Our hearts are shattered into a million pieces. We are Ohavei Yisrael ("lovers of Israel"), rabbis in North America, lovers of peace, seekers of justice. We are distraught by the images of the dead: Israeli soldiers, beautiful, honorable, fallen before their time; innocent Gazans, trapped by Hamas' vile excuse for leadership. We are distraught by the endless cycle of defending our people's right to a safe and secure home, our dream for all the children of Israel and Gaza and the West Bank to know safety, for all people in the state of Israel and the Palestinian Territories to gain a moment's pause to remember to breathe in their trembling, shared air.
A week from this coming Shabbat is known as Shabbat Nachamu, the "Sabbath of Comfort." In the Shabbat following the Jewish ritual day of mourning known as Tisha B'Av -- on which numerous tragedies befell the Jewish people, not the least of which was the destruction of both Jerusalem temples, which signified the end of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel for 2,000 years -- we let go the haunting melody of Lamentations, and we rise from sitting in sack cloth, mourning on the floor. We return to lives pervaded by the holiest of mitzvot: comforting one another, committing our every breath to live as models of compassion. We count seven weeks between the ravages of Tisha Be'Av and the rebirth of Rosh HaShanah and chant on the first Shabbat of ritual comfort from the book of Isaiah intended for a people who've danced intimately with suffering, who have known degradation, and who are now called to seek to be a light for all people.
This year, amidst the war that rages on the ground, in the shattered remnants of our hearts, we believe the world needs an extra Shabbat of Comfort, an extra dose of compassion, an extra week to seek comfort for all of God's fragile creation. We invite all our colleagues and all our congregations to join us in an additional week of comfort and compassion.
The Maharal of Prague taught:
Love of all creatures is also love of God, for whoever loves the One [God] loves all the works that God has made. When one loves God, it is impossible not to love God's creatures. The opposite is also true. If one hates the creatures, it is impossible to love God Who created them. (Netivot Olam, Ahavat haRe'i, 1)
In a debate that rages in Israel and Gaza, where bombs are thrown on social media, and where the conversation about Israel and the pursuit of peace can become lost in contesting facts on and under the ground, we call upon our communities to remember that the Talmud calls Jews to be "Rachmanim b'nei Rachmanim" ("compassionate children of compassionate ancestors") (Bezah 32b). Comforting one another, offering abundant compassion to those whose hearts are weary and broken, is a holy act, a sign of our people's outstanding strength. But what calls with even deeper holiness is to be strong enough to see no limit to compassion.
We welcome our communities and friends to find a way to ritualize an extra week of comfort and compassion, reaching to those beyond the boundaries of any community or group, so we might breathe new life into Isaiah's grand vision: "No one shall hurt nor destroy in all of God's holy mountain" (Isaiah 11:9).
May we live to see it be real, soon and in our days, for all people, on both sides of every border.