Weeks Toward Renewal
Its just two weeks since I returned from
Jerusalem, the lonely city that Jeremiah so sadly describes.
Oh, how she sits alone... I return to New York,
a city that was broken nearly one year ago on September 11.
As I think about it, I realize that New York, and all cities
of the world, have always been broken; they were just unaware
of it. Jerusalem on the other hand, was and is always aware.
You see, what is whole and what is broken is
not determined by the naked eye. There are many things that
on the surface seem so complete, yet beneath are utterly corrupt.
Being complete means being seamless. It means being connected
to yourself, to your essence. If you are complete on one level
but not on others, you are really broken. If you feel whole
on the surface, but your inside is not connected to your outside,
you are not whole at all. You are masquerading, playing a
This world is a broken one unless we connect
it with its higher purpose. Our lives are broken our
cities shattered unless we connect our outer life with
our inner one. They always called New York the city
that never sleeps. But just as a business is broken
if it loses sight of its mission statement, New York City
(the epitome of cities) is really asleep if its outer noise
and its 24 hour vivacity is disconnected from
Thats what you feel in New York since
September 11, only amplified by the shakeup of Wall Street.
We feel how lost we are, how far we have wandered away
with all our prosperity and life in the fast lane from
our souls. New York, America and the entire world needed 9/11
to recognize the 911 (emergency) of our tenuous existence.
Jerusalem was always aware of our existential fragility and
Jerusalem is comprised of two words:
Yirah-Shalom, complete awe. Being the center of
the universe, Jerusalem like the central cosmic nervous
system was the first to become aware of how broken
the world is without its soul connection. The Holy Temple
was destroyed and Jerusalem was left barren and lonely because
the world had disconnected from its purpose.
Nothing is as complete as a broken heart,
Chassidim say. Because in a broken world the most complete
thing is recognizing that we are broken. Denying that truth
and convincing ourselves that we are complete when we are
not, is the most incomplete thing possible.
As my mind keeps juxtaposing Jerusalem and New
York, my imagination begins to drift and I remember a story
The house is in flames. Families shattered.
So many lives lost. The man of the house has left and abandoned
If you are the one in pain you feel a profound
loneliness. If you are only a witness, but filled with empathy,
your heart breaks for all the senseless suffering. For all
the oozing layers of anguish.
Sensing their pain, the husband appoints a messenger.
Go console my wife and family, he tells the courier.
Their home has been destroyed. My wife sits alone and
The wife is not consoled.
The husband sends a second distinguished messenger
and yet a third. Still, to no avail. He sends all his best
messengers, but the wife remains unconsoled.
Why have you forsaken me? Why have you
forgotten us, the wife cries out.
The messengers return and share with the man
the grief of his abandoned wife and family.
Finally, the husband himself appears and comforts
his wife and family.
But after all the loss, simple comforting is
not enough. With each passing week, the comfort grows deeper,
as the healing process intensifies.
Finally, after six weeks of comforting, the
woman and her family rejoice with their renewed hope.
They are then ready to enter a new stage of
rebirth and renewal.
This is the story of the Seven Weeks of Comfort
(sheva dnechemta) the present
period in time, as related in the haftorahs of these seven
weeks. Following the destruction of the Temple and the Three
Weeks of Affliction, come the Seven Weeks of Comfort,
in which the people are consoled and comforted for their great
G-d first sends His messengers, the prophets,
to console Jerusalem and the people. Nachamu Nachamu
Ami, - Comfort, comfort my people
speak to the heart
(haftorah of week one).
But Zion said (in haftorah of week two):
G-d has forsaken me; My G-d has forgotten me. Zion is
not comforted by the consolation of the prophets.
The messengers return and tell G-d (in haftorah
of week three): Afflicted, storm tossed, one is not
consoled by our comforting words.
G-d then replies (in week four): Anochi
Anochi hu menachemchem, - I, I am He who comforts you.
Not messengers, but I yes I myself comfort you.
Why? Because the Torah says that if a fire gets out
the one who started the fire must make restitution
(Exodus 22:5). Since G-d is the one that started the
fire that destroyed the Temple, G-d Himself comes to
comfort on the loss (Pesikta Rabsi, 30).
And G-d continues (in the haftorah of week five)
as the comfort progressively grows more powerful (see
Tosafot, Megillah 31b): Sing barren one, you who have
not given birth. Break into a song and cry aloud
the children of the abandoned are more numerous than the children
of the married
Enlarge the place of your habitat
you will expand abroad to the right and to the left, until
your descendants possess the nations and populate the desolate
Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed
You will forget the shame of your youth and the reproach of
For your Creator is your husband
The Holy of Israel is your Redeemer. He will be called the
G-d of the whole earth. For G-d called you as a wife abandoned
and grieved in spirit. Can a wife of youth be rejected? Says
your G-d. For a brief moment I forsook you, but I will gather
you with great compassion. In an outburst of wrath, for a
moment I hid my face from you; but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you.
Then G-d continues, with an even greater consolation
the vision of the worlds Redemption: Arise,
shine for your light has come, and G-d glory has risen upon
you. For, behold, darkness will cover the earth and thick
darkness the peoples, but G-d will arise over you and His
glory will be seen upon you. Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising
Aliens will build up your walls
sons of your oppressors will come bending to you, and all
who despised you will bow down at your feet. They will call
you, The city of G-d, the Zion of the Holy one of Israel.
Though you were forsaken and hated with no one passing through
you, I will make you an eternal majesty
Violence will no longer be heard in your
land, neither desolation nor destruction within your borders
Your sun will no longer set, not will
your moon wane. For G-d will be your everlasting light, and
your days of mourning will be ended.
Your people will all be righteous; they
will possess the land forever; the branch of My planting,
the work of My hands
The smallest will become a thousand,
and the least a mighty nation; I, G-d, will hasten in its
When the people hear these words of comfort,
they reply (in the seventh and last haftorah of the Seven
Weeks): I will greatly rejoice in G-d, my soul will
exult in my G-d, for He clothed me with the garments of salvation
For Zions sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalems sake I will not be still, until her
righteousness shines forth like radiance
will see your righteousness. And all the kings your glory
O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen on your
walls. They will never be silent day or night
G-d has proclaimed to the end of earth: Say to the daughter
of Zion: Behold, your salvation comes
They will call
them The Holy People, G-ds redeemed; and
you will be called Sought Out, a city not forsaken.
Who is this that comes from Edom
In all their affliction He was afflicted
His love and pity He redeemed them; He lifted them up and
carried them through all the years.
Are than any better words for our times? Are
there any more comforting words we can tell families shattered
by todays terrorist attacks?
Initially I was going to cite only a brief verse
or two from these seven comforting Haftorahs. But as I began
to write, I was amazed yet again by the glaring relevance
of these verses. Especially in the last two of the seven weeks,
which respectively discuss the retribution and transformation
of Ishmael (Midian, Ephah, Sheba, Kedar, Nebaioth, Tarshish,
Lebanon) and Edom (Esau) for the devastation they brought
to the world.
As we approach the first anniversary of September
11, as the confrontation between Ishmael and Edom, with Israel
in middle, continues to accelerate, the Seven Weeks of Comfort
and the resounding words of the prophets have
never been so relevant.
These weeks that lead us into the New Year;
the Seventh Week is the last one before Rosh Hashana. We read
these words of comfort following destruction as we enter the
month of Elul, when Moses ascended Sinai for the third and
final time, to prevail upon G-d to forgive the people. And
prevail he would forty days later, when he descends with the
Second Tablets: A testimony to the renewal after the sin of
the Golden Calf and the shattering of the First Tablets.
So, instead of writing my own interpretations,
what could be better than to quote the actual words of Isaiah,
which speak for themselves.
Go ahead, read them for yourself and tell me
what you think
(Coming next week: A psychological-spiritual
application of the Seven Weeks: 7 Steps to Comfort and Healing)
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