“Comfort, comfort My people, says your God.”
Nachamu, nachamu ami, yomer eloheichem – Isaiah 40:1
Thus begins this week’s Haftarah, seeking to comfort us after our focus this past week on all that grieves us. We observed Tisha B’Av on Thursday, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar on which many tragedies have occurred. The grievous themes of loss, uncertainty, social disorder, limitations, and exile feel inescapably resonant every year.
Fortunately, our tradition reminds us that grief doesn’t get the last word. In fact, Isaiah’s conveying of God’s intent to comfort and console us lends itself to this entire Shabbat, which is known as “Shabbat Nachamu”, the Sabbath of Comforting. It is the first of seven weeks of comforting and consolation that lead up to Rosh haShana.
Our High Holiday season, then, is really inaugurated this Shabbat. This Hafatarah and those that follow for the next seven weeks suggest that now is the time to look for notes of optimism to build upon; to move forward knowing that things will get better and must improve; to channel God’s effort to comfort and reconcile with us into our own capacity for kindness, care, and compassion for others in our lives who need us.
Moses exemplifies an aspect of comforting in this week’s Torah portion, Ve’etchanan. He grieves yet again for his great personal disappointment at being unable to go into the Land along with the people he has led towards that goal for the last 40 years. Yet he finds comfort in assuring the people that they will finally achieve their goal and settle in the land. He reiterates once again all the teachings and guidelines he knows the people will need in order to succeed and thrive in their settling of the land.
Through his words that we read still today, words recorded so long ago in the Torah, we can hear him exuding his whole life experience. He shares whatever wisdom he has to encourage the people and to guide them with full-hearted caring. He compassionately warns them against missteps. Moses tries to inspire them with confidence that indeed they will succeed and fulfill the long-sought dreams and promises of God and their ancestors.
Perhaps we too can enter these next seven weeks that lead up to the New Year with a turn toward the Source of comfort and consolation, and in turn give comfort and consolation to those in our lives who so very greatly need it: Nachamu, nachamu ami, yomer eloheichem… “Comfort, comfort My people, says your God.”
Rabbi Michael Schwartz