The Haftarah readings on Shabbat between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashana are referred to as the 7 haftarot of comfort. But, comfort is often hard to come by. This week’s haftarah begins with the statement that Zion, despite being comforted, still says “God has abandoned me”; which I understand to mean that even though the Israelites have been given words of comfort, the people are not convinced. I think that real comfort takes more than words.
Let me explain:
It has been a difficult winter for the whole world with the constant rise of terror but we have seen the impact that words and, even more importantly, acts of comfort can have. The love and respect shown after terror attacks to the victims have been remarkable. Victims have been comforted by all that everyone has said and done.
What defines us is how we respond to irresponsible, violent, unspeakably evil acts such as the Orlando (USA) Shooting, the terror attacks in Europe or Israel. We gather in prayer services, we send contributions, we say the right words, and we increase our observance against terror. All of these efforts are critical, yes, but I have to ask, that even after listening to many eloquent, uplifting eulogies by politicians, have we really committed ourselves to solving the important issues of racism, the availability of guns and other issues that will, with real progress, bring real comfort to more people?
Words of anger at attacks, words of grieving for victims and rituals of mourning, are not enough. While these acts will always be the exception, they are fueled by attitudes and policies that need to be changed. I have no doubt that the absolute majority of Muslims clearly reject acts of this kind committed in the name of Islam, as any religious human being does towards any fanatic act in the name of any religion. But, words and opinions are not enough. There must be real change and that real change will not come until there is a sincere and continued attempt to root out brutal, racist extremists and punish them for what they write and teach. Change won’t come until there is real respect and equality for all within any country of the world, and change will not come until we start with ourselves.
This Shabbat, we read the second paragraph of the Shema during the Torah reading, a reading which speaks of reward and punishment. We are confused by this paragraph because we don’t see reward and punishment in our lives. It is critical to note, however, that whenever the idea of reward and punishment is mentioned in the Torah, it does so in the plural. Societies do reap what they sow. And that is why real change comes not just from words, but from honest introspection and determination to reflect in actions our loftiest statements.
May the weeks to come usher in a new year of hope for all; a hope underlined by real change where it is needed most.
Rabbi Adrian M Schell
Torah Reading for Shabbat Eikev
Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25 Reading: Dtn 7:12-8:10 (P 1228 /H 780) Haftarah Isaiah 49:14-51:3 (P 1251/H 794)
Our Torah Portion for this Week, Parshat Eikev continues Moses’ closing address to the children of Israel, promising them that if they will fulfill the commandments (mitzvot) of the Torah, they will prosper in the Land they are about to conquer and settle in keeping with God’s promise to their forefathers.
Podcast of Rabbi Schell’s weekly Sermons Tuesdays on Radio Today (10h30) or: http://goo.gl/LsHQrY.