No matter what happens it is all the same to you

The haftarah of parashat Re’e is the third prophecy of consolation in a series of seven haftarot read between Tish’a Be’av and Rosh Ha’shanah. The prophet Isaiah describes the situation of the people in exile: “afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted.” In contrast to poverty the prophet promises endless wealth: “I will set thy stones in fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.”

Poverty is focused on the present scarcity without an ability to envision a future. The loss and scarcity create a tempest in the soul that is inconsolable. The wealth is presented as the opposite of scarcity. In other verses the prophet promises a cornucopia of delightful food: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye for water… Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.”  It seems that the prophet describes a shift from material poverty to material wealth: a move from scarcity and suffering to precious gems, rich foods and endless wealth.

The sages interpret scarcity and suffering as opportunity. The material scarcity is an opportunity for spiritual wealth. Hitting rock bottom enables the suffering human being to open up to spiritual growth: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye for water [Isaiah], this verse comes to tell you: just as water leaves a high place and flows to a low place, so too Torah matters are retained only by one whose spirit is lowly, i.e. a humble person (Taanit 7).

Bounty and wealth are presented as the opposite of suffering and scarcity. However, as his prophesy continues, Isaiah points out that both the wealth and poverty, suffering and bliss, derive from the same source, forming part of the same universe: “Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the fire of coals, and bringeth forth a weapon for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.” The attitude that prefers wealth to poverty, that considers destruction as the opposite of creation enhances suffering and brings a state of disquiet and inability to attain peace: “tossed with tempest, and not comforted.”

As an alternative to the perspective that sees poverty and scarcity as punishment, and wealth as reward, we can consider the perspective of equanimity. Equanimity considers good and evil, not as punishment, reward or opposition, but as the nature of things, the way of the world. This is a balanced acceptance of a reality of destruction and redemption, an acceptance of good and evil as equal phenomena. Equanimity does not direct one to rejoice or give thanks for the good, or accept with love the bad, but rather sees destruction and creativity, good and evil as equal occurrences that exist side by side.

The Baal Shem Tov says on equanimity:

No matter what happens, whether people praise or shame you, and so, too, with anything else, it is all the same to you. This applies likewise to any food: it is all the same to you whether you eat delicacies or other things.

Photo by Riva Kumari

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