Torah Explorer – Parshat Va-etchanan – Shabbat Nachamu August 12-13, 2022
What is your source of comfort?
What is your favorite or go-to source of comfort? A good bowl of hearty chicken soup, a soft pair of sweats, a comfy chair or soft blanket? All of the above? Each of these things listed brings a sense of physical comfort, a sense of well-being, in a nut shell, life is good! Going one step further, what is your source of comfort when you’re blue, in a funk, or worse, dealing with something monumentally difficult and debilitating? Finding comfort under these circumstances is not so easy. Sometimes tragedy or catastrophe happens on a grand scale, and affects an entire population. If everyone is suffering, who is left to provide comfort? At the beginning of the pandemic, it certainly felt that way – the whole world shut down overnight. Everyone was isolated, locked down and locked in. Who was left to comfort the bereaved?
This coming Shabbat is named Shabbat Nachamu, for the first words of the Haftarah, Nachamu, nachamu ami, “Comfort, oh comfort My people, says your God.” We just observed Tisha B’Av, the Fast of the 9th of Av, not quite a week ago, a day of overwhelming sadness in Jewish history, marking the destruction of both the 1st & 2nd temples in Jerusalem and a whole host of other tragedies connected to this date on the Jewish calendar. In the face of tragedy on a grand scale, how could B’nai Yisrael possibly find comfort? A bowl of soup or a soft blanket doesn’t address the depth of despair or pain. In the Haftarah, comfort is delivered to the Jewish people through God’s heavenly messengers. Punishment is over; sins are forgiven, and gifts from God are to be restored. Is this what we expect from God today?
The traditional words of comfort we say to a mourner are, “May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” Perhaps the hope is the mourner will feel some solace with these words. In all likelihood, the mourner finds the most comfort from those gathered around at a Shiva house or from the community found in attending daily minyan to recite kaddish. To bring comfort is simply to show up, to be present, to listen, to acknowledge. Sometimes, that is all that is required of us. Just showing up. The tradition in a Shiva house is to not speak until the mourner speaks to you, to simply listen, to be attentive. Not the easiest of tasks, given how inclined we are to chat. I am reminded of a very old Joni Mitchell song, “Conversation” – “He comes for conversation, I comfort him sometimes, comfort and consultation, he knows that’s what he’ll find.”
In these 7 weeks between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashana we chant a Haftarah of consolation each Shabbat, with no thematic connection between Torah and prophetic readings. We are now thousands of years past the destruction of the 2nd temple, but we are still mourning and still in need of comfort and consolation. Like many of you, I have most often found comfort and renewed hope through music. I share 2 recordings with you of the opening words of this week’s Haftarah, “Nachamu, Nachamu,” one by Safam, one by Carlebach. May you find comfort in sweet song.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFAFOQlBCmw — Carlebach
Shabbat Shalom. Cantor Carol Chesler