Isaiah for Today: A Creative Interpretation/Translation of the Yom Kippur Haftarah

In response to all that was happening this summer, I was inspired to engage with the words from Isaiah that we read on Yom Kippur in a new and deep way. This is the result, and the video above is what we showed as part of our Yom Kippur service at Temple Beth Hatfiloh.

Say it now:
Rise up!
Raise up!
Clear the way!
Remove all obstacles from the path of The People!

Thus says the exalted and elevated and eternally sacred One:
“I may dwell above and apart, but I also dwell with the frail and the fallen.
Therefore, revive the heart and the spirit of those oppressed and broken.
Know that struggle will end.
Know that protest will subside.
Know that exhaustion will be replaced with the breath of renewed life.

Unjust and immoral greed breeds anger, provokes strikes, is deserving of wrath.
Therefore, acknowledge your power and open your eyes and heart to the other.
Offer healing and comfort and wholeness.
Speak words of consolation to those who grieve: “All will be well. You shall have peace.”
And with that, peace will come for those similar to you.
With that, peace will come for those different than you.
With that, a restoration.
With that, a revolution.

But evil may still stir like the stormy sea, bringing up mud and sludge.
We must provide no peace for those who seek to destroy.
Cry out with your full throat!
Don’t hold back!
Raise your voice like a shofar!
Call out all persecutions and transgressions.

There are those who claim, day after day, to know the ways of the holy.
There are those who claim to act in righteousness, who pretend to decry injustice.
They assert their right-ness, their closeness to God.
“Look we have fasted, why don’t you see us?” they claim. “Look we have performed, why do you ignore us?”

Because even when you fast and perform, you still attend to the material, to business as usual, to acts of subjugation.
Because even when you fast and perform, you still create conflict and contention and violence.
Your fast is not befitting this day, it does not cause your voice to rise up and transcend.
You think this is the fast I desire?
A day of physical fasting, bowing one’s head like a plant, lying around in sackcloth and ashes?
You think this is what God wants of you?

This is what is demanded of you:
Expose the persistence of hatred.
Disperse the mobs preaching injustice
Free those enslaved and occupied
Root out every system and idea and policy and choice that keeps people down.

This is what is demanded of you:
Share your bread with the hungry
Bring the homeless into your home
Provide for others what they lack
Do not turn away from your fellow human beings, for they are your flesh and blood.

Then and only then will a new day dawn
Healing will root, and sprout, and grow
Righteous justice will lead you
And loving respect will follow.
If you remove from your midst oppression, othering, and offensive speech,
Then when one calls out, all will answer
When one cries out, all will respond: hineni
Here. I. Am.

If you feed the hungry body, and nourish the starving soul,
Offering sustenance and compassion and friendship,
Darkness will give way to light
Despair will give way to hope
Hatred will give way to love
Trauma will give way to healing.
The divine spirit will guide you always,
your thirst will be quenched,
Your inner essence strengthened.
You will be like an abundant garden, like a spring whose waters never stop.
That which is broken, you will repair.
On the foundations of the past, you will build a better future.
You will be called, “Repairer of the Breach”
You will be called “Trailblazer for All to Dwell Together in Harmony.”

You must also be mindful of the spirit of Shabbat
A holy time of rest and breath and gratitude:
Take delight in all people and the earth.
Honor all people and the earth.
If you turn away from business as usual
Free yourself from the status quo
And not speak empty words.
Then you will truly inherit the covenant of our ancestors
Then you will rise to new heights

These are the words of the sacred.

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