2017-08-02 / Religion Column

Like a good parent, God comforts us after punishment

Temple Sinai in Cinnaminson

Parashat Va’etchanan
Shabbat Nachamu
Deut. 3:23-7:11

We find ourselves at an interesting inflection point on the Jewish calendar. As we approach the Torah’s final book, D’varim, called Deuteronomy in English, we also enter a three-week period of mourning the destruction of the Holy Temple, which concomitantly represents the gamut of Jewish tragedies over the centuries. Simultaneously, the selection of our haftaroth, which for most of the year reflect the content or themes of the weekly Torah reading in some way, decouple from the sedra to reflect our calendar—first with three weeks of haftaroth of Divine rebuke, followed by seven weeks of haftaroth of Divine comfort—leading back to the High Holy Day season, which concludes with Simchat Torah, when we begin reading Torah anew, and return to haftaroth related to the week’s parashah.

Note first that while the rebuke lasts three weeks, the consolation continues for seven. Our Creator is like a parent, who first warns a child sternly of dangerous or unacceptable behavior, then if needed delivers a harsh but momentary spank (or a time out—but grant me the dramatic metaphor), but then spends a long hour comforting the child from the shock of punishment. Our Divine Parent wants us to know that even when we are warned, even when we are punished, even when we suffer justly or unjustly, we are still loved and valued by the Creator of Heavens and Earth.

And that is precisely where we find ourselves on the Jewish calendar: Our spanking has been delivered as of the 9th of Av, traditional anniversary of the Destruction and many other tragedies. Now the Ribono Shel Olam wants to spend seven weeks reminding us how much we are loved and valued as Jewish individuals and communities— not coincidentally, during this time, we will begin to examine and evaluate ourselves in advance of the holiday season; we should be reminded to consider our own behavior and that of anyone who may have offended us during the year in the same spirit of love and worth.

All that love and consolation begins this Shabbos with Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of Comfort. And it begins with a bang, a demonstration of the beautiful crafting of the Jewish calendar. In this week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan, we read as Moses foretells that our ancestors will anger God and be scattered in exile, but that when we seek God with all our heart and soul, even from exile, God will be present with us and will not forget the Covenant— could that be more on point? We read the second rendition of the Ten Commandments, a reminder of the Divine expression of parental love in teaching us how to live properly; and we read the first paragraph of Shema (with V’ahavta), a reminder of how we in turn love our Divine Parent precisely for teaching us how to live lives of value through the mitzvot. As a little kicker, we read the question of the Haggadah’s wise child (“What’s with all these decrees, laws, and rules that the Lord our God commanded you?”), and the beginning of the first answer to the Four Questions (“We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out of there with a strong hand”—i.e. by force), which has been a core component of our perception of our relationship with the Holy Blessed One since the first Passover.

Finally, we turn to the special haftarah of the occasion, from which the day takes its name. The haftarah opens with this beautiful passage: Nachamu nachamu ami, “Take comfort, take comfort, My people, says your God. Speak to Jerusalem’s heart, and tell her that her service (in retribution) is fulfilled, her punishment is served, the Lord has already extracted more than enough (lit. double) for her sins.”

When we feel that we have been punished double, let us remember that the consolation is more than double the rebuke! 

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