Finding Comfort in an Uncomfortable World

August 2015


Comfort, comfort, my people, says Adonai.


Stirring words from the prophet Isaiah begin our communal ascent up from Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat right after Tisha b’Av to Rosh Hashanah.  There are seven of these haftarot, readings from Isaiah, that the sages chose for us to read in this period of drawing closer to God.


Preceding these seven weeks were three weeks of haftarot of rebuke, words from Jeremiah and elsewhere in Isaiah that were pungent in the radical separation between the people and God.


Of the seven of comfort, we have four haftarot of comfort left to read as we begin Elul today.  Four weeks to continue the process of preparing ourselves for the Days of Awesomeness that are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.


Reflecting on this powerful liturgical rubric, of brokenness and wholeness, of rejection and embrace, one can easily transform the experience from the time of the ancient prophets to today where all of us are faced with a world that gives us similar experiences.


For as long as there are humans, there are experiences of great love, comfort, and gratitude, and experiences of hurt, rejection, and deep sadness.


Our being Jews gives us a vocabulary for expressing this.  


When we are part of a wonderful celebration--such as a wedding, a bat mitzvah, an anniversary--we sing, we dance, we smile.  Our joy is matched by, we hope, the people celebrating.  We sing “siman tov u’mazel tov yihye lanu” “good signs and good fortune: may they also be for us!”  It is our way of expressing joy and putting words out into the world that just as someone else is experiencing joy, so, too, should we benefit from it.


Similarly, we have a vocabulary for times of sorrow and suffering. For example when we are to comfort a mourner at a shiva home, we are to enter and let our physical presence be comfort enough without finding the “right” words to say.  For hospital visits, we go, and we sit at the same level as the patient, staying only as long as feels appropriate for the patient.  It’s not the length of stay, it’s our ability to show that we care, to be with the person on the same level, physically and verbally, and alleviate the patient’s loneliness.  


This past week vividly put into place both parts of our Jewish vocabulary.  On Sunday there was a joyous wedding of a man and his now wife, with dancing, rejoicing, feasting.  A true celebration.


The next morning, a well-respected Jewish educator lost her life when a tractor-trailer plunged into her vehicle as she was waiting to enter her place of work.  She left behind her husband and three young children.  


A wedding, a funeral, and now Shabbat.


Shabbat is the other piece of our vocabulary of comfort.  


There are some times when we feel like running out the door and actively embracing Shabbat, throwing our arms around Shabbat and bringing her hand.


Other times, Shabbat is a big, fluffy cumulus cloud where we just need to fall back and let the cloud catch us.


No matter how you are experiencing Shabbat tonight, remember that Judaism gives you a full vocabulary of being where you are, right now, for joy, for sorrow, and all of the emotional states in between.


Nachamu, nachamu ami:  Comfort, comfort my people, says Adonai.

© 2017- 2019

Rabbi David Novak