Yom Shabbat, 23 Av 5779
Saturday, 24 August 2019
Parashat Ve’etchanan 2011

Parashat Ve’etchanan by Rabbi Anna Gerrard
12 August 2011

Shabbat Nachamu: A Shabbat for Taking Comfort

In last week’s Haftarah, we read the dystopian visions of the first chapter of Isaiah:

“Your land is waste, your cities burnt down before your eyes.”
(Isaiah 1:7)

Could any of us have foreseen the destruction and burning that erupted in our own streets the following day?

As the week progressed and the violence spread and worsened, people lost their homes, their livelihoods and even their lives. It became increasingly difficult to understand what could possibly be behind this ‘meaningless criminality’. The actions of the rioters were wrong. Young people, including children, seemed to make a game of violence, theft and arson, without a thought for the impact it would have on their own individuals and whole communities; their own neighbours. It is very easy to condemn the rioters. And the rioting certainly should be condemned.

Yet we have to ask ourselves the hard questions too. Why are these young people so disillusioned with society and its institutions?  Why do they feel that they have no other option than to resort to crime? This week is Shabbat Nachamu and we read Isaiah 40:

“Comfort, oh comfort, My people”, says your God.
(Isaiah 40:1)

In the aftermath of this week of riots, we can and must take comfort.We can take comfort that whole communities came together and reclaimed their streets; that people used much-criticised social media to coordinate clean-up operations. We can take comfort that Liberal Jewish reactions have not been knee-jerk but considered, multifaceted and reflective; calling ourselves as well as others to action. Questions will be asked in the coming weeks but when the media frenzy dies down, the words of this week’s Torah portion will be so important.  Lessons must be learnt and held onto in the long term if any real change is to come out of this.

“Take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind.”
(Deuteronomy 4:9)