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Be Comforted, My People, Be Comforted

This Shabbat has a special name – Shabbat Nachamu – after the opening words of the Haftarah spoken by the prophet Isaiah, who comes to comfort the People after the Judeans were exiled to Babylon following the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. Perhaps Isaiah is addressing the City of Jerusalem herself, too, with his prophecies of consolation.

Last night we commemorated this darkest day of the Jewish calendar with our ECAMPS neighbours online. As members of Harlow Reform gave dramatic resonance to the traditional reading of Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, backdrops showing images of modern refugees amidst scenes of devastation and waste served as a reminder that war and exile continue to wreak misery on human lives in our own times.

Shabbat Nachamu is the first of the Seven Haftarot of Consolation, all selections from Isaiah, that announce Israel’s restoration and redemption, leading us directly to Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year; a time of renewal. Out tradition teaches that Mashiach, the Messiah, was born on Tisha b’Av, a clear expression of our trust as a People that out of destruction – both physical and spiritual – new life, new ways of being, can spring. This is a powerful message for today, as all of humanity grapples with the consequences of the Covid virus, whilst at the same time looking ahead to ‘rebuilding better’: reshaping a future for society and for our planet that is fairer and more sustainable.

This year, as we approach the new Jewish Year of 5781, the future lies shrouded in uncertainty to a greater degree than I can ever remember. None of us can know what the coming autumn will bring. But during the remaining weeks of Av that lie ahead, let us indeed be comforted, drawing strength from Isaiah’s prophecies of redemption, trusting that we, too, can draw on our People’s capacity for resilience and renewal.

Stay safe and Be Well.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Lisa