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Comfort oh Comfort: The Work of Repair

“Comfort oh Comfort My People/My Nation” are the words of the Haftarah that we chant on the first Shabbat of consolation following Tisha B’Av, the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar.  They are from the 40th chapter of the book of Isaiah, a text that begins with a proclamation of hope and reconciliation.  “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and declare to her that her .. iniquity is expiated”. In other words, the despair and destruction and emptiness of exile will be reversed.

Writing this column a few days before the 2016 election, I am longing to chant these words of consolation to our whole community and to our whole country.   The 2016 election exposed and fomented such hatred and prejudice that many of us are feeling assaulted and worried.  The attacks and threats to our democratic processes and structures leave us in need of solace as well.  Whether you are celebrating or mourning the various election results, there is great work at hand.  We need spiritual comfort and soothing. We need to unite to heal the hatred and bigotry that has been exposed.  We need to recreate what it means to disagree in polite company.  

At a recent lecture on parenting the speaker reminded the assembled that before you can guide a child into good problem-solving, you need to show empathy for their distress.  Empathy, spiritual comfort sets the stage for the next step - good clear thinking to address the minor or major crises at hand.  Perhaps if we turn to spiritual practice and prayer, community and comfort, we can then calm ourselves and ready ourselves for the next task.

What is the next task?  Racism, sexism, xenophobia and other hatreds and fears have been unleashed.  Perhaps those of us who ache for a world where these are things of the past can benefit from honest conversations with one another and study of these issues in order to address them.

More importantly, we need to change the atmosphere that has become poisoned over these months.  On Yom Kippur, at the closing service, I shared a teaching of Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, quoting his grandfather, Rabbi Nissan Telushkin.   It had to do with how to move forward when we are becoming stuck after doing something wrong.  Telushkin shared an interpretation of Psalm 34, verse 15, a verse that reads:   “Turn away from evil and do good”.  The interpretation was explained by way of a metaphor.   What if you were given salt water to drink? How would you imbibe the undrinkable beverage?   One cannot easily extract the salt in order to make it potable. But one could add so much fresh water to the salt water that in the end it would become drinkable, with the good fresh water diluting the salt water. So it is with our deeds taught Rabbi Nissen Telushkin.   Don’t fixate on wrongs you may have done.  Repair what you can but then work to counter it with many good deeds.  

This season, we Americans have much to repair.  How will our nation find comfort?  Let’s seek spiritual comfort for ourselves and one another to soothe our ailing souls. Let’s join together and educate ourselves and work to eradicate the destructive “isms” within our minds and hearts.  Finally, let’s turn outward and fill this world with goodness, with kindness, with understanding, with love and with justice.  

Together we can find and create the comfort we need.                     Yours, Rabbi Linda

Tue, September 17 2019 17 Elul 5779