Gary Sokolow's Commentary for V'etchanan and Nachamu

Gary's Commentary
Saturday - July 24, 1999


Deuteronomy 6:4

Some of you realize that my Torah lesson contains parts of the best known prayers of Judaism, the Shema and V'Ahavtah. I was accused of being lazy in my choice of this section but, I'm not really lazy, I'm efficient. This was a great opportunity to delve in detail into the most important prayers of our people. Earlier in the service you heard the Ahava Raba (Great Love). In this prayer we are told of G-d's great and enduring love for us. In the Shema and v'a ahvata we are instructed to love G-d. When you love someone and they don't love you, it's not complete love. The Vahavta is our completion.

How we show this love for G-d will always puzzled me. Can we love G-d if we have trouble believing in him? Can we love G-d when horrible things happen and we believe G-d should have stopped it? Well G-d provided a world full of opportunities in which to show our love for G-d. I truly belive of the words of the prophets when they tell us of G-d's disdain for prayer and ritual that is not backed by righteous behaviour, defending the weak, helping the poor, and helping make peace. For those of us that are born doubters, this is the best way to show our love for G-d in this world and this world, and as far as I can see, this world is all we are allowed to see, at least for now.

Isaiah 40

The next bible passage we will read from is in the Book of Isaiah. We now find the Jews, not in the Valley near Bet Peor but by the "rivers of Babylon" ready to come back from exile. We read this passage on this day to provide comfort because the past week, in commemoration of the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, we read and remember the story from the Book of Lamentations. The book of Lamentations is a description of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. It was a horrible time right before our exile to Babylon. If you read the book, you will see that the first letter in each chapter begins a letter form the alphabet from alef to tav. Like sadness from A - Z. It includes scenes of starvation so severe that parents are eating their children. When that Babylonians destroyed the Holy temple it was on the 9th day of the month of Av (3 days ago in the year of 586 B.C.E). If that wasn't an unlucky date for this reason, these other events happened in that date also

  • Destruction of 2nd Temple by Romans - 70 C.E.
  • The start of the 1st Crusade - 1096
  • English expulsion - 1290
  • Spanish expulsion - 1492
It is no wonder we have always approached this date with fear. But we always seem to find hope in sadness, according to Jewish tradition, the Messiah will be born on Tisha b'Av. And Jews have also followed that sad day by today, The Sabbath of Comfort (or Shabbat Nachamu). Our next passage is not a story of sadness but one of great redemption and healing. We are reminded again of G-d's unending love and in this passage of Isaiah you will hear that not only are the Jews free to leave, but that the Isaiah envisions a great highway to bring it's bride, the Jewish people, back from exile. We should also remember that our experience in Babylon is one of the main reasons we are Jews today. Before Babylon we were tied to Priests, sacrifices, and the Holy temple, and as one of my best FSU professors, Dr. Priest, taught me, the Jewish people entered Babylon a nation, dependent on the land of Israel, but when they left, they left as a religion that could be practiced anywhere in G-d's world..

This reading is a highway builder's prayer (probably not an environmentalist's though)

It is also special to me because well after we chose this lesson, I discovered that this was my Father's very bar mitzvah lesson that he read when he was thirteen in a little shul in Baltimore.

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