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The seven weeks that stretch from Tisha B'Av until Rosh Hashana are the seven weeks of comfort - <i>shiva d'nechemta.</i> The haftorot that are read on the Sabbath during these seven weeks are all taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah and predict better times ahead for Israel and humankind generally. The Hebrew word nechama, which is usually translated as comfort or condolence, has a deeper meaning than the English translation of that word conveys. It has a nuance of <i>menucha</i> - rest, repose - attached to it. The Jewish notion of comfort does not mean to sublimate and forget the tragedy of the past. Rather it means to deal with it somehow in the best way humanly possible and move forward in life. Mourning is part of Jewish life and memory. Yet the halacha shapes and restricts it, not allowing it to dominate one's life as to render one permanently incapacitated. Comfort in Judaism means the ability to put some things, no matter how sad and painful, to rest. We no longer dwell on Tisha B'Av and its tragedies that are omnipresent within the ache of our past, but rather we move on to the forthcoming new year and its holidays and better hopes. We never forget the past but we are not allowed to be paralyzed by its memories. That is the true message of <i>nechama</i> - comfort and solace.

The truth be said, Jews are uncomfortable with the usual message of being comforted. There is a restlessness amongst us that does not allow us to just sit back in comfort and fully relax. Perhaps it is the strong sense of mortality, of the realization that time and life are very fleeting, that drives us. The rabbis of the Talmud decried the wasting of time. Though leisure and relaxation are necessary components of healthy living, they are not seen as the main goals in one's life. The Midrash commented upon our father Jacob's desire to sit back in comfort and contentment after his difficult past encounters with Esau and Lavan by saying: "Is it insufficient that the righteous are rewarded in the World to Come that they should wish comfort in this world as well?" The righteous people of society are not allowed to be passive people, hermits or recluses. Righteousness is a proactive occupation. It remembers and learns from the past but its goals are always in the future. Comfort in its ordinary and superficial sense is a temporary and short-term status. Righteousness and true nechama are always long-term projects and goals. Nechama is never expediency or panaceas. It is rather the dedication to achieving these necessary long-range goals and a healthy individual and national psyche.

Perhaps this is the reason that a full seven weeks of the Jewish calendar year is devoted to the idea of <i>nechama</i> - comfort. The process of healing and moving on is a complicated and lengthy one. One haftorah, no matter how lofty the prose and comforting the message may be, will not suffice to truly comfort Israel. Only time and the rededication to new and better achievements, both spiritual and national, can create a climate of comfort. Seven weeks of such incessant messages of comfort and Jewish nechama, leading to the exalted Days of Awe, the times of forgiveness and hope and of renewed commitment to the eternal values of Judaism, are necessary to infuse us with the true balm of nechama. In a world that is continually looking for a quicker fix and ever faster computers and internet, the virtue of patience, which is the cornerstone of nechama is often overlooked and ignored. Seven weeks may be a long time to wait for comfort to sink in but it is worth the wait. The Jewish people had to wait seven weeks from the time of their exodus from Egypt until they received the Torah at Sinai. That too was worth the wait. Apparently the Torah prescribes seven weeks as the proper time period to allow a sense of perspective and commitment to develop within a person. Therefore, this seven week period of time which we are now in the midst of becomes our true comfort zone - our period of nechama and rededication.

Shabat shalom.
Berel Wein

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