Friday, July 31, 2015

What is Shabbos Nachamu?

Today is the Tu B'Av. As it falls out in this year's calendar, it is immediately followed by Shabbos Nachamu. Even those who know it by name don't always understand what it is really about.
What is Shabbos Nachamu? A teacher at a post high school Jewish study program for young women related the answer one girl wrote to that question on an entrance exam: "It's the Shabbos when everyone goes to the country." Obviously, this student was a New Yorker.
While some New Yorkers seem to consider it a mitzvah to spend the whole summer in the country, there are those who have jobs or other obligations in their hometowns and cannot get away that long, though they do like to go up to the mountains for weekends, particularly this weekend. The reason this student associated this particular weekend so strongly with going away is that it is the first one after the the 9th of Av. Some people curtail their travels during the 3 Week and 9 Days period, so this would be their first weekend free of such restrictions.
However, the teacher was not pleased with the student's answer because it described what people but did not explain why this Shabbos, like a few others, is distinguished by name. Like the Sabbath described in that posts, this one is named for the Haftorah, which is also drawn from Yeshayahu [The Book of Isaiah]. While last week's reading foretold destruction, this week's reading promises consolation for the suffering of exile. It is signifcant that the ultimate vision of devastation and the ultimate vision of consolation both come from the same source -as Rabbi Akiva indicates in his reaction to the vision of the churban described in A Sabbath of Vision.

Here's some more insight into what this weekend is about. It is is adapted from a piece written by Rabbi Chaim Brown that appeared in his blog:

Nachamu Nachamu Ami… The Midrash tells us that the Jewish people are doubly-consoled (hence the repetition “nachamu nachamu…”) because they sinned doubly and were doubly punished. Why do we say that they sinned doubly? The 600,000 paradigmatic Jewish souls of the people of Israel correspond to the 600,000 letters of a Torah scroll. Just as if one single letter is missing or defective, the entire sefer Torah becomes pasul [invalidated] so too, if one Jew is defective in his observance, the nation as a whole is deficient. Each sin is doubled -- becoming “kiflayim” -- because each sin affects both the soul of the individual who has acted and the the soul of the Jewish nation.

When we are punished, the punishment is not borne singly, for the pain of each Jew has a doubled effect in creating suffering and weakness in the Jewish nation. “Nachamu nachamu AMI”, [Be consoled, be consoled MY NATION]. A single perfect letter is a pasul sefer Torah, for all its hiddur and beauty, is lacking in kedushas sefer Torah – only when the sefer as a whole is complete is that single letter also endowed with kedusha. And only to the extent that we view ourselves not as isolated individuals responsible only for our own religious fate, but as part of the greater nation of Am Yisrael, can we be receptive to the comfort of Nachamu.

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