Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11), Shabbat Nachamu

Happy Tu B’AvIf you recall Tu Bishvat and Tisha B’Av, you should be able to figure out that Tu B’Av means “15th day of the month of Av,” which is today, July 31, 2015.  This mysterious little holiday has enjoyed a rebirth in recent years.  In the Talmud, we read that, on Tu B’Av, the unmarried girls of Jerusalem would wear white dresses and dance in the vineyards while eligible men scope out potential mates.  It’s kind of a nice way to rebound from Tisha B’Av.

This week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan, is particularly meaty.  It includes the second version of the Ten Commandments (5:6-18) and the first paragraph of the Shema (6:4-9), which is a declaration of monotheism and Israel’s adherence to it. But I wrote here about the Shema in 2013 and the changes seen in the second Ten Commandments and Tu B’Av in 2014.

Chapter 4 is a distillation of Jewish theology, i.e., seeking and finding God (I think I got that from a talk by Rabbi Neil Gillman).  Moses tries to persuade this new generation to obey the Lord, by emphasizing how truly miraculous the Israelite experience has been (4:32-34), by appealing to logic (obeying will lead to a good life, disobeying to severe punishment, with Moses as object lesson), and by invoking love, which I wrote about here in 2011This is the primary role Moses will play in Deuteronomy: teacher.  In the JPS translation of Va’etchanan, I found ten references to instruction, study, and teaching.  The Israelites are not only to obey, but to study and teach. 

But this year, I am more interested in the haftarah, Isaiah 40:1-26, than the Torah portion.  The first Sabbath after Tisha B’Av is called Shabbat Nachamu (“comfort”) after this haftarah (Quick quiz: What are two other Sabbaths named after a haftarah? And which 7 verses of the haftarah appear in Handel’s Messiah?), the first of the seven Haftarot of Consolation after three Haftarot of Rebuke and the Book of Lamentations.  Does that 7:3 ratio imply that it is more unpleasant to rebuke and nicer to comfort, so we want to get the rebuke over with and dwell on comfort?  On the contrary, pain stabs quickly, especially emotional pain, while comfort takes time.  In a 2010 commentary, Rabbi Mychal B. Springer compared the 7 Haftarot of Consolation to the 7 days of shiva.  It takes time to begin to heal.

We search for comfort in many ways – food to satisfy and evoke memories of happier times, drugs and alcohol to numb pain, stuffed animals to cuddle.  A baby learns to comfort itself by sucking a thumb or pacifier (though my kids were never really into that).  But the most efficacious comfort involves a sympathetic response from a real being  – a real or virtual hug, another’s warm words, the snuggling of a pet or a child: “The baby slept, wrapped in a great fold of the cloak.  Feeling this little life, so unconscious and untroubled, snuggling into the hollow of her breast, Marie gradually regained her calm.” (The Royal Succession, Maurice Druon, 1958, p. 159).  

Rabbi Springer further wrote, “Here the consolation comes not from a solution but from the process of crying out and being heard. In this scenario, the presence of a second voice, able to hear the cry of the first, makes consolation possible. The first voice says: I cry out with pain, I voice my protest. The second voice responds: I have heard your protest and I affirm that this life is as painfully fleeting as you say… But even the process of crying out and not experiencing a response—or not yet—sets the process of consolation in motion… (T)he road to consolation has multiple pathways. When one path feels unmanageable, there is another, because no matter how much devastation we have experienced, the promise is that consolation is possible.”

Shabbat shalom,

If you search online for Jewish dating sites, you’ll quickly find dozens that are at least partly dedicated to Jewish dating.  One site, ARE YOU INTERESTED?® (yes, that’s a registered trademark), allows you to combine the category “Jewish singles” with any of 64 locations around the world. Note that this is explicitly for singles; it’s not Ashley Madison.


10 Commandments of Singing

  1. Thou shalt have no other vowels before these: Eh, Ee, Ah, Oh, Oo. (no diphthongs!)
  2. Thou shalt not make thy face a graven image.
  3. Thou shalt not rehearse in vain.
  4. Thou shalt honor thy director (that thy days may be long in the choir).
  5. Honor thy vocal chords to keep them healthy.
  6. Thou shalt not steal the spotlight
  7. Thou shalt not kill the harmony.
  8. Thou shalt not commit shallow breathing.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false posture.
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s voice.


Facebook vs. Monotheism
April 28, 2013 by James F. McGrath

tph Facebook versus Monotheism


Quotes about Comfort

“Cats are connoisseurs of comfort.” 
― James HerriotJames Herriot’s Cat Stories

“Maybe that was why she couldn’t cry, she realized, staring dry-eyed at the ceiling. Because what was the point in crying when there was no one there to comfort you? And what was worse, when you couldn’t even comfort yourself?” 
― Cassandra ClareCity of Glass

“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” 
― James BaldwinGiovanni’s Room

“I did not know how to reach him, how to catch up with him… The land of tears is so mysterious.” 
― Antoine de Saint-ExupéryThe Little Prince

“But Piglet is so small that he slips into a pocket, where it is very comfortable to feel him when you are not quite sure whether twice seven is twelve or twenty-two.” 
― A.A. MilneWinnie-the-Pooh

“There’s a sorrow and pain in everyone’s life, but every now and then there’s a ray of light that melts the loneliness in your heart and brings comfort like hot soup and a soft bed.” 
― Hubert Selby Jr.Requiem for a Dream

Moses probably would have appreciated this one:

A mother walked into her son’s room and said cheerfully, “Up. Up. It’s time to go to school.”

The son replied, “I don’t want to go to school.”
“You have to go,” the mother said.
“I hate that school. The kids are mean and rotten.”
“You still have to go,” exclaimed the mother.
“It’s like jungle. One fight after another. They threaten me at least 100 times a day!” cried the son.
“You have to go to school!!”
“Why must I go?” pleaded the son.
“Because,” replied the mother, “You are the principal!”



JANUARY 9, 2008 ·

tph comfort versus pretension


tph teacher-humor-quotes-meme5

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