Paying our Dues

Dedicated by Naema Sharon in loving memory of her dear friend, Ahava Emunah bat Chava Ehta z”l. May your holy neshama have an aliyah and may all who love and miss you be comforted.

On Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort which immediately follows Tisha B’Av, we read the Haftara from Yishayahu Chapter 40:

Comfort (nachamu) My people, comfort them, says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem (dabru al lev Yerushalayim) and proclaim to her, that her war service is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, for she has received from the hand of God double for all her sins.

The themes in these two verses echo other places in the TaNaCh.

In the story of Yosef and his brothers, after Yaakov passed away, Yosef’s brothers were worried that he would hold a grudge against them for throwing him in the pit. Yosef told them not to worry as he is not in the place of God. Yosef tells his brothers (Breisheet 50:21): “‘Fear not. I will nourish you and your children’. And he comforted (vayinachem) them and spoke to their heart (vayidaber al libam).”

We also see the same two phrases used together again in Megillat Ruth:

Boaz invites Ruth to glean in his fields with the other women and offers her protection as well as water to drink. He explains that he heard about the loving kindness that she did for her mother-in-law. In Ruth 2:13, she answers: “May I continue to find favour in your eyes, my lord, because you have comforted me (nichamtani) and because you have spoken to the heart (dibarta al lev) of your handmaid, though I am not even like one of your handmaidens.”

We see from these examples that comforting and speaking to the heart go together.

The “nachamu” prophecy can also be looked at as a mashal, an allegory for laws in the Torah and the punishments that they incur when they are not observed.

Jerusalem was punished for her sin and now she has been forgiven- she already paid her dues. Just like a soldier whose army service has ended, a person who served their jail sentence after breaking the law or someone who had to pay double after stealing.

As we see in Shmot 21:37-22:3:

If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep or a goat and slaughter it or sell it, he shall pay five cattle in place of the ox, and four sheep. If the thief is discovered while tunnelling in, and he is struck and dies, there is no blood-guilt on his account. If the sun shone upon him, there is blood guilt on his account. He shall make restitution; if he has nothing, he shall be sold for his theft. If the theft shall be found in his possession – whether a live ox or donkey or sheep or goat- he shall pay double.

Just as the robber has to pay double and as the thief who didn’t have any money to repay what was stolen was sold to slavery for a limited amount of time, so too did Jerusalem (Israel) pay her dues.

In Israel today, as in all countries, there are people who do not abide by the law, and some more famous than others. They all must be tried and if necessary, carry out their sentence. It doesn’t matter if it is a famous singer, a supermodel, a former president, chief rabbi or prime minister. A celebrity should not be treated differently than a regular citizen.

Once they have served their time, those who broke the law will be integrated back into society and move on with their lives. Hopefully, they will learn their lesson and correct their behaviour in the future.

Jerusalem suffered when the First Temple was destroyed, but after 70 years, the sentence was up. Jerusalem was given another chance, deserved or not. Unfortunately, Jerusalem failed again and the Second Temple was destroyed as well.

Now we are back and we need to see how we can correct the mistakes of the past. We need to follow a higher level of morals and ethics. We need words of comfort and encouragement coming from the heart to give us hope for a brighter future.

When we go to a shiva house, we are “menachem avel”, comforting the mourner, trying to find the right words that speak to their heart. After Tisha B’Av, the month of Av is transformed into Menachem Av, the comforted month of Av. Let’s use this precious time to comfort those who are hurting during these difficult times and see how we can pick up the pieces and lay the foundations for the Third Beit HaMikdash.