From Harp Strings and Heart Strings

SWIMMING UPSTREAM*

  1. Yeshayahu beheld  this vision concerning Yehudah and Yerushalayim. 
  2. “A time will come when the House of G-d is firmly established high upon the highest hills, and, when that comes about, all the nations willstream to it.”
  3.  “Many nations will make their way there, saying, ‘Come let us go up to the Mount of G-d, the House of Yaakov’s G-d, so that He may teach us his ways to enable us to walk in His paths. It is from Zion that G-d’s teachings go forth, the word of G-d from Yerushalayim.’”

(Yeshayahu 2:1-3)

The drama is almost palpable. The Messianic era has come at last. Filled with rich promise, it is replete with sweet vindication. The nations, their cruel talons still dripping with the blood of centuries, their frozen hearts only just beginning to pick up the first intimation of the warming breezes, are readying themselves to renounce their murderous past. There is still a soul hidden under all the filth -- and that soul resonates to a strange, but somehow beguiling, melody.

Truth is in the air. Slowly, inexorably, they are drawn towards it.

It is a beautiful dream. If we make it part of the baggage with which we travel through our exile, it will be able to light many a dark night for us.

We know that it all will happen. Against all historical precedent, defiant of the spiraling descent into nothingness which seems to be the hallmark of our benighted generation, it will happen. The spark of hope has every right to glow brightly.

And yet, something is wrong. There is something incongruous, something which appears to skew the picture.

The Bais HaMikdash is to be built on a mountain top. Well and good. The nations are going to stream towards it. Also good.

But, what  can explain the prophet’s use of the verb will stream in verse 2:2 as a way of describing the process?  The root of the verb, nahar,  means a river. Thus, they will stream towards it like a river. I think that the word “stream” which we have used, catches the sense precisely. And there is the catch.

Rivers flow down from mountain tops, not up to their peaks. Why, of all possible metaphors, choose the one which defies gravity? 

Let us contemplate the salmon. It is a staple of our local delicatessen. But it is more. Much more. It is a piece of the end of days swimming its way into the present in order to tease us into happy, if startled, anticipation of the future.

It is an earnest of a new world order, where nothing, nothing at all, will stand in the way of humanity’s trek homewards.

Here is the story of the salmon as it appears in an encyclopedia.

Salmon are born in gravel beds in streams anywhere from a hundred yards to 1000 miles from the sea … In the river or a nearby lake … they feed and grow for periods ranging up to a year or more. In the spring … they head downstream to the sea.  … In the sea they spend varying amounts of time … eating greedily and growing rapidly … In early summer they begin to head back to their home streams, navigating by their simply incredible sense of smell.

…They struggle often for weeks or months against rapids, falls, obstructions in the form of falling logs and rocks until, bruised and travel worn they reach the placid waters of the spawning river where they were born …

It is a moving story, is it not? One thousand miles! Think again. One thousand miles of bruising, exhausting battle against seemingly impossible odds. Months of unremitting struggle. All in order to go home. “Home.” It is a simple word, but who can measure the depths in our souls, to which that simple expression can penetrate?

If you doubt the ability of rivers to flow uphill, if you wonder why the nations will “stream” upwards, battling against the dreadful obstacles which millennia of brutish insensitivity and savage hatred have strewn in their path, think of the salmon.

He knows a thing or two about determination. He knows that even gravity, logs, stones, and rapids can and will turn into puny, impotent annoyances when his heart – or better, his instinct -- tells him that he must go where he needs to go.

The call to Zion in our hearts is the call of a deserted house aching to be filled once more with the joyous bustling which had once, a long time ago, made it a home.

What is Yerushalayim all about? What do the nations streaming towards her hope to learn? This question will be the focus of our upcoming chapters. We must explore this question. Otherwise, how could we hope to one day witness Yerushalayim’s consolation? In our bereavement, we must mourn for her. And we cannot mourn for her without having known her.

Come, let us set out upon our journey to Yerushalayim.


*Note: Original Hebrew and Aramaic text which appears in the book has been translated into English and footnotes have been removed for brevity.