Shabbat Nachamu: To shake off the dust and start healing
Rav Noam Sendor studied at Yeshivat Hamivtar from 2008-2011 and received Semicha from the Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary. He is currently the rabbi at Blake Street Hebrew Congregation and a teacher at Leibler Yavneh College in Melbourne, Australia, where he lives with his wife Sara and their four kids.
On Tisha B’Av, we sit amongst the ruins of Jerusalem. Though we are forever grateful just how lucky we are (in normal years) to be able to walk through the streets of Jerusalem, on Tisha B’Av, we see the city for what it is not, for what it is missing.
However, the purpose of Tisha B’Av is not to wallow in sorrow, but rather to empower us to emerge with renewed strength and commitment to rebuild this world.
This is the beautiful message relayed in the Gemara on Berachot 3a. Rabbi Yossi was walking through the streets of Jerusalem, and he entered into a ruin in order to pray. Eliyahu HaNavi waited outside for him to finish.
When Rabbi Yossi finishes, Eliyahu HaNavi asks him, what are you doing? To which Rabbi Yossi replies, I was afraid my prayer would be interrupted by those who pass by. Eliyahu says to him, “You should have stayed on the road and prayed a short prayer.”
Rabbi J.J. Shachter gave a powerful explanation of this mysterious encounter.
Rabbi Yossi was a second-generation student of Rabbi Akiva, after the death of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students. Eliyahu HaNavi was saying to Rabbi Yossi, you should follow the example of your teacher, Rabbi Akiva, who after witnessing such great destruction, including the destruction of the Second Temple, always found the strength to comfort those around him and rebuild.
‘Don’t stay inside the place of ruin, go out into the street and impact those around you. Don’t worry about them changing you, change them!’
Am Yisrael has in many ways inherited the spirit of Rabbi Akiva. Though we have faced horrific tragedy in our own days, we always bounce back, we always pick ourselves up, shake off the dust and start healing.
We are in deep need of this spirit. This past year has been very difficult. Illness, death, shuttered schools and shuls, worldwide social upheaval and economic instability.
In this way, I think Tisha B’Av itself gives us some level of comfort, reminding ourselves of the terrible things we have gone through on the very same day, but yet, here we are.
We have survived, and the difficulties we face aren’t so difficult after all in comparison to what our ancestors faced.
However, Tisha B’Av is also a cosmic push to remind ourselves of why these disasters befell our people and what we need to address them.
This Shabbat is Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of comfort, following the past couple weeks of mourning, culminating in Tisha B’Av.
Rav Shagar (Shimshon Gershon Rosenberg) zt”l, the great Israeli writer and thinker, wrote that “comfort is not healing, but rather making room for the wounds to appear, not as rage and depression that disrupt life, but the opposite, to deepen life and our belief in the good, and to refine our relationships.”
Comfort is not some passive experience, a wash of relief after a trauma. Rather it is a courageous embrace of the pain whilst still believing in healing and goodness. This type of comfort and healing, like love, is hard work.
We can only be comforted when recognize just how far we have become disconnected from each other. It is, of course, much easier to be blissfully ignorant and stay in our boxes.
I have in the past related to the comfort of Shabbat Nachamu as a release from the pain of mourning and fasting. Now I see the opposite to be true.
It is a call to do something with our mourning and fasting, and not let it fade with time. We must read, in that light, the opening line to the famous Haftorah of Shabbat Nachamu as follows: נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי יֹאמַר אֱלֹקיכֶם”” –Do not read “Be consoled, be consoled my people,” but rather, “Console, console my people, says your God.”
To find comfort, you must first step out of your comfort zone and be courageously open and authentic to see others who they really are and love them because they are Hashem’s people. Nothing else.
It is time for us to heal all rifts and break down boundaries and do what we can to address the injustice and difficulty that others experience. Let’s be there for each other however we can, let’s comfort each other however we can.
With that, I would like to bless us all with a Shabbat of true comfort.