Parashat Va-et’hanan

Friday, July 23, 2021/14 Av, 5781
Parashat Va-et’hanan Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11

Dear Friends,

This Shabbat is Shabbat Nachamu (the Shabbat of Comfort), our first Shabbat after Tisha B’Av, the commemoration of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Traditionally, Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning, ending with celebration, as we mourn, and then turn our mourning into dancing, looking toward a brighter future, rebuilding the Jewish people. This Shabbat received its name from the prophetic words of Isaiah, “Comfort, comfort my people!” Much like we commemorated Tisha B’Av last week, this portion begins our rebuilding, toward the New Year, as it begins the 7 Haftarot of Consolation that lead us to the High Holy Days, as out of the fire rises a great Phoenix of hope. This Haftarah of Consolation is paired with the words of Va’etchanan, in which Moses repeats the 10 commandments and shares the words of Shema and V’ahavta, “and you shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your being.”

What a fitting shabbat to return home from the first month of the return to URJ Camp Newman. The fires that destroyed our children’s home, four years ago, followed by a global pandemic, could have written the end of our Jewish camping as we knew it, but instead, as we welcomed back campers to our facility, which was only completed in the middle of May, we watched as the comforting Phoenix began to rise. Indeed, out of the depths of despair, rose the songs of praise and prayer. From the voices that just a short time ago were broken with tears and fears, rose beautiful shouts of joy and cheers, if even muffled through their masks. Nothing could possibly keep us down, and this place which had meant so much to so many reopened, a new era of passion and love for this community arose stronger and more resilient than ever.

Of course, this return was not and will not be without bobbles and missteps, but the love that has been getting us through, paired with the power of this magical place, created a healing, comforting environment for re-entry of these amazing young people into socialization, community, and an intense love for living their Judaism. As they listened to their Shema, they could hear the sounds of new life, as the birds flew overhead and landed in the redwoods surrounding them. When they “lifted their eyes to the mountains,” they could see the star that survived the fire, shedding its radiance upon their camp. And, when they sang their Mi Chamocha, they could experience the awe of personal redemption, which our people have continued to embody since we crossed the sea of reeds.

As we enter into this Shabbat, I am comforted by the visions I beheld over the past four weeks, knowing that the future of our people will be in passionate, just, and good hands. Hands which are connected to hearts, souls, and entire beings which embody the divine every day, sharing the love of God which is so powerful.

May we all find the comfort we seek, as we enter into these coming weeks, preparing for these High Holy Days, ahead.

Shabbat Shalom,
Cantor Ilan Davidson