Rabbi Lisa & Tracy’s 21st anniversary at BCC – Va’etchanan, Shabbat Nachamu – July 31, 2015
This Sabbath has a special name on the Jewish calendar. No, it is NOT called Shabbat Mayim –Sabbath of Water – though you might have thought so what with the fountain and all our water imagery tonight. It is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of Comfort, and it comes every year as the first of seven Sabbaths that follow that sad holy day known as Tisha b’Av that we observed in community last weekend. This Sabbath and the next six are known as
sheva de-nechamta, “The seven of consolation” and with them we count seven weeks until Rosh Hashanah (in case you were wondering how long until Rosh Hashanah – Sunday night Sept. 13!). Each of these seven Sabbaths has a special haftarah reading, all from the Book of Isaiah.
How ironic that Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of Comfort, should come on the heels of yet two more horrific acts of violence in our Holy Land.
You probably know by now that six people were stabbed in yesterday’s Jerusalem Pride Parade. A teenage victim of that violence remains in critical condition in a Jerusalem hospital and several others in serious condition. And in the early morning hours of Friday (today) an firebomb set fire to a house in the village of Duma in the West Bank, and burned to death a toddler (an 18-month-old boy) and critically injured his 4-year-old brother.
According to the BBC, the perpetrators left behind some graffiti in Hebrew. On one wall, the Star of David was drawn right next to the word “revenge.”
It’s not yet known who committed this act of violent terrorism and murder, but the man who allegedly stabbed 6 marchers in the Jerusalem Pride Parade was the same man who stabbed 3 marchers at the 2005 Parade. He was released from prison for that crime just two weeks ago, and publically threatened to strike again.
How painful. How agonizing it will be if the perpetrators of each of these acts turn out to be Jews. And how painfully ironic that these acts happen in the week of Shabbat Nachamu. And even more horribly ironic (and doubtful this is a coincidence) that these acts have come at another Jewish holiday – Tu b’Av – the so-called Jewish Valentine’s Day when LOVE is what we are supposed to be about. And still more painful to witness these acts in the week we read in Torah, in Parashat Va-etchanan, the most famous verse in all of Torah Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. Listen, Israel, God is Your God, God is One. How can it be that in this day and age any Jew could think that the one God of all wants any such actions committed in God’s name?
The Shema in Torah is followed by the other verses Jews recite everyday after we say the Shema, verses also written in the mezuzahs (mezuzot) we hang in our doorways, the same verses many Jews fasten to their arms and forehead when they pray in the morning:
V’ahavta et Adonai Eloheikha
B’khol l’vav-kha uv’khol nafshkha uv’khol m’odekha.
You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.
V’ahavta “You shall love” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
MY colleague Rabbi Shira Milgrom points out that This phrase occurs only three times in the entire Tanach (Jewish Bible): “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), “you shall love [the stranger] as yourself,” (Leviticus 19:34) and “you shall love the Eternal” [here]. Even though in Judaism we have the principal that “there is no early or late in the Torah,” she writes, there is a hint here nonetheless. The reason that the Torah commands the love of people (neighbors and strangers) before the love of God is to teach us that it is not possible to achieve love of God except through loving human beings.
“It is not possible to achieve love of God except through loving human beings.”
The haftarah for Shabbat Nachamu, begins with these words (we will hear them sung a few minutes from now):
Nachamu, nachamu ami
Comfort My people, comfort them,
says your God.
Dab-ru al-lev yerushalayim
Speak tenderly to [speak to the heart of] Jerusalem,
Call to her…
[Book of Isaiah 40:1-2]
This is not God saying “be comforted, My people,” this God telling us to comfort God’s people.
How fitting for this week – when EVERYONE of God’s people must surely be in need of comforting.
V’kiru eileh-ha — call to her – to Jerusalem, to God’s people
V’kiru – “call” — can also mean “read”
“’Read’ to her”. . .
That “calls” to my mind my father reading me bedtime stories – an almost nightly event for most of my childhood, but it also calls to my mind and heart all the reading aloud to one another we do here – the prose, the poetry, the prayers, the letters, the stories — of God, of loved ones, of heroes, and of ordinary people, stories of creation and destruction, of building and rebuilding, stories of those in need of an open hand and an open heart — and stories of those offering an open hand and open heart to give solace and sustenance to others.
We read to one another to comfort each other and to inspire and to encourage ourselves and each other that we might – together in community — come to understand what needs to be done; that we might come to understand AND – together in community — DO what needs to be done.
In this week of strange juxtapositions – vicious acts of hatred up against the commandment to LOVE –
In this week of Shabbat Nachamu – and Tu b’Av and in this week of our 21st anniversary together…
May we always remember that we cannot learn to love God except through loving human beings.
May we always remember to call to one another, to read to each other, to comfort one another and encourage each other – as individuals and as a community – to offer acts of kindness and words of love and gestures of peace — to each other and to all who need, all who want, all who dwell together with us on God’s good earth.
Shabbat shalom. Happy anniversary! Mazel tov to us all.