D’var Torah from Shabbat Nachamu
Written by Rabbi Hannah Kingston — 20 August 2019
There is a parable about the Amidah, that goes a little bit something like this…
You have been invited into the royal palace and are on the threshold of meeting the King in the deepest chamber of the palace, the throne room. You carry on your shoulders all the people who have come before you to this point, you are their representative. Before you take the step over the boundary, you have one moment to yourself, one moment for personal reflection and preparation. You take the time to ask privately for the ability to speak clearly and concisely, God open up my lips, so my mouth may declare your praise.
The moment passes and you are swept up in the protocol of the court. You stand still, bow when expected as you introduce yourself. You are the extended family of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants. They have shared many stories about this royal. You know from them that you must begin with flattery, you tell the King of course we know You by many names, oh great, mighty and revered one.
This does not seem to cut it, a king of such great standing needs more flattery. So of course, you compliment some more. You recognise the King’ power over you, but also their generosity. We know that even though You are so powerful, You still take time to sustain those who are sick and lift up the fallen…
Their presence is heavy, it fills the room even without seeing them in front of you. You acknowledge this, for ultimately you know to never ask anything of a King without first praising their greatness.
Finally you reach your chance to ask. It is fleeting and you must seize the moment quickly, before your time in the court ends. You slip in your petitions, you want knowledge, forgiveness, healing, good harvests. You do so almost without breath, hoping that no ask is too big, that the praise has cushioned the blow of what you asked.
Having asked for what is needed, protocol deems you must give thanks, regardless of whether your wishes are fulfilled. You are ushered out of the room with gratitude for the time we have taken. You utter final words for peace, and silently carry with you the hope that the peace will not just remain on our lips. You are reluctant to leave the grandeur, so you stay just a moment longer, taking time to think of your private hopes and wishes. The silence gives you space to breathe. And then just like that, music begins to play and the spell is broken.
Va’etchanan, ‘and I pleaded’ is the first word we read this Shabbat. It is a word in the reflexive form, almost better translated as ‘I got myself to plead’, as if before we begin to pray, we need to pray that we may be able to pray.
The word that starts our Torah portion has a numerical value of 515 according to gematriyah, an equal value to that of the word tefillah, prayer. The rabbis suggest that in order for Moses to feel ready to approach God in prayer, he prayed 515 times.
This shabbat begins a journey of seven weeks to the High Holy Days. Each week we read a haftara of consolation, preparing us for the moment when we stand before God and ourselves and ask for forgiveness. This shabbat is Shabbat Nachamu, the shabbat of comfort. Following Tisha B’Av last week, it gives us the chance to find a sense of ease following the weeks of affliction.
The prayers we utter during the next seven weeks are our preparatory prayers at the threshold of the inner chamber. They are our personal petitions, our chance to reflect on the year that has gone past. We are given the gift of time, and a reminder that we should ready ourselves for the year ahead. Now is our chance to get our words clear and concise in our heads, to make sure that when we stand before the throne on the Yamim Noraim, we are as equipped as we can be.
As we rise together for the Amidah, we begin those preparations along with our community. We take time to pray individually, we ask, Eternal God, open my lips that my mouth may declare your praise.