Usually, we begin the new semester and academic calendar in the Hebrew month of Elul or very close to Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish New Year and preparations leading up to it and all the associated themes (including King in the Field etc) make for good start of the year at college speeches/themes, too.
But this year (many colleges) begin classes still yet in the month of Av, also known as Menachem-Av. This month begins with the mourning of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, but then turns into a season of comfort, of reassurance, of support, encouragement and uplift.
Most of you aren’t depressed about going to college, no one is mourning, I don’t think, but its safe to say that there’s some feeling of trepidation or anxiety, fear or stress, especially for freshmen or transfer students. It’s never easy starting someplace new, there can be a lot of concerns and unknowns, and not only for freshmen, to a certain degree this can be true of all students. So, the themes of comfort and reassurance are certainly in line.
Tisha B’Av is when we mourn the destruction of the Temple. It’s the saddest date on the Jewish calendar. During the 3 weeks leading up to it, we read sorrowful and mournful Haftorahs in the synagogue. Haftorah is a reading from the books of the prophets which follows the Torah reading on the Sabbath in synagogue.
Between Tisha B’aV and Rosh Hashanah are always 7 Shabbat weekends. Those 7 weekends, we read 7 Haftorahs of Comfort, they all have themes of reassurance and uplift, and comfort.
I’d like to point out something that the Rebbe shares from a Midrash. The source of this Midrash is in the Avudraham, in his commentary on the liturgy.
The first four Haftorahs in this sequence of 7 Haftorahs of Comfort, follow a dialogue between G-d, the prophets and the Jewish People. Listen to the opening lines of these 4 Haftorahs:
נַֽחֲמ֥וּ נַֽחֲמ֖וּ עַמִּ֑י יֹאמַ֖ר אֱלֹֽהֵ-יכֶֽם:
(1) “Console, console My people,” says your God. (Isaiah 40:1) on Parshas Va’etchanan
וַתֹּ֥אמֶר צִיּ֖וֹן עֲזָבַ֣נִי הֹ וַֽאדֹ-נָ֖י שְׁכֵחָֽנִי:
(2) And Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.” (Isaiah 49:14) on Parshas Eikev
עֲנִיָּה סֹעֲרָה לֹא נֻחָמָה
(3) O poor tempestuous one, who was not consoled.. (Isaiah 54:11) on Parshas Re’eh (though in Minhag Chabad, not in years when it falls on Rosh Chodesh)
אָֽנֹכִ֧י אָֽנֹכִ֛י ה֖וּא מְנַֽחֶמְכֶ֑ם
(4) I, yea, I – am He Who consoles you; (Isaiah 51:12) on Parshas Shoftim
Here’s what the Midrash says:
In Haftorah #1, the prophets tell the Jewish people, G-d says you should be consoled. Haftorah #2 reads: Zion says G-d forsake me! Haftorah #3 is when G-d notices the Jews aren’t comforted, “who was not consoled.” Therefore comes Haftorah #4, where G-d doesn’t send prophets, he doesn’t suggest or direct that they be consoled, instead: “Anochi, Anochi – I, yes I, I am the one who comforts you.”
So let’s take this back to the comforting welcome students might appreciate as they enter college for the first time, or return for a new year:
It’s not enough that Chabad offers a warm welcome, or the community has a lot to offer, or that people, even good or great people will do it. “Anochi, Anochi” it must be I! Each and every one of us ought to feel that onus and opportunity, to reach out and welcome and comfort and uplift one another. Don’t leave it to the system, to the elected student board, each of us should feel the imperative of the Anochi!