Drash on Parashat Va'etchanan
Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky
Beit Shalom Synagogue, Adelaide, South Australia
Embraced by Hope
We Jews take multiple journeys through time each year. For three months in a row in what is the Australian summer and Israeli winter and spring, we mark the full moon: Tu B’Shvat, Purim and then finally Pesach. At Pesach, we begin a 50 day countdown to Shavuot and the gift of the Torah. And many appreciate that the countdown to Yom Kippur does not really begin on Rosh Hashanah but rather a full month before that with the start of the month of Elul.
Or does it? In truth, the countdown to the season of repentance can be seen to start a full seven weeks before Rosh Hashanah. It begins with this Shabbat, which is known as Shabbat Nachamu. The previous week, we have marked the lowest day of the year: Tisha B’Av, when we call to mind the many disasters that have befallen the Jewish people—most of all, the destruction of the ancient Temple at the hand of the Babylonians. Tisha B’Av is a day of such hopelessness that tradition tells us that God does not hear our prayers on this day. From here, there is nowhere to go but up!
On the following Shabbat, we begin our slow ascent into the light with the reading of the first of a series of seven beautiful haftarah portions. All are taken from the second half of the book of Isaiah, a lyrical collection of poetry written by an unknown author at the time of the Bablylonian exile. The start of this week’s haftarah portion draws us in with the first words: “Be comforted, be comforted My people!” Each of the seven haftarah portions is full of words of reassurance to a people traumatised by the recent destruction of the Temple and the loss of their precious land. In those weeks, the Torah portions lead us through the farewell speeches of Moses in Deuteronomy as he exorts the people to heed God’s mitzvot and remain faithful. We may feel called to account by his stern warnings, but then the haftarah portion wraps us in a soft, warm blanket of hope.
It can be difficult on the sombre day of Tisha B’Av to remember that Rosh Hashanah is less than two months away. The same is true for each of us when we encounter difficulties and sorrow in our lives. We may feel that we will never again escape from the darkness. But hopefully, we will emerge back into the light in our own time. The promise of the High Holy Days, when each of us encounter the possibility of remaking our lives, is not that far away.