In our Torah portion this week, we read the Shema, the quintessential expression of the Jewish faith in God. This year, this portion has an added level of meaning as it falls on the heels of Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av), which was observed this past Sunday. According to our tradition – it was on the 9th of Av that both the First and Second Temples were destroyed, and in remembrance of these catastrophes, many Jews fast and mourn for twenty-four hours.
It is traditional to read from the book of Lamentations, a scroll bewails the destruction of the First Temple and the exile of the Jews from Jerusalem. Embedded in the words of this scroll are sentiments of abandonment and fear, as our ancestors believed that the destruction of the Temple was an indication that God had turned away and left Israel to suffer the perils of history.
The themes of Tisha B’Av and the pain-filled cries found throughout the Scroll of Lamentations speak to us today. Certainly, all of us have been through our share of emotional pain and loss. Certainly, we have experienced moments when our hearts seem to cry out: “God where are you when I really need you.”
At such moments, our connection with God can feel very distant. At such moments, it can feel as though our God has turned away. At such moments, it can be comforting to pray a familiar prayer of reminder – and that prayer is the Shema.
At times of pain and loss, the hallowed words of the Shema would seem to be more important than any single phrase one could utter. If in good times, we can faithfully declare that God’s relationship with us is eternal, would it not be logical to conclude that, when God feels far away, our hearts need reminding?
When we recite the Shema (in good times and in bad), we open our minds and our hearts to feel a connection to attributes we pray are there for us to behold. When we recite the Shema, we express an age-old hope that our relationship with God is, indeed, everlasting.