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Shabbat Nachamu 5780

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

We commemorated a meaningful Zoom Tisha B'av this past Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Now we have arrived at the first Shabbat after Tisha B'av. This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of Comfort. The world could sure use great measures of comfort these days!!

For 3 weeks before Tisha B'av, the declarations of the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah have supplied us with the 3 Haftorot of Admonition. Jeremiah warned of the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem. The prophets railed against Israel for their sins, especially adopting idolatry and straying from Torah. On Tisha B'av, we read the book of Lamentations, traditionally ascribed to Jeremiah who mourned witnessing the destruction of Jerusalem and its aftermath. Even though the devastation was comprehensive, Jeremiah prophesied that God would never totally abandon Israel. A "Shearit Yisrael", a remnant of Israel would always remain and God would favor Israel in the future.

There are 7 Shabbatot following Tisha B'av leading us up to the High Holidays. This first one is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort. Isaiah 40 counsels, "Nachamu nachamu ami - Be comforted, be comforted My people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem for her iniquity has been forgiven!" Each successive week will provide us with a Shabbat message of comfort designed to distance us from the sorrow of Tisha B'av to elevate us to the spiritual heights of the upcoming High Holiday season.

Parshat HaShavuah, the Torah portion this week is Va'etchanan, from Sefer Devarim, the Book of Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11. "Va'etchanan" means "I pleaded with the Lord for a favor". God told Moshe that he would not enter the land of Canaan with Bnai Yisrael; Joshua would become their leader and take them in. Moshe repeatedly asks God to reconsider and to allow him to enter the land that he has dedicated his life's work to seeing and establishing as a homeland for the Jewish people. Once again, Moshe asks to cross into the Promised Land, and once again God denies Moshe's request. Moshe will spend his remaining time imploring the people to listen to God and to obey the Torah. At the end of the book he will ascend Mt. Nebo in present day Jordan, view Canaan from afar, then die at the blessed age of 120.

Va'etchanan contains 2 of the most familiar passages in all of Torah. The second appearance of the Aseret HaDibrot, the 10 Commandments is found in Deuteronomy 5. Shema and Vi'ahavta is in chapter 6.

The Torah, especially Deuteronomy is all about "brit - covenant". Agreements between God and us.

There are 3 covenants between divinity and humanity found in the Torah. The first is between God and Noah in Genesis 9. The second is between God and Abraham in Genesis 17. The third is between God and the Israelites as Exodus 20 testifies occurred at Mt. Sinai.

The 3 covenants are quite different in nature. God gave Noah a few rules to follow, known as the 7 Noachide laws. They are rather basic and fundamental to creating a working society. The covenant with Abraham was about circumcision, a ritual that not only Abraham but every Jewish male that was born would be asked to enter into. God asks Abraham to adopt circumcision throughout the generations and in return God promises to make Abraham the father of a great nation whose children will be as numerous as the stars in heaven and as multitudinous as the sands by the sea. The third was a covenant between God and the Jewish people. The Jews would follow the Torah and God would protect them as His chosen people. In Exodus 19:8, the people gathered at Mt. Sinai said, "Whatever the Lord commands we will do." Later in our history, the Declaration of Independence would call this "the consent of the governed".

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes that the covenant between God and Israel that was established at Mt. Sinai some 3300 years ago and continues through this day introduced new ideas into the relationships between people. Before that, most political structures contained rulers and the ruled, the powerful and the dominated. People were subject to the will of the leader, not to an established agreement that had to be upheld by both parties. Politics in many societies was and is about power - those who have it rule the rest. Thucydides, the ancient Greek general and historian from the 5th century BCE wrote,

The strong do what they wish and the weak suffer what they must.

The concept of covenant found in Jewish life greatly influenced the modern world, especially America. There are 3 elements to it that I will now outline. The Torah is certainly calling to us this Shabbat as America faces a myriad of serious health, political, justice and liberty issues. We would do well as American Jews to hearken to its cry and its values.

Covenantal politics speaks to collective responsibility. Deuteronomy 29 insists that all members of the people, from the greatest leaders to the humblest woodcutter, including women and children too, are a part of this structure. It is what the preamble to the American Constitution means when it begins, "We the People". As top federal leaders are trying to say that they are exempt from the same rules everyone else is subject to, Americans who understand what we are all about insist that no one is above the law in our democracy!

Covenantal politics demands the value of the dignity of all its citizens. President Lincoln in his renowned Gettysburg Address claimed that we must found a "new nation, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal". We are again living during days of unrest, as the country is vocally demanding that "black lives matter" and "all lives matter" in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and countless others who were persecuted because of their race, religion and sexual orientation. Yasher Koach to all who speak to this great value and to all who have spoken out, marched and peacefully congregated demanding that America become a more perfect nation. This week we remember the life of Congressman John Lewis who dedicated his life to seeking equal rights for blacks and all others. President Obama eulogized him by calling him one of America's "founding fathers". May his legacy inspire us all to better our country. May he rest in peace!

Finally, covenantal politics is moral politics, a system in which we must answer to the cry of justice. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., greatly inspired by the Jewish story of being liberated from the tyranny of ancient Egypt, included the Biblical words of the prophet Amos in his daring speech at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963...

We are not satisfied and will not be satisfied until 'justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream!

Americans have taken to the streets in Portland and all cities demanding justice for those who have been traditionally targeted and punished as being "lesser citizens". The federal government has sent secretive troops out to illegally squash their voices. We must fight back based on our rights as Americans and our dreams for what we want America to be!! To fail to do so would be to threaten our democracy and to allow fascism to further take root in these unprecedented times! Let us remember that "freedom is not free" and as President Obama just reminded us, "Democracy needs work and tending to preserve it".

These Torah values and insights speak poignantly to us this week as loyal American Jews who have significantly benefited from the vision and freedoms of America. We must remember that until all enjoy equal liberty, justice and freedom, none can enjoy it nor call themselves truly safe! Let us renew our dedication to what the best of Judaism and America demands that we do - further and defend societies that will promote the aforementioned values of collective responsibility, the dignity of all citizens and the establishment of justice, freedom and liberty for all! We are living during times when dark clouds threaten our way of life! It is incumbent upon all of us to answer the call and feel responsible to contribute what we can to defend our beloved country lest nefarious forces are allowed to continue to rip the moral fabric of our nation asunder. If we do not rise up to the call, we will have no one else to blame if America loses its celebrated glorious and precious identity. The eyes of the world are upon us, watching what we do and how we handle the upcoming elections. As devoted American Jews, may we do all we can to promote and defend a society and the world of our visions. We cannot afford to sit idly on the sidelines, hoping for the best. Let us all feel empowered to be a part of the solution of making America and the world a "more perfect place for all!"

I humbly dedicate this Torah lesson to the memory and celebrated life of Robbie Cohen - may he rest in peace!!

Thu, August 6 2020 16 Av 5780