The Shabbat that precedes Tisha B’Av, which was observed on August 14 this year, offers a particular spiritual opportunity.
Some shlichey tzibur, service leaders, maintain the old tradition of importing a melody from the chanting of Eichah, the Book of Lamentations, read during the fast day that marks the destruction of the Temples, into the singing of the Shabbat hymn “Lekha Dodi.” The mournful tune echoes in stark contrast to both the sounds and mood typically associated with Kabbalat Shabbat, and with the welcoming of Shabbat ruach, the spirit of rest and renewal.
How can we integrate this juxtaposition? By first noting that, as with all moments of transition, there exists some anticipation of what is to come, as well as a welter of thoughts and feelings about the moments we have already experienced.
We also note the beginning of a sequence of special Shabbats, beginning with Shabbat Chazon, from the first word of the haftarah reading: vision. This is followed by seven weeks of prophetic consolation with special haftarah readings of comfort, beginning with Shabbat Nachamu, which begins “Have comfort my people.”
This Shabbat sequence brings us right through the month of Elul, the month of preparation for the High Holy Days, and towards Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is not coincidental that, at the end of reading the Book of Lamentations, we repeat its second to last line: “turn us to you and we will return,” pledging we will do teshuva, the perpetual returning; “renew our days as of old,” allow each moment to be as fresh and as present as what we might long for from before.
Does this answer our question: does Shabbat ever change? Should it, can it, be static? How can it, or should it, hold the specific mood of a given week, or commemoration?
This year, Shabbat Nachamu falls on August 20, the weekend of Ottawa’s Pride Parade. That Shabbat, Or Haneshamah, our Reconstructionist congregation, meets outdoors, with a bright rainbow flag featuring a Magen David in the middle, marking our presence at a lovely spot on the Rideau River. We follow our Pride Shabbat by marching in the parade the next day, proud of our community and our movement’s leadership in this realm.
And yet, looking back on the tremendous progress across this country, and more recently in the United States, for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights, there are mixed emotions. Pride to be sure, yet a great deal of loss and suffering as well.
To go back, to go forward, to be reluctant to leave this moment, yet to need to embrace the next one, and the next … May this be the gift, and the challenge, of all our Shabbats. We can relate to Shabbat Chazon as a Sabbath of seeing, and appreciating, and celebrating, where we are, right at this blessed moment. Shabbat Nachamu can serve to remind us that we are always held; that the grace of community can be a healing balm, and that progress and change are always possible.
“Lekha Dodi,” the beautiful piyyut of Erev Shabbat, has the capacity to hold the past, the present and the future. And Shabbat itself reminds us that practising its rituals with regularity can still hold change.