This week we will be reading from parashat Va’etchanan, which includes the second recitation of the Decalogue, the 10 Commandments. In addition to the Torah portion, we find ourselves reading for the first of seven “haftarot of consolation.” These selected haftarah portions are read on the seven Shabbatot between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashanah. As a reminder, on Tisha B’Av we recount the various destructions and sufferings wrought upon our ancestors. We read from Eicha, the book of Lamentations, and traditionally we fast and cover ourselves in sackcloth and ashes.
Then, shortly thereafter, with the very next Shabbat, we read from the comforting words of Isaiah 40 which is called Shabbat Nachamu, the shabbat of comfort. The idea being that the words of Isaiah are bringing comfort and consolation not only as we emerge out of the grief of the history of Tisha B’Av, but also providing us with a sense of hope as we begin preparing our souls for the Yamim Noraiim, the High Holy Days.
The haftarah starts with the words, “Comfort My people, comfort them!” Says your God …1 As Isaiah goes on to prophesize by promising that God seeks to redeem Israel with an upcoming day of redemption. In Isaiah’s time, this day was when the Israelites would be allowed to return to the land of Israel and begin the process of restoring the Temple after their exile by the Babylonians.
In today’s challenging times, these words ring even more loudly. Just as it seemed like we were about to be redeemed from the challenges of the pandemic, new variants have emerged. Even for those who are fully vaccinated, authorities are encouraging us to act with caution. Nonetheless, we seek to move forward with our plans to continue our lives in-person in our congregational family. We seek our congregational day of redemption, if you will.
Part of the reason why a return is so important is that by opening our doors, we are offering those opportunities to be present with one another. Seeing each other panim-el-panim, face to face, even with facemasks, provides a sense of connection and a sense of comfort.
On this Shabbat, may our presence, whether in person or digital, and our sacred gatherings continue to be a source of nachamu, a source of comfort to all who are struggling to move forward in their lives during this time.
Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff
1 Isaiah 40:1