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Parshat Va’etchanan – Nachamu, Nachamu


Deuteronomy: 3:23-7:11 from 23 June till 29 June

The upcoming Parshat is Parshat Ve’etchanan and this Shabbat is also called Shabbat Nachamu, it is the beginning of the 7 weeks leading to Rosh Hashana.

The Book of Deuteronomy is in effect a restatement of the first 4 books of the Torah. This Parsha is attached to the second book of the Torah, Shemot – Exodus. The book that talks about the exodus from Egypt and the receiving of the Torah. It is also the book that tells us about the great sorrow of doing the sin of the golden calf. Where things went so dreadfully wrong in history – from our perspective.

The sin of the golden calf, the breaking of the first set of Stone Tablets containing the 10 commandments, links us to the events of the week before Va’etchanan, the destruction of the Temple – Tisha be-aw. It would lead to the 4th exile of the Jewish people, by the hands of the Romans, under the nations. The earlier exiles were those under Babylon, Persians, and the Greeks. The exile under the Romans was to be the longest and the darkest. It is the prophet Jeremiah 4:23 who describes how the time of exile is described:

רָאִ֙יתִי֙ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ וְהִנֵּה־תֹ֖הוּ וָבֹ֑הוּ וְאֶל־הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ין אוֹרָֽם׃

“I saw the land, and behold, it was void and empty, the heavens and their light was gone.” (Artscroll)

The hebrew word הָאָ֔רֶץ translated here as “the land” can also be translated as “the earth”, and the words וְהִנֵּה-תֹ֖הוּ tahu we’bahu in the verse take us back to Genesis 1:2

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹקים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃

“the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from G-d sweeping over the water—

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֱלֹקים יְהִ֣י א֑וֹר וַֽיְהִי־אֽוֹר׃

G-d said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”

Chazal says that תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ תְה֑וֹם  stands for Israel’s four exiles respectively.

How comforting are the words that follow: וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם Above all that turbulent water, symbolic of the nation’s seeking to drown Israel, hovers protectively G-d’s Spirit. When the time is darkest, salvation is at hand and so the Sages are telling us that the Moshiach was born on the Ninth Av. They are telling us that our generation’s task is to squeeze four thousand years of longing and striving through the narrow straight of galut and blow our world into a higher orbit – into the state of divine goodness and perfection promised by the prophets of Israel.[1]

Genesis 1:3

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֱלֹקים יְהִ֣י א֑וֹר וַֽיְהִי־אֽוֹר׃

G-d said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”

G-d created the darkness and G-d created the light.  

וַֽיְהִי-עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי-בֹ֖קֶר

“And there was evening and there was morning”

First comes exile – in which growth and development come to its fullest potential- and then comes Redemption, accompanied by light. The light of understanding is that in the darkness the very hidden light was present. That precisely where the darkness is the thickest, G-d’s protective presence is the most present. G-d is everywhere.

Psalm 139:8

אִם־אֶסַּ֣ק שָׁ֭מַיִם שָׁ֣ם אָ֑תָּה וְאַצִּ֖יעָה שְּׁא֣וֹל הִנֶּֽךָּ׃

If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
if I descend to Sheol, You are there too.

Even when we cry out to Him from the depths, He will answer and save.

Psalm 91:15

יִקְרָאֵ֨נִי ׀ וְֽאֶעֱנֵ֗הוּ עִמּֽוֹ־אָנֹכִ֥י בְצָרָ֑ה אֲ֝חַלְּצֵ֗הוּ וַאֲכַבְּדֵֽהוּ׃

When he calls on Me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in distress;
I will rescue him and make him honored;

 Psalm 49:16

אַךְ־אֱלֹקים יִפְדֶּ֣ה נַ֭פְשִׁי מִֽיַּד־שְׁא֑וֹל כִּ֖י יִקָּחֵ֣נִי סֶֽלָה׃

“But G-d will redeem my life from the clutches of Sheol,
for He will take me. Selah.”

It is in this most dark of times that Isaiah 40:1 says:

נַחֲמ֥וּ נַחֲמ֖וּ עַמִּ֑י יֹאמַ֖ר אֱלֹֽקיכֶֽם׃

Comfort, oh comfort My people, Says your G-d.

Tisha B’Av, is the deepest point in Jewish history. And not only for the Jewish people but also for the world. For if the Romans had known what they destroyed was also for their blessings, they would never have destroyed the Temple[2]. But it is the turning point, the pivotal point in time.

From this point it is not a waning moon but waxing moon. Suffering until the fully illuminated moon of Rosh Hashana. The time when judgement is passed on both Jews and non-Jews. The verdict on what the coming year will look like in terms of health, income, life and death.

A person is only willing to work on himself if he knows it is useful. After all, if it all no longer matters what you do anyway, if there is no more hope and salvation, then there is no motivation to improve yourself. This is why it says Nachamu twice. The first is the comfort that you can overcome Evil Inclination by choosing the good and working on it. By overcoming the voice that says, “you can’t change anyway”. The other is the voice of the Evil inclination saying, “you don’t have to change because it doesn’t change your situation”.  Cannot pray to G-d because he thinks that in his sinful state he will not be heard by G-d anyway. Can’t pray because G-d won’t help him anyway. That voice can be much harder to overcome, the worst thing that can happen to a person is when they can no longer pray. When he has forgotten how important he is to G-d, when he has forgotten his mission in life.

When we realize how important we are to G-d and that we want to change in order to best perform our life task we start thinking about how we want to bring about that change.

We know the idea of a preparation time of the Omer census during which we actively work on improving our properties. How do we improve kindness, humility, etc.? During these seven weeks, some people have the custom of reading extra Pirkei Avot and learning from them. A wonderful practice.

Coming out of the darkness of Christianity myself, I realize how important I am to G-d, He has given me the chance and opportunities to leave that darkness and come into the light of His Torah given by His people. This realization makes me grateful. I know what my mission in life is and I know that this is why I want to improve myself every day and learn more and more every day. I want to use these next seven weeks to read and learn Pirkei Avot.

That we may all come to this realization, that we change makes sense because He is forgiving and can deliver us from the deepest places of creation and that we can improve our attributes because He will surely help us where we make a start.

May we all come to this realisation, that wanting to change makes sense because He is forgiving and can free us from the deepest places of creation and that we can improve our traits because He will surely help us when we start. As written in Shir HaShirim Rabbah 5:3:

“HaKadosh Baruch Hu has said – Give me only a small opening, as small as the point of a needle and I will open for you an opening as wide as a palace gat.”

By Angelique Sijbolts


[1] Chabad Article: Squeezed
[2] Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 1:3 and 21:24. It uses the term “the 70 nations” – i.e. all of the Gentile nations, which includes the Romans.
נתיבות שלום 

See also the following blogs:

What Is Tisha b’ Av?

Tu B’Av – The 15 of the Month of Av

Why Did the Righteous Job Have to Suffer

With thanks to B. Yaniger for the inspiration

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