Deuteronomy 3:23 -7:11
Rabbi Denise L. Eger
This week’s Shabbat is known as Shabbat Nachamu- the Sabbath of Comfort or Consolation because it is the Shabbat that follows Tisha B’av. Its name comes from the Haftarah portion from Isaiah which begins, “Nachamu Nachamu et ami… Comfort, Comfort My People. The destruction of the first Temple foretold by the prophet Isaiah and then the subsequent destruction of the second Temple by the Romans in the year 70 CE also on Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av) is seen in our tradition as God’s withdrawal from the Jewish People. Traditional commentators could only understand the destruction of the ancient Temple, God’s holy dwelling place on earth as a sign that God was upset with the Jewish people. Isaiah’s messages along with other prophets such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel warned the Israelites to forsake idolatry and return to the pure worship of Adonai. Following the destruction of the Temples the Jewish people could not understand the cataclysm that befell them. The destruction of the first temple and subsequent exile to Babylonia and the destruction of the second Temple and the exile throughout the world were monumental moments in the life of the Jewish people. It changed our ways of life forever. Particularly the second destruction changed our way of life because a whole new way of being Jewish was created and we entered the era of Rabbinic Judaism following this event.
Thus this timing always of this week’s Torah portion, V’etchanan following the observance of Tisha B’av is more than just coincidental. This week’s portion affirms the relationship between God and the Israelite nation. Just at a time when we might have thought the eternal covenant was shattered and broken, the Torah comes to teach us that we indeed have a special and unique relationship with the Holy One. Contained within this week’s portion are both the restatement of the Ten Commandments and the Shema prayer! These essential cornerstones of Jewish faith and practice are at the core of our covenantal relationship with God. Moses reminds the Children of Israel in the desert of the story when we received the Ten Commandments at Sinai (here called Horeb). Moses reminds the Children of Israel (and in truth all of us) of the importance of sticking to our core ideals. Moses urges our focus to be the One God and our covenant with God and to forgo making any kinds of graven images, not human, nor animal or fish or to bow to the heavenly orbs. Moses reminds us that we heard God at Sinai we didn’t see a form.
And this is just as fitting a reminder for the generation that is about to cross the Jordan who grew up in the desert and was not even born yet at Sinai, just as it is a fitting reminder for all of us today!
When we are about to be led astray, when it might seem like God is absent from our lives it is time to double down and get back to basics! The Ten Commandments and the Shema found in this week’s portion are just the right combination to help us refocus our commitments and our connection to the Jewish people. So in this summer of doubts and debts and uncertainties, in this time that might seem that there are cataclysmic events that are shaking up our worlds, there is a timeless course of living that can help us navigate through treacherous times: And that is the faith and life of Judaism. May the blessing and wisdom of our tradition give you strength in these days.