This week’s parasha starts off with Moses describing how he had pleaded with God to allow him to enter the land of Israel. We are told that God refused Moses’ request, but allows him to see the land from a mountain overlooking the land.
It is interesting that this is the first parasha we read after Tisha B’av, it is the first Shabbat of consolation, guiding us from a national day of mourning, on what is known as the Sheva De-Nechamta (the seven haftarot of consolation), as we seek to be healed and gain strength on our journey towards Rosh HaShanah. The Shabbat itself has a special name, “Nachamu”, meaning consolation. It is so called because of the opening words of the haftarah for Shabbat Va’etchanan, and is in reference to the timing after Tisha B’Av.
“Nachamu, nachamu ami… (Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and say to her that she has served her term, that her sin is pardoned for she has received declare to her that her term of service is over)”.
It deals with the suffering of the people, and acknowledges the importance and centrality of Jerusalem in our suffering. It also deals with consolation for those who have suffered.
Consolation, or comforting, is a major step in one’s healing process. Not only is the actual support structure an extremely beneficial aspect of dealing with grief and/or loss, but the one providing the comfort or consolation also benefits from their efforts in this process. Together, these two aspects form a cohesive two-way model of effectiveness in this area. There are benefits to both parties in this format, and the “comforter” becomes a vital part of the healing process.
Now let’s go back and look at what happens to Moses at the beginning of the Torah reading. Moses finds himself in a position where he needs to be comforted. His requests to enter the land of Israel have been denied, and in allowing Moses to see the land that he cannot enter, God is offering him consolation. Moses’ punishment is followed by sympathy.
Similarly, we find that God is looking to console us, as the opening lines of the haftarah indicate. The Temple has been destroyed, and our people are living in exile. While the suffering is linked to the actions of the people (and is part of a punishment), the notion of consolation still plays an important part of the healing. Once again, it is God who is offering the consolation. The question is asked; “Why is the word comfort said twice in the opening verse of the haftarah”? The Midrash Eicha Rabbah answers that it is because Israel received a double portion of punishment, and therefore a double portion of comfort is due to her now. It is for that reason that God reassures Israel twice, saying; “I, I am the One who comforts you”.
Perhaps it is God’s way of showing that while we are punished when we do wrong, God will still be there to comfort us as we seek to recover and heal, and build up our strength. Consolation and comforting are there for us to help ourselves and others we seek to recover from the three weeks of mourning and Tisha B’Av, and to help us prepare for and build up to the upcoming High Holy Days in just over six weeks’ time.
May this Shabbat of Nachamu comfort us following the darkness that we experienced leading up to Tisha B’Av, and may we be guided and inspired by the light that is the hope leading to Rosh HaShanah.