Shabbat Nahamu - 5775 (July 31, 2015)
Post date: Jul 30, 2015 5:31:30 PM
וְי֙וֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֜֔י שַׁבָּ֖֣ת ׀ לַיי אֱלֹהֶ֑֗יךָ
"For the seventh day is Re-creation for God that is within you." (Deuteronomy 5:14)
This week's Haftarah opens with the emphatic "Nahamu, Nahamu Ami" - Be comforted, be comforted My people. It begins the series of 7 haftarot of consolation that follow Tisha B'Av and lead us to Rosh Hashannah. The structure of the annual cycle itself delivers a poignant message.
The High Holidays can be seen as a spiritual annual check-up. They provide us with dedicated time to evaluate ourselves and make changes. And for change to take place and to be effective, we need to be capable of making choices. As many of you know, a contract made under duress may be contested. If, but for the threat, the obligations of the contract would not have been agreed to, the contract is not considered valid.
Likewise, the desire for Teshuva (return) that imbues the Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur liturgy is hollow if spoken out of despair or desperation. Real teshuva is an affirmation of personal responsibility, an act of strength, an expression of our ability to choose our future. It can not, therefore, be made when we are compromised, either emotionally fragile or physically forced. (To be sure, we do have other prayers for those situations, but not Teshuvah.)
As Tisha B'Av culminates a 3-week period of sadness, we, as a people, begin a 7-week period of rebuilding our psyches with the 7 Haftarot of Consolation.
On a personal, but relevant note, just last week, I was unusually short and caustic with people around me. When Shelli called me on it, I became defensive. It so consumed me, that I was not aware of how my actions were being received by people around me and the affect they had, nor did I think I cared.
After days of being miserable, a moment of clarity enabled me to see the cause. Underlying my bitterness was a fear of failure. Mine was a particularly potent form of that fear: it was feeling that at 58 years of age, I had already not lived up to my potential and I would likely die before being able to make meaningful change. That there is powerful mojo. Crippling, in fact.
Looking deeper into that fear, I wondered: where is my sense of self-worth? By what scale and by whose criteria am I being measured as a failure?
Fortunately, my father, whose memory is a blessing, gave me a bedrock of self-worth and self-validation. "I [don't care about] others' judgments," he would say in a booming voice (the original was considerably more R-rated). Finding that place of self-worth within, which I believe we all must have in order to be alive, I realized that external measures of success or failure were nothing more than numerical exercises, which, if taken to heart, would drain all of one's power.
Self-worth trumps all external measures. Period. Which brings me back to "Nahamu, nahamu ami, yomar Eloheichem." - Be comforted, be comforted My people, says your God.
It is this notion of "your God" that I find compelling this week. It is addressed to us in the plural form, as a people. The sentence from this week's Torah portion which I quoted above contains a singular form, addressed to us as individuals. A more literal, yet less illuminating translation of the quote above would be "For the seventh day is Sabbath for God your God." But what does it mean to say, "God your God"? If God is everything, would it not be sufficient to say "God"? Further, why is the Sabbath for God?
My response to both of these questions is informed by the Kabbalistic sense of Godliness as the "spark within" (the core) that animates each and every thing. We are each a worthy part of creation, and through our ability to make free choices, a partner in the goal of making our world more perfect.
When the scriptures say, "Adonai Elohecha", God, your God, I read instead, "God, the sense of the Divine that makes you unique."
Sabbath, then, is the time to acknowledge that core, beautiful part of yourself, to protect it and to nurture it.
This ties closely with the notion of the 7 weeks of comfort and consolation. The Latin roots of the word "com-fort" literally mean "with strength". In other words, giving comfort truly means making someone strong enough - to bear their life's burdens and enjoy their blessings. And that is exactly what these weeks before the High Holidays are designed to do, for it is only from a sense of strength, of being responsible for our own choices, that any promises we make have validity.
This, in turn, leads me to offer an interpretation of a curiosity in the Torah reading for this week. Our 2nd triennial cycle reading opens with Moses recalling the Epiphany at Sinai, and it follows with a reiteration of the Decalog (10 Commandments). But it is not a word-for-word recapitulation. Within it, the commandment for Shabbat provides much insight into the evolution of Jewish thinking.
Within it, the commandment for Shabbat provides much insight into the evolution of Jewish thinking. In the original, more ancient form of the Decalog from Exodus, God says, "זָכ֛וֹר֩ אֶת־י֥֨וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖֜ת לְקַדְּשֽׁ֗וֹ" - *Remember* the Sabbath day, to sanctify it. (Exodus, 20:8).
In this week's perasha, the wording is slightly changed, making a profound point. Instead of the passive "zachor" - remember, it uses the active "shamor" - protect. "שָׁמ֣֛וֹר אֶת־י֥וֹם֩ הַשַׁבָּ֖֨ת לְקַדְּשׁ֑֜וֹ" - *Guard/Protect* the Sabbath day, to sanctify it. (Deuteronomy, 5:12)***
It is not enough merely to *remember* that we are partners with God. We repeatedly, at least weekly, need to take action to let that Godliness within each of us see daylight. We need to do things that enable us to recognize that beauty in one another. And we need for it to be the source of our self-worth, the compelling force of our existence. . The Lecha Dodi ties these thoughts together in the verse, "Shamor, ve'zachor bedibur ehad." - Guard and remember in one word.
This Shabbat, I pray we find that core of worthiness within ourselves, that we recognize it in the people around us, whether friend or foe, and that we let that divine core animate the choices we make in the weeks ahead.