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Am Yisrael Chai … V’Kayam!

Parshas Va’etchanan

Probing the Prophets

With the haftarah of “Nachamu,” we begin the “Shiva d’Nechemta,” the post-Tisha B’Av readings of consolation that lead up to Shabbat Shuva—the Shabbat before Yom Kippur. Each one of these haftarot is taken from the sefer Yeshayahu and are aimed to lift us from the depths of depression and rejection to the heights of joy and acceptance. This journey of seven weeks is meant to be a time to repair our relationship with God that was, seemingly, torn asunder by the galut, so that we would be prepared for the season of teshuva.

Tosafot (Megillah 31b) points out that these selections are arranged in ascending order, i.e., that each haftarah progresses in its comforting words to the prophecies of the previous one. In the opening words, Hashem calls to the prophets: “Nachamu, nachamu ami—(Go and) comfort My people,” which, certainly, appears to be a most powerful message to the post-churban generation. In what way—we might wonder—is this selection any less comforting than those messages that would follow?

Let us consider: The Temple lay in ruins, the population was driven into exile and thousands of Jews were killed. So, the prophet calls for us to be comforted because … God has completed the punishment since “you have already suffered twice as much as you deserved” (“ki lak’cha miyad Hashem kiflayim bechol chatotecha”). Is this comforting? The Jews may have been relieved to learn that the punishments had ceased—but would that have been a “soothing comfort” for them?

Furthermore, the haftarah focuses upon God’s power and His ability to punish—but says nothing about His willingness to forgive! The perek also speaks of God’s might and His ability to change nature—but does not speak of Israel’s future redemption. And, whereas the other prophecies of comfort depict God’s relationship with us as that of a father to his child or even husband to his wife, this haftarah speaks in terms of a ruler to his nation, an almighty power who judges the people—lacking the warmth and caring of a relationship the nation so desperately needed! In but one verse alone, does the Navi paint the picture of God as a compassionate shepherd gathering His sheep and holding the wandering lamb in His bosom, portraying a warmer and more intimate connection between Hashem and His nation.

Perhaps, this is why Tosafot regarded this prophecy as the least comforting of the seven. And, if so, then how, indeed, were they to be comforted?

I would suggest that Bnei Yisrael were comforted by Yishayahu’s message since for 2,500 years, they—and future generations—had firmly believed in the words of the prophet that they would have a future. After the horrors of the churban and throughout the torment and torture of the Diaspora and incomparable pain they suffered, in was only logical for them to believe that they were doomed; that they had NO future. The simple promise they found in the words of this haftarah gave them the strength and inspiration to go on. They survived—because they knew that they would survive.

And we—more than past generations—can see these prophecies come to life. We see the fruition of those promises that our ancestors could only pray would come true. Yes, we have survived, and, therefore, can confidently declare to our nation:“Nachamu, nachamu ami—we all can now be comforted,” for Yishayahu’s prophecy has been realized.

Yes! We have survived. We have succeeded. And we will flourish—just as Yishayahu prophesied! “Am Yisrael chai … v’kayam!”


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.

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