I'm Rabbi Deborah Waxman, and I'm so happy to welcome you to Hashivenu, a podcast about Jewish teachings on resilience.
Hashivenu means “return us.” The “us” is the Jewish people, asking to be renewed. Seeking renewal, cultivating resilience — these are central concerns in Jewish thought and Jewish practice. Focusing on resilience is one way to think about how the Jewish people and the Jewish civilization we’ve created have survived for thousands of years. Again and again throughout history, Jews have experienced catastrophe — I’m talking about living through shattering challenges that destroyed our communities, that made us rethink our relationship to God, our relationship to other Jews, our relationship to other peoples and the world around us. And, again and again, we have transcended these catastrophes, we have breathed new life into the Jewish people and the Jewish civilization, we have found pathways to repair. From trauma, we have had to heal. We have done so by finding ways to cultivate resilience, both individually and collectively.
This podcast explores different resilience practices in Jewish teaching and Jewish living.
About the Name
Part of many synagogue services is taking out the Torah and reading from it. After the reading is complete, we return the Torah to the ark where it is stored, and we sing melodies, sometimes quite modern, to ancient text. The last line of this part of the liturgy says hashivenu adonay elekha venashuvah "Help us turn to You, and we shall return.” Hadesh yamenu kekedem “Renew our lives as in days of old."
This verse is a powerful demonstration of the resilience encoded into Jewish life. The original text is very old. It’s from the end of Eichah, the Book of Lamentations, composed after the destruction of the first Temple in 586 BCE. Eichah literally means “how,” as in “How can this terrible national tragedy have happened?” and much of the book we can read as a howl of pain, though this line contains some hope, some efforts at meaning making. It is extraordinary — for its sentiments, and also for its reconstruction. Jews who go to synagogue say the line often, but its original context is masked to most of us. The medieval authors who created the original Jewish prayer book mined the Bible for sources as they crafted liturgical poetry. This verse’s inclusion in the Torah service — likely sometime in the Middle Ages, perhaps 1500 years after its original composition — was one path toward renewal, drawing on old sources and applying them in different ways. For this podcast, we expose its roots once again, as part of an invitation to live with the verse’s double nature — consolation in the face of desolation, and inspiration, as a call toward activism.
This podcast is produced by Reconstructing Judaism. Visit us at ReconstructingJudaism.org.