Towards the end of the Book of Job, Job finally learns to see.
He says to God: “Until now, I only heard about you. Now I have seen you” (Job 42:5)
What does Job mean? “I heard stories about you, God. But all about things that happened in the distant past, not in the living present. And all in words that do not express the reality of who you are.
“But now I have seen the living present. So now I see right through the old words. I see how they hid the truth.
“That’s why I couldn’t understand why people suffer so.”
I’m like Job.
I heard, for example, that my governments kidnapped people. But I did not see it. At least, I did not see it for what it was.
In the USA, I heard about police sweeping Black people off the streets. Consigning them, almost at random, to prison and slave labour. And then, after freeing them, disenfranchising them. So that they can’t vote based on what they’ve seen and what they know. I heard about this, yes. But it was called “Stop and Frisk” or the “War on Drugs.” So, I didn’t see it for what it was.
I heard about ICE kidnapping children and trafficking them. Moving them from place to place under cover of night. Keeping them in hotels, not allowing immigration lawyers to visit. Losing track of them, so their whereabouts can’t be traced. But––of course–– that’s just a record-keeping error. Certainly not an illegal transfer of them to shady adoption agencies or sex-trafficking pimps. I heard about this, yes. But the words I heard were “family separation policy.” So, I didn’t see it for what it was.
In Canada, I heard about police kidnapping Indigenous children and taking them to residential schools. But, I was told, it was a sincere attempt to educate them. Because reserves didn’t have strong educational resources. I heard about murdered and missing Indigenous women. And that it would be too complicated to investigate their disappearances. But, at first, I didn’t see it for what it was.
And so, misled by euphemisms, I could not understand why people suffer so.
Today, in the USA, I see secret police kidnap protestors off the streets of Portland. And so I feel just like Job. Until now, I only heard about actions like this. And always in vague and misleading terms. But now I see it––all of it––anew.
Last week on the Jewish calendar we observed Shabbat Chazon, the “Shabbat of Vision.” Clear prophetic visions of the coming doom. Specifically, we read Isaiah’s vision of the coming destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE. So we can be ready for Tisha B’Av, which falls a few days later, our commemoration of the destruction.
We observed Shabbat Chazon, but what did we see?
Just seventy-eight years ago, the Piacetzner Rebbe wrote from the Warsaw Ghetto about Shabbat Chazon. In the past, he said, we heard about our ancestors’ suffering when the Temple was destroyed. How so many were killed. Others take from their homes and forced to migrate. We heard about it. And maybe we even cried a little. But we didn’t have a clue what their suffering was like. Until now. Because we see it happening around us.
Some people call this getting “woke.” I usually call it “historical imagination.” But, today, I just call it “seeing what’s really there.”