Parashat D’varim II

Friday, July 24, 2020 /3 Av, 5780
Parashat D’varim Deuteronomy 1:1−3:22

Dear Friends,

Tonight begins Shabbat Nachamu or Shabbat of Comfort. It is named after the opening words in this week’s Haftarah portion, “Comfort, O comfort My people.” It is one of seven Haftarah portions of consolation that we read between Tisha B’av and Rosh Hashanah. Yesterday, on Tisha B’av (the 9th of Hebrew month of Av), we commemorated several Jewish calamities that happened on this day in years past, including the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem, expulsions from Spain and England, and pogroms. On this solemn day, many Jews fast, read the words of lamentations, and mourn. It is no wonder that we follow this trying holiday with a Shabbat of comfort.

This year, in particular, we need such succor. We mourn for the hardships of yesteryear in addition to those of today. We know what it feels like to long for our spiritual home. We grieve not only for lives lost long ago but also for the thousands of people dying from COVID-19 today. After seeing a Facebook post estimating the number of Torah scrolls that are going unread, Daniel Olson decided to create a modern version of Eli Tzion. Together with Benjamin Goldberg, he wrote a Lamentations-inspired piece reflecting on the challenging times in which we live.

Our tradition teaches us that there is power in expressing sadness and lament, as long as we don’t end there. As Tisha B’av begins to fade, there is a rebirth of hope and optimism in the future. This week’s Haftarah portion voices faith in a rebuilt Temple, and a more promising future. It conveys a spirit of hope, resilience, and stubborn optimism. It also emphasizes the importance of community.

The Sages ask why the Haftarah portion begins with a repetition of the word “comfort.” Wouldn’t one “comfort” be enough? Some argue that the emphasis signals how speedily or intensely God will comfort us at trying times.

Over the past few months, I have learned that often God’s comfort is channeled through us. It is in the courageous ask for help, the calls of concern, or trips to the store. It is in the doctor’s reassurance, the teacher’s loving care, or the meals made for people who are homeless. It is in the listening ear, and festive online celebrations we offer to one another.

I believe that the repetition of the word nachamu has less to do with speed or intensity than it does with the comfort derived from two people in a relationship with one another. On this Shabbat of comfort, we gather together, reminding one another that when things get difficult, we are not alone. Nachamu, Nachamu. This Shabbat may we feel comfort in the community’s warm embrace.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Cassi Kail