“Zion says…haShem has forsaken me
haShem has forgotten me”
the curious thing about the first haftarah of comfort (consolation), called ‘nachamu’ (after the meaning of the repeated first word, ie, “comfort my people, comfort them, says your G’d”) is that after the first verse it is anything but comforting. it goes on to say that the People is but as grass blown about and withered by the wind and the sun….in the face of G’d’s displeasure, the withered blades of grass are carried away as stubble. the first haftarah is comforting ONLY in that it asserts strongly that G’d is, in fact, in charge–in spite of all appearances to the contrary.
small comfort when one is feeling freshly dead in the destruction of the Temple…when one has died at tisha b’av with the departure of the Shechina from out of Israel’s midst….forsaken, forgotten, with no Presence to which to turn…
sometimes i feel like a motherless child…a long ways from home
but in the second week, Isaiah (49:14-51:3) answers with G’d’s pointed reply…
“can a woman forget her baby…..
or not feel compassion for the child of her womb?”
well, you mothers out there? in spite of the sometimes mindnumbing, backbreaking routines of parenting, can you not still feel compassion for the child of your womb? is that not about as good a surety—in the face of all the effort, the exasperation, the worry, the discipline, the sometime rejection and insolence of adolescent children, the fear of being ignored as you age—as great a certainty as any love we know on earth? is there any better certainty then a mother’s love? even among the most secular, the “miracle of birth” is treasured, and is nearly never relinquished. severing the umbilicus severs only the physical.
but we are in a series of 7 haftarot of comforting us, comforting those who mourn loss of Shechina in the Temple. we are not yet comforted…..
the grief of a mourner has 3 prominent steps at internment: 1) the e’l-mole rachamim corresponds to acknowledgment of death and the request for protection of the deceased, 2) the tziduk hadin corresponds to the accepting of truth in G’d’s judgment (verses proclaim G’d’s greatness and the “wisplike” existence of humankind, and 3) the graveside kaddish corresponds to turning of acceptance of death into the “magnification” that comes with comprehension of the greater good in the power of G’d. this structure of the internment service corresponds to instruction from Talmud (Mo’ed Katan 27b): “3 days for weeping, in 7 for lamenting, and 30 [to not] cut the hair and [wear] pressed clothing.”
from tisha b’av to the 1st shabbat is step 1 (reflected in haftarah 1 of comfort); from that to the 2nd shabbat is the acceptance of the judgment and of the truth of G’d’s promise (reflected in haftarah 2 of comfort); from that to the 3rd shabbat, and rosh chodesh elul, is the beginning of kaddish, the eye toward the future promise through t’shuvah (repentance), leading through the remaining 4 of the 7 weeks to the Birthday of the World, the day of the greatness of haShem, Rosh Hashanah.
so the 2nd shabbat of comfort begins with the cry of the forsaken, but then pivots through the realization that the Promise to the People is as rock solid as the love of a mother for her child. and at the very end of the haftarah, there is mention of Avraham and Sarah, the first parents of the People Israel, to whom was given the promise not to be fulfilled in their own day, but in days to come–even after dark days of exile from the Land and slavery.
“look to Avraham your forefather and Sarah who birthed you”
and the haftarah closes with the assurance that haShem will comfort, comforting even the very ruins, the persistence of memories of the destruction, the evil, the despondency. we are all of us spiritual ruins to one degree or another after another year of selling our spirits short, yes? our failures to live up to our best hopes, our strongest intentions, our responsibilities to each other and to G’d pile up into ruined heaps about this time of year. but right here. at THIS point in time the promise is that G’d will comfort our ruins, making Eden of our wastelands, we have the Promise of the other side of t’shuvah. for on the other side of the Days of Awe, we are promised, if we do the work:
“joy and gladness will be found there, thanksgiving, and the sound of music”
this as we enter the third week, so start to look to the mountain of G’d in Jerusalem, and know that you will hear what you’ve heard before…your heart will be blessed with the sound of music, and you’ll sing once more.
PS-don’t forget, richard rodgers real family name was abrahams………now there’s the Promise in exile, eh?)