Ve’etchanan/Shabbat Nachamu: From lows to highs

ImageMonday night I spent sitting on floor surrounded by candles.  My sister was singing and chanting an incredibly haunting melody, crying out the words of “Aicha”, Lamentations.  It was Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av, and I was visiting my sister the Rabbi, so naturally I accompanied her to the synagogue.

This weekend is called Shabbat Nachamu, the comforting Shabbat.  It’s an odd concept, if you think about it, because each Shabbat every week is supposed to be a source of comfort. So, what’s different about this one?  One of the things my sister said Monday night was that Tisha B’Av was really a beginning to the High Holidays.   I’ve thought of other beginnings to that season – the first of the month of Elul, the Saturday night Selichot service before Rosh Hashanah, but never the night of Tisha B’Av.  In fact, Tisha B’Av had pretty much fallen off my radar.  I’m not all that sad that the Temple is gone; Judaism as I know it and love it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t.  Still, there was all that destruction and sadness, and for that I can mourn.

But to think of it as the beginning of the cycle of return and renewal, forgiveness and hope, starting over —that is something new to me.  How do you know the heights of that release and optimism of Neilah, the closing service at yom Kippur, when a whole fresh new year stands there gleaming and bright, if you haven’t been in the darker place?  Tisha B’Av is that darker place, and now we begin to climb out of it.

The actual portion this week is Ve’etchanan, and there are words in there that should sound pretty familiar – like, the Ten Commandments and the Shma.  The people are about to cross into the Land, and this is Moses’ last chance to impart his and God’s instructions.  Remember, these aren’t the folks who actually witnessed Sinai or left Egypt; that generation died out.  This is the next generation.  We are the umpteenth generation, give or take.  But these words, “which I command you this day”…The Torah – a Women’s Commentary, translates it this way:  “Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day.  Impress them upon your children.  Recite them when you stay at home, and when you are away, when you lie down, and when you get up.” (Deut 6:5-7)

I find the comfort in those words, in the continuity of generations, in the explicit passion of taking something into your heart.  When we do that, we are changed.  And when we move from the depths of Tisha B’Av to the joy of a new beginning, we are changed also.

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