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August 7, 2014 By:
From Mourning to Matchmaking
This weekend, large numbers of young, single, traditionally observant Jewish men and women will be heading to their favorite hotel for that most American of summertime Jewish observances, the Orthodox singles weekend. This is Shabbos Nachamu, the “Sabbath of Consolation,” which immediately follows the Fast of the Ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av) and is observed by many in the Orthodox world as a time for meeting one’s bashert — seeking matches that may lead to a lifetime relationship and future family.
Judaism marks the litany of calamities that have occurred during the three weeks — beginning with the Seventeenth of Tammuz and ending with Tisha B’Av (which was Aug. 5) — by fasting and mourning. Tradition teaches that both the First and Second Temples were destroyed during this time. In addition, the Romans defeated Bar Kochba’s last fortress (132 C.E.), King Edward I of England expelled all Jews from his lands (1290 C.E.), the Jews left Spain (1492) and the Nazis began deporting Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto (1942) — all in this period.
By Shabbos Nachamu, however, the time for mourning is over and the business of securing the future of the Jewish people can begin. The practice of making matches during the third week of the month of Av goes back to Second Temple times. The Mishna quotes Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel as saying, “There were no better days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av (Tu B’Av) and Yom Kippur when the daughters of Israel would go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards calling: ‘Young man, consider whom you choose to be your wife.’ Whoever did not have a wife would go there to find himself a bride.”
The Shabbat of this week, Shabbos Nachamu, receives its name from the week’s Haftorah, which begins with “Nachamu nachamu ami” (“Be consoled, be consoled, my people”). In it, the prophet Isaiah consoles the Jewish people following the destruction of their Temple and loss of their sovereignty with a vision of future success and happiness, back on their own land.
The move from mourning to matchmaking might seem odd. Nachmanides explains that Adam and Eve would have lived forever had they not sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. With God’s decree that humans would eventually die, that endless potential became limited. At times of individual mourning, we cry for the lost potential represented by that death; at times of national mourning, we cry for the lost potential by the Jewish people to serve God by creating a more perfect world.
Our sages understood that national consolation comes with a vision of the good the Jewish people have yet to accomplish and a plan for fulfilling that vision. Frum Jewish singles follow the national mourning with action that will lead them to build Jewish homes in fulfillment of the prophet’s vision.
Today, as Israelis are dying and being forced to kill in defense of our nation, we mourn the deaths of our own family and the need to kill others. Both result in a lessening of Israel’s potential to build a more perfect world. With God’s help, the current violence will soon end. Then, our consolation will come from our efforts to assure the continuity of the Jewish people in accordance with Isaiah’s vision of peace and security in our own land.
Rabbi Howard Alpert, CEO of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, received his rabbinic ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University.