Tisha B’Av (9th day of the month of Av) has just ended. Like Yom Kippur, it is a fast day. Otherwise, it is its opposite in tone. Yom Kippur, the “white fast,” is solemn, marked by long services in packed synagogues, focusing on atoning for sins committed during the just-ended year, and ending with a hopeful expectation of forgiveness. Tisha B’Av, the “black fast,” marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples and several other disasters in Jewish history, such as the expulsion from Spain in 1492. It is a day of mourning, not hope. It is observed by few in the American Jewish community (partly because it falls in the summer). Services are not overly long and include chanting the book of Lamentations (“Megillat Eichah”) and kinot (elegies, primarily medieval). There is a short Torah reading, Deuteronomy 4:25-40, also read this Shabbat. The Haftarah is Jeremiah 8:13-9:23, fittingly chanted using the Lamentations melody; it starts out, “I will make an end of them —declares the LORD: No grapes left on the vine, No figs on the fig tree, The leaves all withered; Whatever I have given them is gone.” The rabbis teach that the First Temple fell in 586 BCE because of idol worship and the second, in 70 CE because of “sinat hinam,” baseless hatred. Sinat hinam was rife within the Jewish community then. It is raging through the American community now, as badly controlled as COVID-19.
But, in the Hebrew calendar at least, now is a time for comfort. This coming Shabbat is Shabbat Nachamu, named for the first word in the first of the seven Haftarot of Consolation, Isaiah 40:1-26 . “Nachamu, Nachamu ami” is the Lord’s command to the prophets, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.” (Yes, that’s in Handel’s Messiah, as are 6 additional verses from this haftarah. Their identification is left as an exercise for the reader.) Three Haftarot of Rebuke and seven of consolation? It usually takes longer to heal than to be hurt.
Ah yes, our weekly Torah portion. From 2017:
Moses is trying to teach the Children of Israel, the generation of the desert, about their history and its miraculous nature: “(H)as anything as grand as this ever happened, or has its like ever been known? Has any people heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have, and survived? Or has any god ventured to go and take for himself one nation from the midst of another.” (4:32-34) They can have a great future in the Promised Land, if they obey the laws they have been given. Moses himself is an object lesson, having been denied entrance into the Land because he disobeyed. If they follow the laws, good things should follow as a natural consequence. The keystone of their laws is the Ten Commandments. Moses teaches them here (5:6-18), but they differ slightly from the ones in Exodus 20. According to the Maharal of Prague, Moses is presenting the Commandments in a way the people could better absorb. When we refer to “the Ten Commandments,” it’s the set in Exodus.
But it’s not just a matter of carrots and sticks. They should obey not simply out of fear, but also, even primarily, out of love. This portion includes the first paragraph of the Shema (6:4-9), probably the most well-known part of our liturgy. It’s not a prayer, but a command to “Listen! Pay attention!” (6:4) to the idea of the oneness of the Lord, followed immediately by a command to love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, and might. In the JTS translation of this portion, the word “love” appears four times, “heart” three times, and “soul” twice. “Biblical scholars would typically translate ‘heart’ here as the seat of the intellect and wisdom (the intestines are the seat of the emotions) and ‘soul’ as the physical being, or breath. ‘Love’ is action, not an emotion (Thanks, Stanley). It means fidelity, loyalty, faithful obedience. “For Maimonides, this love arises from intellectual conviction, but one’s soul is “ever enraptured by it” (N. Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim, pp. 66-67). Thus, the Israelites are being commanded to approach their God with both rationality and passion.
Shabbat shalom and zei gezunt,
Said Moses after smashing the Ten Commandments:
“It’s okay, I have a backup in the cloud.”
Social Distancing is important, it’s right there in the Bible.
Commandment #10 : Thou shalt not COVID thy neighbor’s wife
Jokes About Listening
o My wife swears the CIA put a listening device in our yard disguised as a tree.
I told her it’s just a plant.
o Wives always complain that their husbands don’t listen to them.
My wife has never complained about this. Or maybe she has. I don’t know.
o My husband asked me why I speak so softly in the house; I said I was afraid Mark Zuckerberg was listening.
What people prefer to listen to…
· A comforting word
A woman is sitting at her recently deceased husband’s funeral. A man leans in to her and asks, “Do you mind if I say a word?”
“No, go right ahead,” the woman replied.
The man stands, clears his throat, says “Plethora” and sits back down.
“Thanks,” the woman said, “that means a lot.”
· What do you say to comfort a friend struggling with grammar? |
There, they’re, their…
· I stopped vaccinating my kids because I wasn’t comfortable jamming a needle into their arms.
Now I get my doctor to do it.
Quotes about Lamentations
Lamentations comfort only by lacerating the heart still more. Such grief does not desire consolation. It feeds on the sense of its hopelessness. Lamentations spring only from the constant craving to re-open the wound. Fyodor Dostoevsky
Of all human lamentations, without doubt, the most common is if only I had known. But we can’t know, and so days of death and fire so often begin no differently than those of love and warmth. Tom Clancy
Joy, sorrow, tears, lamentation, laughter — to all these music gives voice Albert Schweitzer
This day I ceased to plead. I was no longer capable of lamentation. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. Elie Wiesel
Try the Lamentations of Jeremiah. They always pick me up. Peter De Vries