Monday, August 4, 2014

Shabbat Nachamu - Va-et'chanan

Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11

Rabbi Richard Hirsh for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

The summer cycle of scriptural readings revolves around two sets of text. The first is the weekly cycle of readings which progresses through the final book of the Torah, Deuteronomy. The second is the ten week cycle of haftarot, or supplementary readings, selected from the writings found in the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah, which orbit around the fast day of Tisha B'Av.

Tisha B'Av commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples, as well as other historical oppressions of the Jewish people which our tradition has connected with the ninth day of Av. For the three weeks prior to Tisha B'Av, the haftara readings deal with prophetic denunciation of the sins of the Jewish people, as first Jeremiah and then Isaiah condemn the transgressions of the Covenant. In particular, Jeremiah's prophecies of the imminent destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem predict with frightening accuracy the fate that in fact befell the Jewish people in 586 BCE.

This Shabbat, which comes immediately after Tisha B'Av, is known as Shabbat Nahamu, after the opening words of the haftara: "Nahamu, nahamu ami -- give comfort to My people". (Isaiah 40:1) There are seven Shabbatot, including this one, between Tisha B'Av and Rosh HaShana; each of them features a selection from Isaiah which speaks of the themes of forgiveness, reconciliation, and repentance.

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