On Tuesday of this week, the world fell apart for Jews 1,941 years ago. In 72 CE the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by the mighty Roman Empire on 9 Av, which this year corresponds to Tuesday July 16. The tragedy was as great in its time as the Shoah (called in English the Holocaust) is in ours. On this Shabbat ever since, Jews have gathered together, as we do each Shabbat, but on this particular Shabbat we have come together with the sense that we are in need of consolation.
“All flesh is grass”, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed. “Nothing abides but G-d.” (40.8)
Nakhamu, nakhamu ami, “be comforted, be comforted O My people”; these opening words from the haftarah for this week (Isaiah 40.1) give this Shabbat its name. The pain of that first disaster has lessened with time, yet the Shabbat retains its relevance, for who has not known the need for consolation, for healing, for peace?
The Jewish understanding of these opening words is found in their repetition. The Biblical commentator Ibn Ezra interpreted: the repetition means that comfort will come “swiftly or repeatedly”. Since the Jewish people entered an exile that lasted for nearly two millennia on that day, we are left to conclude that the latter of the two possibilities is more likely. It has not been swift. But repeatedly, and on this Shabbat, it is needed, for some among us personally, for all of us communally.
Communally – as a community. Our Jewish response to the repeated for need for consolation among our people – and in our own individual lives, after all – is found in an even closer reading of the first word: nakhamu is said in the plural. We Jews do not find consolation by isolating ourselves, but in the intimacy of human contact. Sometimes our closeness causes friction and frustration, and even pain, but we are a community, and we will find consolation, and redemption, only through, and with, and because of our kehillah, our Jewish community.
This evening, when Shabbat begins, seek out your community. If you are in need of consolation yourself, you will find it with us. If you are not, come and help us offer it to someone who needs an outstretched hand and an open heart.
“Each blade of grass sings its own song to G-d’s glory”. We may come and go like grass, but we do know how to find consolation in song, in Shabbat, and in each other.