This week's portion: finite language, infinite truth
(Re)Turning to God at moon-dark


The Shabbatot immediately before and after Tisha b'Av all have special names. Last week was Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat of Vision (or Prophecy); this coming Shabbat is Shabbat Nachamu (the Shabbat of Consolation,) named after the first words in this week's Haftarah reading, "Nachamu, nachamu ami, yomar Eloheichem."

Depending on your familiarity with Hebrew, those words may or may not resonate for you. But if you're a choral singer, odds are good that you -- like me -- recognize the English translation and immediately associate it with melody. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God!" (If you don't know it, you can listen to a snippet, via RealPlayer, here.)

Years before I had much interest in Isaiah, or in which prophetic reading had been matched with which Torah portion, I joined the town-gown chorus in a performance of Handel's Messiah. I've since sung it many times; these last few years I've taken great pleasure in joining an impromptu pick-up chorus (and pick-up chamber orchestra, too) in running the first section of Messiah on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, for an audience of whoever feels like listening.

As a result, I can't read the opening words of this week's Haftarah without hearing the dulcet tones of some tenor or other crooning, "Comfort ye..." Something tells me I'll be spending this Shabbat humming classical music. (It should go without saying that although I really like this piece of Handel's -- I think it's his best work, and his most singable -- I don't share his interpretation of what these verses from Isaiah represent.)

The seven Haftarot between Tisha b'Av and Rosh Hashanah -- beginning this week, with Shabbat Nachamu -- are readings of consolation and comfort, meant to offer reassurance after the bleak tone of the Three Weeks leading up to 9 Av. (Thank God; I don't know about y'all, but after trying to face the sorrows of the world on Tisha b'Av I could really use a little comfort right about now.)

Rabbi Shefa Gold has asked the question, what does Shabbat Nachamu have to do with feeling comfortable? Her response: the deep place of comfort that God offers and we seek is comfort so deep that we can live with discomfort -- not live with other people's pain as if it needed no healing, but live with the discomfort we bring into our own lives if we seek to make healing happen. (Reb Arthur reports her teaching here.) As Shabbat Nachamu approaches, may we be blessed with that kind of deep comfort, and with the ability to take action that it engenders and bestows.

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