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D’Var Torah Vaetchanan

Shabbat Shalom from Bruce Washburn:

Here is this week’s haftarah commentary.

Parashat Vaetchanan
13 August 2022 / 16 Av 5782
Torah: Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11; Triennial 5:1-7:11
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:1-26

Alone or Lonely?
Bex Stern Rosenblat
This Shabbat is Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comforting. After Tisha b’Av, after our moment of reliving the existential crisis of losing God, our homeland, and our nation, God takes us back with beautiful words of consolation. We, who had no one to comfort us, now receive exactly what we have asked for – union again with God.

From the beginning, a deep-seated fear of loneliness runs through the Tanakh. We find it first in the story of creation. God has almost completed creation and is getting down to the business of telling the first human the rules to live by in humanity’s new home. But God pauses, interrupting Godself, to say, “it is not good that the human should be alone.” God creates a second human and we should never have to be lonely again.

But we are. Our prophets perhaps most of all. And in our loneliness, we look back to what it means to be created in the divine image. We marvel at God’s solitary state, God’s existence as alone but not lonely. After God destroys the Egyptians in the Red Sea, severing our umbilical cord from our incubation as a nation in Egypt, we celebrate God’s independence from anyone and everything. We sing the Song of the Sea: “Who is like you among gods, God? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awe-inspiring in praise, working wonders?” The answer to the question we pose is no one. No one is like God. We are alone, but our God is alone too.

In our haftarah, we pose the same question. We had been so very lonely during the exile that it is as if we were widowed. Now, upon receiving comfort we look at God’s solitude. We say, “To whom can you make God similar?” God responds a few verses later, echoing our words: “To whomShacan you make me similar?” Again, the answer seems to be no one. God is not similar to other “gods.” God is singular, God is unique.

When we read the Book of Lamentations on Tisha b’Av, we encountered a similar question. The speaker looked at us, at destroyed Jerusalem, andasked:

“How can I bear witness for you? To what can I make you similar, oh Daughter Jerusalem? To what can I compare you so that I might comfortyou, Maiden Daughter Zion? For large as the sea is your destruction. Whocan heal you?”

The answer there also seemed to be no one. No one was like us. No onehad suffered as we had suffered. And so, we would never be able to findcomfort; we would never be able to find healing. Shabbat Nachamureframes that loneliness for us. It is a Shabbat of Comfort. Ourposition as like no one else is not a slur but a word of praise. BothGod and us are unique in our incomparability. What’s more, we are “like”each other. We are created in the image and in the likeness of God. Whenwe recognize this, our existential fear of loneliness can transform intoa celebration of our singularity.

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