Yesterday, we marked Tisha B’Av, a day of fasting and mourning in the Jewish calendar. On this sad day, we remember the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem, as well as other calamities that have befallen the Jewish people.
One of the very first nights of my very first summer at Jewish sleepaway camp fell on Tisha B’Av. I, having never before heard of the holiday, felt the acute sadness of the day as we sat on the ground of the gym with the lights off, using flashlights to illuminate our Bibles as we chanted from the graphically violent Book of Lamentations. In a letter home, I remember writing: “I hope camp gets more fun.”
But the first Shabbat after Tisha B’Av is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort (and by then, camp indeed became more fun). On this Shabbat, we read from the Book of Isaiah (40:1-2), which states:
Comfort, oh comfort My people,
Says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
And declare to her
That her term of service is over,
That her iniquity is expiated;
For she has received at the hand of God
Double for all her sins.
From Shabbat Nachamu onward, we are led out of the period of sadness and mourning, into a period of redemption, forgiveness, and grace. This period of comfort culminates in the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, where we have the opportunity to reflect on our past mistakes and begin anew.
It is fitting to conclude our exploration of life cycle rituals as we enter Shabbat Nachamu. Rituals around concluding a period of study, recovering from illness, welcoming a new baby, converting to Judaism, coming of age, getting married, and mourning the loss of a loved one all have one thing in common: they are designed to bring us comfort.
Many life cycle moments are joyful, some are painful. But all involve immense and intense change. Our rituals are designed to hold and guide us through those changes, to comfort us, and to support us as we face new realities.
Speaking of the Jewish calendar, the D’var Torah will be on a brief hiatus for the month of August as we prepare for a meaningful and uplifting High Holy Day season at JCP. Be sure to join or renew your membership in order to receive your complimentary tickets!
May this Shabbat, and all the moments along your own life cycle journey, be filled with the comfort provided by ritual and community.