Shabbat Message: Moving Toward Elul

Posted on August 14, 2020 by Cantor Risa Wallach

At this time of summer, the days begin to approach the month of Elul, a month of reflection and looking inward, leading into the High Holy days. We are also in the midst of the seven weeks of comfort following Tisha B’Av, when the Haftarah each week is selected from the book of Isaiah, and carries a theme of comfort following the sorrow and despair of Tisha B’av. This Shabbat’s parashah is Re’eh, accompanied by a Haftarah containing these words of comfort:

Unhappy, storm-tossed one, uncomforted!
I will lay carbuncles as your building stones
And make your foundations of sapphires.

I will make your battlements of rubies,
Your gates of precious stones,
The whole encircling wall of gems.

And all your children shall be disciples of the Lord,
And great shall be the happiness of your children;

You shall be established through righteousness.
You shall be safe from oppression,
And shall have no fear;
From ruin, and it shall not come near you.
(Isaiah 54:11-14)

Words of comfort are welcome to us in these times of pandemic, of a vision of a future that shifts seemingly from moment to moment. Knowing that there is an eternal presence that is unwavering, and stands as a benevolent backdrop to the universe and its vicissitudes, can indeed provide some sense of comfort.

If we look to our Torah portion, we find a description of the obligation of observing the shmita year, allowing the land to rest every seven years, and for debts to be forgiven.

שֶֽׁבַע־שָׁנִ֖ים תַּעֲשֶׂ֥ה שְׁמִטָּֽה׃

Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts.

Interestingly, we find the number seven throughout our Torah, a symbol of wholeness or completeness, as in the seven days of creation. We are specifically instructed to care for those who are caught in poverty, and not to forget their needs, even in a year when your crops are withheld, because of having observed the shmita year. We are still obligated to give of our excess wealth even at that time.

Our Divine creator and life-giver offers comfort and the hope for some sense of a better future. Our unknowable all-knowing One also asks of us that we take responsibility for those in our midst who are hurting. They must not be left behind or forgotten, and the covenant that holds us to this obligation reminds us that righteousness will be rewarded. Just action is not an accessory to our religious life and our Jewish identity, it is essential to who we are.

Jay Lavroff I look forward to celebrating Shabbat with you this week as we pause from our busy week to reflect, sing, and reconnect.

Shabbat shalom!

Cantor Risa Wallach