Parashat Vaetchanan—Shabat Nachamu
What is “being holy” all about? There is a parashah in which the Creator compels us to be holy, as He Himself is: Parashat Kedoshim. Our parashah this week contains passages of that kedushah.
It tells us, in principle, about the mitzvot. And we have no doubt about their sanctity. The text in our parashah says "You will not increase the word that I command you, nor will you decrease from it, so that you may keep the commandments of the Lord, your God".
We should not, then, add to the obligations beyond what the mitzvot ask of us, and, of course, neither subtract from them. THE MITZVAH is precisely what contains the kedushah. Not what we sum up, much less what we leave undone.
Next, the text reminds us of the laws of Talit, Tefillin and Mezuzah. Three basic ritual elements in our daily life. The first and second ones remind us of the sanctity of the mitzvot. But in addition, the second and third ones bear that kedushah in the klafim, the scrolls that they carry inside. Our tradition considers that the klaf with the divrei kodesh, the words of holiness written on it, contain kedushah to such an extent that, if we want to discard a bait, a box of tefilin or mezuzah, we must deposit it in a genizah—the place where Sifrei Torah or klafim that are already psulim, annulled, are deposited. The klaf's kedushah is considered to pass onto the bait, and thus it must not be discarded in any other way.
Imagine, then, what happened to Bnei Israel in the desert at Mount Sinai. Following the concept of dvekut, of attachment to kedushah, "something" must have been impregnated at least in the souls of Bnei Israel. Not to make them special, but to empower them with the enormous task, as a people, of transmitting that teaching, of being partners in the improvement of this world.
So much was this dvekut, this attachment, that it is said that the people spent more than a month camping at the foot of the Mount and that they never prepared to leave there. It was again the Kadosh Baruch Hu who must have almost cast them out, saying "you have remained on this mountain for quite some time" apart from the column of smoke with which He usually indicated to the people that they should depart.
It is comfortable to live "in kedushah". It is comfortable to keep ourselves locked up in our different sanctities and enjoy them. However, there is a world around us that needs to be taken care of.
This Shabbat has a double denomination. On one hand it is Shabbat Vaetjanan—that corresponds to the reading of the parashah of that name, the second of the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) that we are commenting on. On the other hand, it is Shabbat Nachamu, of consolation. After the three Shabbatot of reproach or affliction (depuranuta), this is the first of the seven Shabbatot of consolation (denechemata) that follow the 9th of Av.
Over the next seven weeks we console ourselves for the terrible spiritual loss that the destruction of the Beit haMikdash generated. But we also console ourselves for the loss of spirituality that befell our people and that led to its destruction. The internal struggles and the lack of respect for the limits and rights of the other, as much as the shortfall of commitment to tradition, led our ancestors to a misgovernment that made carnage possible.
After the anguish comes consolation, reflection and reconstruction.
That is why there are seven Shabbatot of consolation, more than the double of the three ones of anguish and reproaches: because the reconstruction of the souls, of the spirit and of the community required time and a gradual reunion for a common good and a common project.
The words of prophet Yeshayahu submerge us in reflection on the uniqueness of Adonai and the banality of idolatry in clear reference to the text of the parashah in which we read the Shema Israel, plus the legacy of kedushah that we already mentioned. They are like a balm with which to heal the wounds of pain and reaffirm the foundations of what sustained us for generations united as a people: the commitment to the mitzvot and the kedushah with which we embed that commitment.
The message is straightforward: the overcoming of the destructions require the reaffirmation of the bases that will sustain what we want to rebuild, and union and harmony must be achieved according to those bases.
We must leave the places of comfort in which we remain to accomplish changes and make things happen. Infect others to build the community we want, based on and with a future in study and in our tradition.