There is a collective sigh of relief around the religious Jewish world. Today hair is being cut, beards are being shorn, music is being listened to – Tisha B Av is over. However, I hope the message that it was meant to convey has been internalised?
Unsure of the message? You can always watch Tears of a Nation!
In the same way that Devarim is always Shabbat Chazon, Vaetchannan is always Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of comfort – and what a parsha it is, it is there to truly comfort us.
It contains some of the most powerful ideas in Torah about Judaism and Torah.
It talks about the prohibition of intermarriage.
About the importance of educating our children.
And the primacy of matrilineal descent.
Of course, the highlights of the Parsha are the first paragraph of the Shema and the 10 commandments, but beyond that, on the whole, it is a statement on what it means to be a Jew whenever and wherever we find ourselves.
The Jewish world is on shaky ground at the moment. What is needed, more than ever is a clear statement of a vision, direction and connection to our lifeblood – the Torah, while recognising the reality of the State of Israel and the 21st century.
The Torah does not have to be changed or diluted to deal with these new realities, on the contrary, we can use the powerful ideals of the Torah to inspire and uplift Medinat Yisrael and the world in which we live.
For true Nechama and to understand our mission let us simply read the last six verses of the parsha.
Devarim 7:6. For you are a holy people to the Lord, your God: The Lord your God has chosen you to be His treasured people, out of all the peoples upon the face of the earth.
We should never be embarrassed by our Judaism, our traditions, our beliefs. We should be proud, this doesn’t mean we look down on anyone else, it just means we should realise our responsibilities and embrace them.
Devarim 7:7. Not because you are more numerous than any people did the Lord delight in you and choose you, for you are the least of all the peoples.
And despite our tiny numbers look at what we have achieved. As Mark Twain famously stated: ‘If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard; but he is heard of. Has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contribution to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his number. He has made a marvellous fight in the world, in all ages and has done it with his hands tied behind him.’
And that was before the incredible impact that the State of Israel is having. Israel today is a recognized world leader in many fields, including water and agricultural technology, high-tech, medical devices, cyber security and humanitarian aid!
Devarim 7:8. But because of the Lord’s love for you, and because He keeps the oath He swore to your forefathers, the Lord took you out with a strong hand and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.
We are loved, deeply loved and we have been for thousands of years. When we tell that story at seder and say ‘B’chol dor vador’ that in every generation they rose up to destroy us. We knew then, we know now, that whether Bablyonian, Greek, Roman all the way until today. ‘Hakodesh Barchu mazilenu miyadam’ Hashem saved us from their hands – that’s who we are, that’s the love Hashem has for our people. He even brought us back home.
Devarim 7:9. Know, therefore, that the Lord, your God He is God, the faithful God, Who keeps the covenant and loving kindness with those who love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations.
However, we must love Him as well and play our part. Connect, give tzedaka, perform acts of chesed, observe the mitzvoth, live the life of a Torah Jew. Know what Judaism is – and what it isn’t. Be thankful for our return to Israel after 2000 years :
Devarim 7:10.And He repays those who hate Him, to their face, to cause them to perish; He will not delay the one who hates Him, but he will repay him to his face.
Our enemies have paid throughout history, as Sir Thomas Newton, Bishop of Bristol said in the 18th century:
“The preservation of the Jews is really one of the most single and illustrious acts of Divine Providence. what, but a supernatural power, could have preserved them in such a manner as no other nation has been preserved. No less remarkable, is the destruction of their enemies. Let it serve as a warning to all those who at any time or occasion, are raising a clamour or persecution against them.”
Or as Twain concluded: ‘The Egyptian, the Babylonian and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendour, then faded to dream stuff and passed away. The Greek and Roman followed and made a vast noise, and they are gone. Other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burnt out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?’
Devarim 7:11. You shall therefore, observe the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances, which I command you this day to do.
It is not complex, it is not hard to understand why we are immortal – the Torah. It is that simple, we have lived for it, died for it – it is our life blood. It is our past, our present and our future.
We face internal challenges – we always have.
We face external challenges – we always have .
All we must do is remember what being Jewish is, it does not change with the times, we are an eternal nation with an eternal code.
This is our people, we have to believe in our mission and destiny.
Tisha B Av reminds us what happens when we forget our mission.
Shabbat Nachamu – Vaetchanan reminds us of that mission.
That is our awesome challenge on Shabbat Nachamu. If successful, it will bring true nechama to the Jewish people and the entire world.
Let us not fail in the challenge.