Seven Species. wikipedia
Our weekly parasha is the second of the seven “Haftorahs of Consolation” following Tisha B’Av. Each parasha has a haftara whose purpose is consolation and redemption. We can learn from this that the people of Israel were in such a state of deep pain and sadness after the destruction of the Temple that seven full weeks were needed to console them. But it seems there is more to it.
I go through a process of stages every year during these weeks. The first Shabbat after the Tisha B’Av fast is called “Shabbat Nachamu” – after the first haftara in the series. On this Shabbat the need for consolation is abundantly clear, also to mark the period of grief that ends with the summer break. The following Shabbats are not given names of consolation and it seems that, the further I get from Tisha B’Av, the more I forget the period of grieving, I go forward with the year’s cycle, celebrate Tu B’Av, holiday with my family and am surprised anew every week to find the haftara consoling us. Three, four weeks after this, there is this heretical thought in my head: “OK, I was consoled, I was consoled, it’s now unnecessary to make an effort.”
This year, however, I realized what was happening. For several years, in connection with Tisha B’Av, I have been dealing with the Prophet Zechariah (chapters VII – VIII) where the prophet details the expectations of God from the fast of Tisha B’Av. After starting the building of the second Temple, the prophet, in the name of the representatives of Israel, asks God if they should continue fasting. God’s reply was that the fast had been ordained by Rabbis and not by him. God’s demand was for justice and law and care for the weak and the stranger: ”These are the things that ye shall do: Speak ye every man the truth with his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates;” (Zechariah 8;16).
Because this demand was not fulfilled, the first Temple was destroyed and the second one was also about to be destroyed. The fast is not that important. But, the fulfillment of God’s demand for social justice will cancel the fast and it “shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons; therefore love ye truth and peace:” (ibid 19). Other prophets such as the prophet Isaiah, in the chapter 58 that is read in the haftara of Yom Kippur, rounds out the idea: ” Is not this the fast that I have chosen?… Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou sees the naked, that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-8) The purpose of the fast is to bring about reflection that will lead us to fulfilling God’s demand for social justice, either from the feeling of hunger which reminds us of the many hungry people in Israel or from the physical need which is shared by all of us, to bring about a process of coming together and examination of society.
In the light of this, it is clear to me that the seven weeks of consolation are not just a process of emotional consolation, as the period of Jewish grieving is seven days to a month. The process of consolation is a process of national and social soul-searching following the destruction of the Temple, its causes and results. The central message of the seven weeks of consolation in the Hebrew calendar is to connect Tisha B’Av to Rosh Hashana and the ten days of repentance.
The seven weeks always end at Rosh Hashana and the Shabbat after it is called “Shabbat Shuva” after the haftara which deals with repentance, leading to Yom Kippur.
The process of reflection on the relationship between man and society which occurs on Tisha B’Av leads us to the days of judgment when we reflect on the relationship between man and place.
Our Parasha parashat Ekev deals mostly with the deep commitment demanded of the people of Israel following the covenant on Mount Sinai. The verse opening the parasha reflects the general spirit of the parasha: “And it shall come to pass, because ye hearken to these ordinances, and keep, and do them, that the Lord thy God shall keep with thee the covenant and the mercy which He swore unto thy fathers” (Deuteronomy, VII,12). The Land of Israel also is depending on the observance the mitzvoth: ” All the commandment which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore unto your fathers.” (ibid 8:1)
The non-observance of the mitzvoth will bring about the exile and, in its wake, Tisha B’Av.
Which mitzvoth does the parasha mention? Which are the mitzvoth that the people of Israel must keep in order to guard the land? This question is asked in the parasha: ” And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (ibid 10:12).
Anyone who doubts God’s meaning in this reply and mistakenly thinks that awe of God and His love are the mitzvoth that are between man and place, come at once to the following verses: ” For the LORD your God, He is God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great God, the mighty, and the awful, who regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward. He doth execute justice for the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment Love ye therefore the stranger; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; Him shalt thou serve; and to Him shalt thou cleave, and by His name shalt thou swear.” (ibid 17-20)
These verses are the purification for our work as Rabbis for Human Rights. Social activity for human rights when the person is weak and vulnerable and foreign – the “other”. Helping them fulfills the mitzvah ” to walk in all His ways “. These verses are also the basis for the prophet’s understanding of Israel’s mission, and that negligence in keeping the mitzvoth will lead to destruction, and carrying out these mitzvoth, with and without fasting, will lead to redemption.
And so the consolation haftara linked to our parasha opens with the following words: “Hearken to Me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD;” (Isaiah 51:1).
The desired result:
“For the LORD hath comforted Zion; He hath comforted all her waste places, and hath made her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody”.(ibid 3)
And in this consolation of Zion – we will be consoled.