Thursday, June 01, 2023

With the haftarah of “Nachamu” we begin a series of readings known as the “Shiv’a D’n’chemta,” the Seven haftarot of Consolation that lead up to Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat before Yom Kippur. All of these haftarot are taken from the Book of Yeshayahu and are meant to lift us from the depths of depression and rejection to the heights of joy and acceptance. It is a journey of seven weeks during which we repair our relationship with God that was, seemingly, torn asunder.

Tosafot (Megillah 31b) points out that these selections are arranged in ascending order, i.e., that this haftarah does not compare in its comforting words to the prophecies that follow. And yet, the prophet’s opening words call out: “Nachamu, nachamu, ami,” “Be comforted, My people.” Certainly a powerful message to the post-churban generation. So, in what way is this selection less comforting than others? Please consider:

The Temple lay in ruins.

The population was driven into exile.

Tens of thousands of Jews were killed.

So, the prophet calls for us to be comforted because…God has completed the punishment, as you have suffered twice as much as you deserved (“ki lak’cha miyad Hashem kiflayim bechol chatoteha”).

Is this comforting? Is this the consolation the people needed? The Jews may have been relieved—but not comforted—by that message. After all, the haftarah focuses upon God’s power and ability to punish, but nothing about His willingness to forgive. It speaks of God’s might and His ability to change nature, but not upon Israel’s 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. Only at the end does the prophet paint the magnificent picture of God as a 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, we must ask why it was included here as one of the “comforting” haftarot?

I would suggest that the words of the navi were of great consolation because they, and future generations for 2,500 years, firmly believed in the truth of the prophecies that predicted and depicted the glorious redemption that awaited Israel.

Throughout the torment and torture of the Diaspora, despite the misery and incomparable pain they suffered, Jews were able to look at the words of Yeshayahu and gain strength and inspiration from them. And that is how they survived—by holding on to the dream.

And we, of all generations, are blessed to see these prophecies come to life. We see the fruition of those promises that our ancestors could only dream would come true.

And so, we, of all generations, can read the words of the haftarah with great confidence: “Nachamu, nachamu, ami”; yes, God, You are indeed comforting us.

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