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On the Sabbath of Comfort

Shabbat Nachamu – the Sabbath of Comfort – is the first Shabbat after Tisha B’Av, the blackest day of the Jewish calendar. On this Shabbat the haftarah (Isaiah 40.1-26) speaks of comforting and consoling the Jewish people for all that they have suffered. It is the first of seven Shabbats of consolation that lead us all the way through until Rosh Hashanah and the fresh start that the New Year can bring.

This chapter from Isaiah sees the prophet address a Jewish people in despair, exiled to Babylonian after the loss of their land of Israel. It highlights God’s power and promises that things will be ok again, and that the prophesy will be fulfilled and that they will be returned to Zion. One day tears of sorrow will turn to joy and divine punishment will give way to redemption. While things doubtless looked black with the destruction of the First Temple and the loss of Jerusalem, the text gave hope that eventually Israel would be restored.

We know that Jewish history has had its bleaker periods. We know it from the twentieth century and the Shoah, but also from ghettos and pogroms in so many different countries around the world in earlier centuries as well. We know that Judaism was forced to survive without a land for almost two thousand years. But we also know that we did survive, and that not only was the Promised Land restored but that Jewish Communities continue to grow and flourish in so many other countries around the world as well – in Australia, New Zealand and Asia included.

The past week has seen a disturbing development as a rabbi, Dov Haiyun, was arrested in Israel for conducting a non-Orthodox wedding. Much ink has been spilled already in horror at this outrageous development, which followed just a few hours after the Israeli government had passed the controversial Jewish Nation-State bill. I will not add to this now. However what is clear is that we have much work to do to advance the cause of religious pluralism, not just in our own countries, but in Israel as well. And though things may look bleak, we can take some consolation from our history in striving for a better future.

On a personal level, I have experienced how comfort can be found after tragedy. After my mother’s passing in terrible circumstances last year, I felt my life crumble around me. Yet this week I find myself awaiting my Chuppah in just a few days, on Tu B’Av (Jewish Valentine’s Day) here in the Carmel Forest, Israel. I am grateful to all those around me who have comforted and supported me through my mourning, and now accompany me in a time of great joy. And of course above all, I am thankful to my betrothed, Shelly, for this and so much more.

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