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Shabbat Nachamu

08/01/2017 10:43:52 PM


August 1, 2017
by Nancy Sheftel-Gomes

Rabbi Joseph Klein, of blessed memory, זצ״ל, taught us in confirmation class at Temple Emanuel in Worcester, Massachusetts that Jewish education was a lifelong path. At the age of almost 16, somewhat at the end of my religious school education, it was impossible to know what that actually meant.

As a Jewish educator, I have called upon Rabbi Klein’s wisdom many times- with parents who are in a hurry to see results from their child’s Jewish education, with students who are waiting for their formal Jewish education to end; and with grownups who feel lacking in their own Jewish education. Jewish education is a lifelong path- don’t worry you can always learn more.

Shabbat Nachamu, which falls immediately after Tisha B’av, marks the beginning of the lead up to the High Holidays. It refers to the first words of this week’s Haftarah, Isaiah 40:1-26, “comfort, oh comfort me.”  It is believed to have been written during the Babylonian exile. The language stands in sharp contrast to the harsh words of Lamentations, אֵיכָה, Eicha, written by the prophet Jeremiah, starkly describing the destruction and subsequent exile. After the recriminations of Eicha (Lamentations), Shabbat Nachamu reminds us that God loves us and will surely restore us to our homeland.

The connection to this week’s parsha, Va’etchanan, centers around the Shema and the V’ahavtah, the affirmation of Israel’s love of God, God’s love of Israel, and what is often called the watchword of our faith. The Shema is one of the first Hebrew prayers we teach our children and the V’ahavtah, the chanted prayer that even before being able to read in Hebrew, our children love to chant from memory.

Even for non observant Jewish parents, it is not unusual after attending a family B’nai Mitzvah and hearing a child chant the V’ahavtah, that a parent calls our synagogue seeking to find their child a Jewish education. Clearly, the multiple themes of the prayer awaken a collective need to
“teach it to your children.” Something in the prayer touches a Jewish memory and a sense of parental responsibility.

The V’ahavtah teaches us that if  we listen and hear what Moses has taught us we will be rewarded. “Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  These symbols remind us of our commitment to God. 

The concept of memory/remembering has a striking resemblance to the hearing/listening of the Shema. One has to listen to hear and to hear to listen: one has to have a memory in order to remember and to remember in order to have the memory.

My mother never had a formal Jewish education, learned everything in her family home and thought she knew everything. My father had no Jewish education, but when his parents died he wanted to say Kaddish in Hebrew. They started taking weekly Hebrew lessons concurrent to my brother’s and mine, and continued for several decades. That led to weekly Shabbat service attendance. When I came home to visit with my children one summer I was very surprised to find that my parents had started an annual tradition of leading services on the Shabbat closest to their wedding anniversary, August 12, which was always Shabbat Nachamu.

On the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary I learned to chant Isaiah 40:1-26 and did so at services in Worcester and became part of my parent’s memory.

Moses never got to enter the promised land but he taught us that even if we were not in the land, we had memory, and could remember the mitzvot and observe them, and in that small way no matter where we were we could seek God in our own heart and soul.

Although my parents have been gone for a long time now, every year at Shabbat Nachamu I feel very close to them. זיכרונה לברכה  zichronam livracha may their memory be for a blessing. 

Sat, March 17 2018 1 Nisan 5778