, having a joyful heart, and acquiring wisdom to understand are more precious than gold, then surely it is worthwhile to explore these themes in the Tanakh with the same determination that miners have prospecting for veins of gold.
A rich and mysterious theme, one running through the Tanakh, is that between Jews and their Promised Land – Israel. It is worth understanding this even for purely historical reasons, since many today seek to re-write the Jewish relationship with their historic land. But as one understands how ancient Promises are being fulfilled, it may also spur us to consider that, perhaps, there is a G-d who is working through history, among the nations, and in the midst of His people whom He promised a blessing to.
If so, it would be worthwhile, to continue by examining the Tanakh with a view to discovering its promises for that elusive shalom which is also anticipated in this ancient volume. This is the journey we undertake in this site and we welcome your journey alongside us.
May you experience G-d’s shalom.