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Adapting to Setbacks

This Thursday is the Jewish holy day of Tisha b’Av.

Our tradition says that, in the past, 3 things happened on this terrible day:

1) On that terrible day, Moses and his generation of Israelites were told they would NOT enter the promised land.

2) On that terrible day, The First Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE

3) On that terrible day, The Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE.

Accordingly, there is a tradition that we fast on Tisha B’Av to contemplate these past three disastrous events and the grave changes that have come to our lives within the past year as well. We are supposed to confront feelings of being outside of God’s sheltering presence – of feeling like someone has shoved us out from under the protective wings of the Shechinah—the nurturing essence of God.  

But our tradition is not one of continual darkness.  Thankfully we don’t ignore our troubled times, but, rather, we acknowledge them and commemorate them.  And, then sooner or later, Shabbat comes along. 

Intended to be a day of joy and gladness, a celebration of rest and rejuvenation, the Shabbat after the time of depletion that we experience on Tisha B’Av comes first as a surprise—and it feels a little disjunctive.  We have been brought to this low low place, and then, a day later, we are to celebrate Shabbat? 

But in their wisdom, the architects of Jewish tradition have named that Shabbat, the first after Tisha B’Av, Shabbat Nachmu—the Sabbath of consolation. And as such, it challenges us to consider the question:  How do we get up after we’ve been knocked down?

This week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan, provides us with a proscription for dealing with difficult times.  It gives us three ways to deal with getting back up from being knocked down in life.

First of all the name of the Torah portion “Va’etchanan”—means “And I pleaded”—in it, Moses, after having been denied entrance to the promised land, pleads with God to reconsider.  

Like Moses, when we are knocked down, denied something that we have been counting on, we ought to cry out to God—plead with and wrestle with God to confront God about the injustices we are facing.  This allows us to name and confront our feelings.

Second: God tries to help Moses deal with the sentence by reminding Moses of all that he has endured in his life to date.  It is as if saying “Moses, after all that you have been through, after I helped you survive the threat of the Egyptians, you’re upset about this?” In this way, God is trying to provide Moses with perspective.  

When we are faced with difficulties in life, we should hearken back to a time that was even more difficult and realize that we are capable of surviving even now. 

Third, during this week’s Torah portion, Moses finally accepts his fate and concedes to prepare the Children of Israel for their journey into the land without him.  He finds the strength within himself to appoint a new leader. 

When we are faced with new circumstances in life, we must find the strength to accept the truth of the situation, and make the necessary changes. 

At this, Shabbat Nachmu, exactly 7 weeks away from Rosh HaShanah, the beginning of the new year, let us call to mind our most difficult times during this past year, and practice these strategies to help us adapt to the changes of our lives, for success in the new year going forward.

The above is a reflection by Rabbi Heather Miller on this week's Torah portion, Parashat Va'etchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11. Please visit to subscribe and follow on social media.

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