“Comfort, oh comfort My people, Says your God.”
Back in the spring, when our country was realizing the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers reported an interesting shift in buying patterns. Pajama sales in the months of March and April skyrocketed and retailers saw a 143% increase in purchases of pajamas and other comfortable clothes. If we could not leave the house and were working from home, why not be comfortable? In an increasingly stressful time, filled with ever changing information and too many unknowns, we instinctually turn to things that provide comfort. For some that was pajamas. Others connected with their faith communities, joining services via Zoom and participating in regular check ins and learning opportunities. Faith leaders saw an increase in the number of congregants attending services – some in their pajamas – but participating in worship, nonetheless.
This week’s Torah portion and haftarah (additional reading from the Prophets) demonstrates the necessity of comfort at difficult times. Tisha B’Av begins at sundown on July 29 and ends after sundown on Thursday July 30. It is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar commemorating the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and exile from the land, as well as other tragic events throughout Jewish history. The Shabbat following Tisha B’Av is known as Shabbat Nachamu, Shabbat of Comfort. The Torah reading includes, among other pieces, a reiteration of the Ten Commandments, the Shema and the paragraph that follows it known as the V’ahavta, statements that serve as the cornerstone of Jewish belief. These texts are familiar and reassuring – words that Jews across the religious spectrum know and say. The haftarah completes the theme, explicitly offering comfort to the people, acknowledging their trauma and providing a glimpse of hope.
This Tisha B’Av and Shabbat Nachamu is unlike any other in our collective memory. The feeling of exile and separation from what our ancestors at the time of the Temple considered normal is a reality for so many today. We are not gathering for worship, work, and school. Our centers do not exist as we knew them. We are forced to create a new way of living and wonder how long will last. Yet we are reminded in Isaiah’s words, there is hope and there is comfort. Nothing will ever be the same and our world will be changed, but from that change will grow something completely new and we can take comfort in that. This comfort sustains us as we navigate the new terrain and our communities evolve to meet the current social, emotional, and spiritual needs.
May this Tisha B’Av be a meaningful one, allowing space for grief and growth, and may this Shabbat be one of peace and comfort.