This week’s Shabbat is called “Shabbat Nachamu,” The Shabbat of Consolation, from the first two words of Haftorah, Isaiah 40, which begins, “Nahamu, nahamu…, Comfort, oh Comfort my people…” It is the first of seven Shabbats of consolation, following Tisha b’Av leading up to Rosh Hashanah.
This week’s Haftorah sets a tone for our preparation for the High Holy Days, reminding us of our mortality. “All flesh is grass, All its goodness like flowers of the field: Grass withers, flowers fade When the breath of the LORD blows on them. Indeed, man is but grass: Grass withers, flowers fade— But the word of our God is always fulfilled!” (Isaiah 40:5-8).
Isaiah reminds us that our time on earth is short. What gives it meaning is dedication to something greater than ourselves. To the Prophet Isaiah, our sages, many of our parents and grandparents, and some of us, that something greater is God.
But what does it mean to dedicate ourselves to God, or something greater than ourselves? This week’s Torah portion gives us a possible answer, “Do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may go well with you.” (Deuteronomy 6:18) Commenting on this verse,
Nahmanides (14th Century Spain) wrote, “… generally one should do what is good and right regarding everything, including compromise, acting beyond the strict demands of the law.” Nahmanides is urging us to go beyond the letter of the law and to fulfill the spirit of the law. The letter of the law strives to curb people’s worst impulses. Nahmanides mentions compromise, because a compromise requires we take both our needs and the needs of others into account.
This is the spirit of the law, caring for others. Our sages rejected selfishness. They considered it to be the root of evil.
Imagine what our world would be like if we tried to do good by taking care of the needs of others as well as their own needs? Let’s hold this in our hearts as we prepare for the High Holy Days.