Arise and Be Radiant, For Your Light Has Come by Eve Levy
You won’t see too many people posting on social media about which universities their kids got rejected from. You see the good news more often – the acceptance letters, the joyous posts filled with gratitude. And, why not? No one likes to talk about the disappointments.
There is a popular Hebrew expression that people say after a difficult conversation: Shenishma b’sorot tovot (May we hear good news).
But, real life is not always peaches and cream. Life comes with its ups and downs, its highs and lows, the joyful times and the periods of mourning.
We have just completed a sad and heavy 3-week period in the Jewish calendar. During these three weeks, we diminished, our joy and took on behaviors of mourning over the destruction of our holy Temples in Jerusalem. This period culminated with the fast of Tisha B'Av (the ninth day of the month Av). Throughout history, many atrocities have befallen the Jewish people during this time of year, so we are only too glad to move forward to better times.
That's why it is so uplifting to arrive at the Shabbat immediately following Tisha B’Av, Shabbat Nachamu (the Shabbat of comfort, of consolation). Each year, when I reach this special week, I breathe a huge sigh of relief.
This is the Shabbat of joy over our anticipated redemption. In fact, during the afternoon of the fast day, we already began to relax the customs of mourning and start moving toward consolation. The fast itself signifies that we have been brought closer to G-d, that we feel confident of the imminent arrival of the Mashiach (the Messiah).
In fact, in the book entitled “Rite and Reason” by Shmuel Gelbard, I read about a custom that is followed by some Sefardic wormen to wash their hair in the afternoon of the fast day of Tisha B’Av, as well as – get this! – paint their homes that afternoon. This custom is to show their confidence that the redemption is imminent. When I heard this, I thought, “Wow! How beautiful! After fasting for 24 hours, I barely have enough strength to get off the couch." But, for sure, my heart is with those women. And, isn’t is always the women who display such amazing faith?!
The Haftorah of this Shabbat begins with the words of the Prophet Isaiah (40:1), “Nachamu, Nachamu ami … (Be consoled, be consoled my people, says Hashem your G-d).” Isaiah describes a vision of consolation, but not only does he send us consolation, he sends us double. We the Jewish Nation are so broken, both physically and spiritually. We truly need a pick-me-up after these three weeks of sadness.
The next seven Shabbatot leading up to Rosh Hashanah are called the shiva denechemta (seven weeks of consolation). (Yes, you read that right; less than seven weeks away from Rosh Hashanah, my friends, so bring on the apples and honey and start menu planning!). The Haftorah selections we will read are of consolation and hope, foretelling the prophetic messages of better times to come.
- “I will never forget you…“ (Isaiah 49:15; Haftorah of Parshat Eikev)
- “It is I (G-d) who comforts you, you have nothing to fear…” (Isaiah 51:12; Haftorah of Parshat Shoftim)
- “Sing out and rejoice…” (Isaiah 54:1; Haftorah of Parshat Ki Teitzei)
- “Arise and be radiant, for your light has come…” (Isaiah 60:1; Haftorah of Parshat Ki Tavo)
We need to cling to these prophecies and believe in these messages of hope. There will be better times. Arise, get up.
A few years ago, my sister gave birth exactly a week before Tisha B’Av. The Jewish community came together to celebrate the bris of this Jewish child on Tisha B’Av. My sister told me, “It was so strange that on the saddest day of the year everyone was wishing me Mazel Tov and we were celebrating! But … one day, Tisha B’Av will be a huge festival (when the Mashiach is here) and I felt that this was just a taste of what is to come.”
Three years later, that same sister gave birth to twin boys on Tisha B’Av itself. These beautiful babies are named Binyamin and Yehuda because those are the two tribes that share the portion of the land of Israel, where the holy Temple stood and will one day be rebuilt. The bris took place on Shabbat Nachamu, and all who attended that simcha did indeed feel a very deep and unique nechama (comfort). The message was clear: Out of the depths of despair come the seeds for redemption. Our sages have told us that the eventual Mashiach is born on Tisha B’Av.
Judaism follows a cycle. Jewish life follows a cycle. The Jewish holidays also follow a cycle. We mourn and then we get up. It is important to cry, to allow ourselves to feel pain and be in the moment. It's OK to feel pain because through pain we connect to our true selves and gain the strength to do what is needed to merit the redemption.
Yet, after mourning, we get up with renewed vigor and excitement, and we start anew. Anyone who has, unfortunately, sat Shiva after losing a loved one can tell you how therapeutic it is to be immersed in the mourning period. For seven days, mourners sit on low chairs, are comforted by friends and family, are given private space to cry and discuss memories of the beloved deceased. Mourners are permited to feel all that they feel and to be in the moment. After that period, the mourners can get up and move forward in a healthy and productive way.
When Tisha B’Av is over, we enter into a period of seven weeks of consolation that lead up to the High Holidays. My rabbi, Rav Yitzchak Berkowitz of Jerusalem, taught me that you gain a certain closeness to Hashem through mourning. The 3-week period of emotional toil and yearning for connection gives us the energy to now charge toward and into the month of Elul, the month that leads us to Rosh Hashanah. This period of contemplation is almost like a prerequisite for a successful High Holiday period.
So, let’s talk about both the good and the not-so-good times. Let’s reconcile ourselves to the inevitable cycle of Jewish life, with all it entails. This Shabbat, let us feel the comfort G-d is extending to us. Let us allow ourselves to be wrapped with it like an embrace from G-d. Let us stay with it and be present in that loving embrace for these seven weeks of comfort.
Once we have allowed ourselves to be comforted through our connection with G-d, then, and only then, will we have created a stronger bond with Him. Only then can we go into Rosh Hashanah ready to receive a truly happy and sweet new year.
Good times are coming, my friends, better times for the Jewish people. I am looking forward!
Eve Levy is a JWRP City Leader from Portland, Oregon.