Drash on Parashat Vaetchanan
Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio
Woollahra, NSW, Australia
In last week’s Parashat Hashavuah Rabbi Morgan wrote so eloquently about the nature of Tisha B’Av, the commemoration of which we observed this week. He wrote: “the ultimate quality of Tisha B’Av (is) the sense of being isolated, abandoned, without another to lean on or to love, when hope is in danger of being lost and we feel utterly alone.” And this year, as I listened to the hauntingly beautiful and mournful chant of the book of Eicha, Lamentations, I was washed over with that sense of loneliness and abandonment about which Rabbi Morgan spoke. I imagined the Israelites being bound in prisons of blackness, unable to see or touch others around them, feeling completely isolated and alone, with none to help or save them. So too, the city of Jerusalem, encased in a tomb of darkness, the people collectively as a nation, cast aside, separated and left in their own pit of despair. The entire book of Eicha is awash with the darkness of separation, the sense that there is nobody to whom we can turn, not even our parents, as we read of mothers devouring their own children in an attempt to satiate their hunger.
And it is against this backdrop that we reach our readings for this Shabbat, Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of comfort, so named for the first words of the Haftarah: “nachamu, nachamu ami,” “take comfort, be consoled My people.” In the depths of our despair, in our darkest moments, God calls to us, God reaches for us and enfolds us once more in an embrace. God reminds us: “I am with you, you are not alone.” And we find in God’s presence a shelter, a haven and a shard of light breaking through the blackness of our aloneness. God reminds us that as alone as we may feel, as encased in a prison of isolation it may seem we are, God is there with us, a constant force, a presence, offering hope, love, an embrace.
Our Torah portion and Haftarah this week call upon us to reach out to God, to feel God walking beside us in our pain as well as our joy. To know that we are never alone because there is a well from which we can draw for strength and comfort, for shelter, for love. It is so hard when we look around the world and within our lives and we see and feel so much pain, so much suffering and so much loneliness. But our parasha this week reminds us that if we turn to God and feel that presence and energy with us and within us, we can find comfort and solace, a balm for our wounds. God says “I am here, I am walking beside you, know that you are never alone.” In our parasha we are reminded of the God who spoke to us from the thunder and the lightening, the voice from the mountains, but we must also remember that God is also found in the stillness, in the voice within, the place where we find the courage to continue despite the darkness, where we can reach out our hand in trust and faith to be embraced by a force of love, where we gather the strength to go on, to hope, to dream and see a vision of a better tomorrow.