Dr Annette M. Boeckler
Shema      Reflections Shabbat Nachamu
Related to this week's torah portion, VA'ETCHANAN:

YOU SHALL LOVE God with all your heart,
with all its yearnings and its passions.
You shall love God with all you appreciate in life
and with all the plenty that the world offers to you,
be it joy or sadness.

Teach your children to stand up for it,
to dream and go beyond this
so that they wish to
have lives full of sanctity.

View each of your actions with these words,
an may sanctity cover you from head to toe.
Allow these words to make your home a dwelling place of peace.
And wherever you may go,
spread these words as if they were seeds
or raindrops on arid land.
Don’t abstain from watering
the trees of life
in your garden.

Keep these words in your heart;
let them flow
from and through
the soul to the body
so that sanctity may permeate your whole being.

[Sidur Chadash, São Paulo 2005, p. 117; 
translation from the Portuguese Annette Boeckler]


Dr Annette M. Boeckler


The writing on the Torah Shrine

Comfort Ye My People! Nachamu! This shabbat is named after its Haftarah and it always follows Tisha beAv. Shabbat Nachamu brings us back to life and torah and opens a series of 7 Haftarot of Consolation (Shiva deNehemta) leading up to Rosh haShana. The curtains, cloths, and ornaments, removed for 9 Av, are now back for those of us who meet in synagogue buildings. I’d like to focus your attention to the very piece of furniture in which we keep the foundation document of Judaism: the torah shrine, the ark, or aron haQodesh.

If you had to chose one phrase to write onto an ark or above it, what would you like to have in front of your eyes the whole time while sitting in shul? Many arks feature: דע לפמי מי אתה עומד “Know in front of whom you stand” (cf. Ber 28b plural, vgl. Avot 2:19 with עמל) to create an awareness of God to be able to pray with awe and concentration.

I know three unique torah shrines featuring a very uncommon phrase. They are in the room of prayer in Leo Baeck College, in Belsize Square Synagogue, and in the Liberale Joodse Gemeente in Amsterdam. It is no coincidence that these three place share an unusual ark quote: ודבר אלהינו יקום לעולם “But the word of our God will stand forever”. This quotes deliberately from this week’s Haftara Nachamu, Isaiah 40:8. All the three mentioned places were founded by refugees from Nazi Germany. What must have been their feelings commemorating Tisha beAv in 1939 and later, images of destroyed “temples” dominating their minds (many synagogues in Germany were indeed called “temple”). The words that this generation chose to write on their ark was not the common “Know in front of whom you stand”– many will have had more doubts about this than knowledge. Instead they quoted from Haftara “Nachamu”: “But the word of our God will stand forever”. As our Haftarah puts it poetically: “All flesh is grass, all its goodness like flowers of the field: Grass withers, flowers fade ... ודבר אלהינו יקום לעולם but our God’s word (or thing or issue) will stand forever.” Judaism will not be destroyed. This looks forward, not backwards, and also leads to the tasks, that this week’s torah portion formulates: to teach Judaism to our children, to have Jewish values in our hearts and thoughts and on our doorposts. May this shabbat reaffirm our Jewish identity, to teach this and to live this hope and confidence and to slowly get prepared, full of comfort and trust, for Rosh haShana and this year’s High Holiday season.


Dr Annette M. Boeckler is a member of Kol Nefesh Masorti and lecturer at Leo Baeck College.