D’Var Torah for Parashat V’Etchanan, Shabbat Nachamu (Sabbath of Comfort) 7/27-28, 2018

As we discussed last week, the entire book of Deuteronomy is a recapitulation of the children of Israel’s long and tortuous journey towards the Promised Land. In it Moses delivers long soliloquies to the gathered people of which now only (with the exception of Moses, Joshua, and Caleb) those who were children during the Exodus or born in the wilderness during the 40 year sojourn are alive. All the adults who had lived in slavery and survived the Exodus have died in the wilderness. In this Shabbat’s sedrah, we read that Moses is rebuffed yet again as he pleads with Hashem to enter the land of Israel with his people and again, we wonder if the punishment fits the crime of striking the rock to yield water for the complaining and unappreciative multitude. As we read this year’s triennial portion (we are in the middle portion this year and reading chapters 5 and 6), we read again the Ten Commandments and the Sh’ma with all of its promises if God’s laws are kept and threats if they aren’t. In fact, we read these promises and threats morning and night when we recited the Sh’ma and V’Ahavta which we just did this evening.

With Tisha B’Av now behind us, we enter the seven week period between now and Rosh Hashanah where we recite the Haftorot of Consolation. For the previous three weeks, we read the Haftorot of Rebuke the last of which was last Shabbat with the reading of the Prophet Isaiah’s first chapter where he warns the Hebrew nation to change its ways and repent. This particular Shabbat is known as Shabbat Nachamu named for the first word of Isaiah’s prophesy in Chapter 40 which we read on Shabbat morning; meaning to “take comfort” for all of the suffering that the Hebrew nation has endured . We are taught that yes, mourning is necessary. We mourn the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av; we mourn the losses in Egypt under the yoke of slavery, and most recently, the horrors of the Holocaust. And personally of course, we mourn the loss of our loved ones and friends. However, mourning is only supposed to be a temporary state. As with Shiva, Shloshim, and the 11 months of personal mourning upon the loss of a loved one, we gradually come back to community life and enjoy all that a good life has to offer. Even though we have spent the entire day of Yom Kippur fasting and recounting for and apologizing for our sins, we are commanded to immediately begin to prepare for the joyous holiday of Succot at nightfall that very evening! And just this past week, we observed Tisha B’Av and read the entire book of Lamentations on Sunday morning which was followed almost immediately by Tu B’Av (literally the 15th day of Menachem Av) today (Friday), a day of celebration and love, the Jewish version of Valentine’s Day. Tu B’Av marks the beginning of the grape harvest in Israel. In modern times, it has become a romantic Jewish holiday, often compared to and has been said to be a great day for weddings, commitment ceremonies, renewal of vows, or proposing. Also, “It is a day for romance, explored through singing, dancing, giving flowers, and studying. So on certain days or weeks, we mourn so that we may remember calamities and hopefully avoid their repetition as we understand the causal effects of selfishness, sin, and disregard for our fellow beings. But we follow with tempered joy as we now appreciate all that life potentially offers us and our families, friends, and communities. Shabbat Shalom