Sunday, August 06, 2006

355. Comforted

I hadn't been to Shabbat evening services for a few weeks (travel, a meeting of my havurah, a bad choice of lunch venue resulting in annoying and unpleasant indisposition), my longest absence in quite awhile. Maybe I was just hungry for the experience, but from the very first prayer exhaled this Friday night I felt like each one of us, from the people swaying and jumping up and down by the door to those hiding in the last row of the balcony, were engaged in a collective sigh of relief. Tisha beAv and its three preliminary weeks of mourning--not at all symbolic this year--had ended. It was Shabbat Nahamu, the Shabbat of Comfort, start of the hopeful seven weeks leading up to the High Holy Days. And the change of emotion in our music, in our rabbis' words, in the drumming and clapping that bore our song far beyond the sanctuary, was as obvious as a rope we could grab to pull us up from our seats.

But even with all this energy in the air, we refrained from dancing after Lekha Dodi. Perhaps it was an expression of sadness over the war, or because the rabbi had more to say than usual. Moshe, she explained, pleaded with God--Va'ethanan, first word of this week's parasha--to see the promised land. But Moshe already knew he wouldn't; why, then, did he persist in asking? Because he wanted to teach the people of Israel a lesson: don't give up. Keep trying to achieve what you believe is right. Maybe all our prayers won't be answered, but that's no excuse to stop praying.

She continued the thought in her d'var Torah on Shabbat morning. We read this week that God commands us to do "what is right and good" (Deut. 6:18). But God just gave us a whole list of rules--the Ten Commandments, with many more to follow--so what does this postscript really mean?

Coincidentally, I had just wondered the same thing about these same words in the haftarah for Tisha beAv. My naive conclusion: God trusts us to get it right. That's only part of the answer, suggested the rabbi. God added the reminder so that we would go beyond the letter of the law, lifnim m'shurat hadin--we must live the compassion for which this Shabbat, this new beginning after weeks of pain and despair, was named. Wrote the Ramban:

This is a very important principle since it is impossible to record every detail of human behavior in the Torah: embracing the relationship with one's neighbors and friends, business affairs, national and local welfare.

If doing right means compromise--or changing old rules that no longer make sense--we must do so. And with each act of rightness and goodness we're that much closer to a new beginning, a new Torah, and the hope of comfort for those who need healing--for all of us.

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