Thoughts on Shabbat Nahamu
August 12, 2022 – Av 16, 5782
Temple Sholom of West Essex
Rabbi Norman Patz
This week’s Torah portion is a triple-header of passages familiar to us: the Ten Commandments, the Sh’ma and the V’ahavta. They’re all in D’varim/Deuteronomy, chapters 5 and 6. I would be remiss if I didn’t call your attention to this part of Moses’ final speeches to the Israelites. Yet, while I recommend that you go home and read them, I want to focus instead this evening on the issues raised by the special name given to this Shabbat, Shabbat Nahamu, the Sabbath of Consolation.
This past week the Jewish people observed Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in Jewish history. According to our traditions, both the first and second temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on the ninth day of Av in the culmination of our enemies’ assaults on Jewish faith and Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel.
From early on, in the wake of these nearly overwhelming national catastrophes, the rabbis instituted a day of fasting, with the reading of Kinot, poems of sadness, along with the biblical Book of Eichah/Lamentations. Our history also records that the expulsion of Jews from Spain took place on the 9th of Av in 1492, and that many other disasters befell our people on this day in history. Each event contemporized the observance and made it newly relevant.
Our Reform movement, which in its first 100 years de-emphasized Jews’ return to the land of Israel, abandoned the observance of Tisha B’Av – the mourning for the destroyed Temples — as have many Israelis since the establishment of the State in 1948.
But I disagree. In considering Jewish history, I think it is important to remember Tisha b’Av and these two Shabbatot: the one before Tisha B’Av, called Shabbat Hazon, and the one following – Nahamu.
We need consolation! And not necessarily because of our “sins,” which the rabbis said were the cause of our suffering. Our suffering comes, rather, because of the geopolitical realities of our history: Israel is a small nation in a bad neighborhood, a tiny defenseless minority among hostile neighbors.
We need consolation to restore and reinforce hope. I characterize us Jews as Asirei tikvah – prisoners of hope. Our Jewish anthem, Hatikvah – the hope! — asserts ohd lo avdah tikvateinu – our hope is not yet lost. I believe this, and I hope (!) you do too.