We are now in week five of the Seven Weeks of Comfort that follow the Three Weeks of Affliction. In these weeks we are comforted over the destruction and loss of the Holy Temple, and they prepare us for rebirth and renewal in the upcoming New Year.
How appropriate as we approach the first anniversary of September 11 and we search for ways to commemorate the tragic events of last year, honor the losses and rebuild in a new, uncertain world. How appropriate as we continue to grieve the losses in Israel, and look for hope in our challenging journey ahead.
By digging deeper into the 2424 year-old system of the Seven Weeks of Comfort we can discover the secrets of how to deal with destruction, consolation and renewal – the mystery of eternity that has held us together through centuries of upheaval.
The seven haftorahs are sort of a dialogue between the people and G-d, as I outlined in last week’s article. This dialogue is actually a process that can be recreated in this 7 week period; a process that can help us establish a dialogue with G-d as we attempt to heal and grow through our losses and experiences.
I should add, that this system is relevant to all of us and at all times. Even if you have not personally experienced a (recent) loss, we all: 1) are living in the same uncertain world and are in need of healing. 2) must empathize with others who are suffering. 3) can and must always grow; even when things are going relatively well, there is so much more that we can reach. And relative to our own level we all need a form of healing and elevation from level to level. As the saying goes (in Yiddish): “Oib gut iz gut, iz besser nisht besser? – If good is good, is better not better?”
The Seven Steps to Healing from Loss
Week 1. Nachamu Nachamu – Companionship
First we must comfort each other. If you have been hurt, you must find friends that can comfort you. It’s not enough to turn to G-d. You need to find peers that you can relate to and that can relate to you. Once something has broken, you have to begin rebuilding from the bottom up. We may not be initially ready for G-d Himself to come and console us directly. We first need to create the proper ‘container’ to acclimate ourselves to receive G-d’s blessings and consolations.
Exercise: Find a friend, find a teacher that can hold your hand and help you through a difficult time. Someone sincere and real, who can accompany you and then help prepare you for the next stages. And allow yourself to be such a friend for others as well.
Week 2. G-d has forsaken me; My G-d has forgotten me – Awareness
Once we have done everything humanly possible to heal and comfort each other, we then reach a new level of awareness and sensitivity, where we can recognize blind spots and undernourished parts of our soul that was previously obscured. In our newfound awareness we cry out, “G-d has forsaken me; my G-d has forgotten me.” We feel a deep void.
Exercise: Next time you cry, don’t just cry for your pain and sense of being overwhelmed. Try to focus not just on your feelings of emptiness, but feel that your cry is also for the void of not feeling your connection to that which is Higher than yourself – your connection to G-d.
Week 3. The afflicted, storm-tossed one is not consoled – Acknowledgement
Our cry reaches heaven. And it is acknowledged: We are not consoled by mortals; we are not comforted by even the best of intentions and words. We are not satisfied with being pacified over our losses; neither are we soothed by just damage control and ‘doing the best with what we have.’ We want to not only heal from loss, but redeem the loss. We need to know that our pain is not just being lifted, but that it brings us and those around us – and above all, our lost loved ones – to a greater place. And this yearning is acknowledged above; it is not only our wish and hope, G-d acknowledges that we are entitled. Entitled to more.
Exercise: Be compassionate and sensitive to those around you. Acknowledge the void in others, and your void will be acknowledged as well.
Week 4. I, I am He who comforts you – Reunion
A new Divine power enters into your life (made possible by the previous three steps/weeks). A force that brings you deep comfort from within, knowing that you have an absolute and indispensable purpose in this world, one that transcends and encompasses all life experiences, even painful ones. It is the sense that you can and will make it through everything and anything. This power is not a mortal one; it is Divine, and it gives you the ability to experience a deep calm – being at peace with your center.
Exercise: Say Modeh Ani prayer every morning, acknowledging the return of your soul for a new day. Connecting to your soul and your personal mission statement – your indispensable role in this world.
Week 5. Sing barren one, you who have not given birth – Rebirth
After the initial reconnect and corresponding comfort, we can begin to feel reborn and refreshed. Even though we may feel ‘barren’ and have ‘not given birth,’ we learn to sing. Not because we accept our ‘barren’ state, but because we learn to give birth in new ways. We learn new tools and methods – sometimes ones that like ‘bypass surgery’ open up new channels of birth, ones that even greater than conventional channels, ones that give birth to more numerous children. And we expand to far greater places. Resultingly, we don’t just sing, we break into a song.
Exercise: Meditate and internalize the lines of this week’s haftorah. G-d tells you “Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed… You will forget the shame of your youth and the reproach of your widowhood… For your Creator is your husband… The Holy of Israel is your Redeemer. For G-d called you as a wife abandoned and grieved in spirit. Can a wife of youth be rejected? Says your G-d. For a brief moment I forsook you, but I will gather you with great compassion. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you; but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you.”
Then sing a song to yourself, sing for the blessings in your life.
Week 6. Arise, shine for your light has come – Rebuilding
But even as we are comforted, the world around us may still remain a dangerous place. It’s not enough to insulate ourselves from the pain around us, we must also be able to feel secure in our environment. So after we are personally comforted and given the ability for rebirth, we now are comforted by the fact that we have the power to transform and rebuild the world around – even a dark and uncertain world.
Exercise: Now meditate and internalize these words: “Arise, shine for your light has come, and the Divine glory has risen upon you. For, behold, darkness will cover the earth and thick darkness the peoples, but G-d will arise over you and His glory will be seen upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising… Aliens will build up your walls…The sons of your oppressors will come bending to you, and all who despised you will bow down at your feet. They will call you, “The city of G-d, the Zion of the Holy one of Israel.” Though you were forsaken and hated with no one passing through you, I will make you an eternal majesty…Violence will no longer be heard in your land, neither desolation nor destruction within your borders…Your sun will no longer set, not will your moon wane. For G-d will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning will be ended. Your people will all be righteous; they will possess the land forever; the branch of My planting, the work of My hands… The smallest will become a thousand, and the least a mighty nation; I, G-d, will hasten in its time.”
Now, sing not just for yourself, but sing a melody for and with others.
Week 7. I will greatly rejoice in G-d – Reconciliation, Renewal
After the previous six weeks/levels of comfort, we have grown and acknowledge that growth. We reach the point where we are now ready to reciprocate. And we do – in a celebration of joy. “I will greatly rejoice in G-d, my soul will exult in my G-d, for He clothed me with the garments of salvation.” We commit ourselves to be awake and alert – “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be still, until her righteousness shines forth like radiance… The nations will see your righteousness. And all the kings your glory.”
Exercise: Do your part to protect the sacred and defend the helpless. Speak out and take a stand. “O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen on your walls. They will never be silent day or night… Behold G-d has proclaimed to the end of earth: Say to the daughter of Zion: Behold, your salvation comes… They will call them ‘The Holy People,’ G-d’s redeemed; and you will be called “Sought Out,” a city not forsaken.
Recognize the Divine choreography in today’s world events. “Who is this that comes from Edom…”
And above all, remember that G-d is with us in all our pain. “In all their affliction He was afflicted…In His love and pity He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them through all the years.”
Now, we are ready to enter the New Year.