He never did go on to become a renowned member of the history faculty, despite the urging of his eminent professor. Instead, he would become the foremost Jewish theologian, or maybe anti-theologian, of his between-the-wars time. For he eschewed elaborate theories about religion and despised theatrical sermons. Instead, he embraced simplicity, shunning preachments and preferring practice.
Practice may not make perfection, but it does make faith habit, and habit somehow becomes belief. Till it becomes not possible to abandon it.
I thought I spotted Herr Rosenzweig at our service, hovering in a rear pew, still just listening, not speaking, sharing our grief, comforting the mourners by his silent presence. The thought occurred that he would not have stuck with us if on that fall night in 1913 he had chosen to attend some sleek, anonymous modern temple, outfitted with blank windows and the latest, most fashionable thoughts. Instead, something had brought him to that small synagogue, just as something had brought this remnant together tonight.
The laments overflowed the little sanctuary. We wept, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. . . .
Yet there was comfort in the old words, solace somehow in the full recognition of our utter desolation. Next week we will read Isaiah's words in the midst of calamity: Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people.
Comfort? What possible comfort could there be, entering captivity, enslaved by our new masters, strangers in a strange land, effaced from history? This was the end. Jerusalem had fallen. Only ruins were left.
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
What? Shall these dry bones live again? Absurd.
We mourned as the light flickered and night deepened. Heal us, O Lord, we prayed, and we will be healed. Renew us, and we will be renewed.
And we were.
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