Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Parshat Va’etchanan/ Shabbat Nachamu

“L’eylah min kol birchata v’shirata, tushb’chata v’nechemata da’amiran b’olma…” The familiar words of the Kaddish express the fact that Hashem is beyond all blessings, songs, praises and “nechemata, consolation.” Our rabbis have commented that the term refers to the prophecies of comfort found in Sefer Yeshayahu. Which brings us to the haftarah of Shabbat “Nachamu.”

The 40th perek of Sefer Yeshayahu, whose first 26 pesukim make up the haftarah for this week, marks a dramatic shift in the tone and focus of the book itself. Up until this chapter, the navi Yeshayahu focused primarily upon the sins of Israel and the corruption of both the leadership and the common people. From this perek until the end of the sefer, some 27 perakim, the prophet concentrates upon offering words of comfort and consolation to the people, which is why the Gemara comments (Bava Batra 15a) that Sefer Yeshayahu is “kulah nechemta,” made up entirely of comforting prophecies. It is also why every one of the “shiva d’nechemta,” the seven post-Tisha B’Av haftarot of consolation (of which this one is the first), all come from Sefer Yeshayahu.


HaRav Schwab, z”l, makes an interesting point when he says that these messages of consolation would be better understood as messages of hope. Yeshayahu understood that Israel faced a long exile—actually two exiles. How would it be possible for them to survive thousands of years in the Diaspora, years that would be filled with attacks, pogroms and expulsions? The answer was this sefer. As Jews around the world gathered into their batei knesset each and every Shabbat and listened to the glowing description of what would be, they gained hope and courage to face another week of difficulties. It is perhaps for that reason that the very first bracha we recite after the chanting of the haftarah reminds us that Hashem is one Who is “Hamedaber Umekayem,” keeps that which He says and that all His pronouncements are “emet vatzedek,” true and just.

The opening message of this comfort section, the message that begins our haftarah, is an essential one, a necessary lesson that had to be taught before other promises of consolation could be delivered. The people, following the soon-to-come exile, would understandably believe that the exile from their land and the destruction of their Beit Mikdash were clear indications that God had rejected them and that they could no longer look to Hashem for salvation. This feeling of hopelessness would throw Israel into an even deeper pit of depression and despair. It would also lead them to serve foreign gods who, in their estimation, had “defeated” their Deity (kav’yachol). For this reason, God calls out to the prophets, “Nachamu, Nachamu ami, Go and comfort My people.” This divine charge to the nevi’im, a charge that would be shared with the entire nation, let the people know that they had not been rejected or abandoned by Hashem, and the pasuk that follows reassured them that they had paid the price for their sins and the punishment had ended.

This message was one that the people thirsted to hear, but one that was difficult to take to heart, given the depressed state they would find themselves in after churban habayit. It is for this reason, I believe, that Yeshayahu and his peers are told to speak “al lev Yerushalayim,” to speak to the heart of Jerusalem. God here offers an eternal lesson to all who would speak words of comfort: It is not enough to deliver the message to those who suffer. One must make sure to choose the words, the ideas that would enter the very hearts of those in pain.

Speaking to another is not always effective; speaking al lev, to the heart of another is bound to reflect a warmth and sincerity that has a better chance of comforting, consoling and encouraging.

And our rabbis express this same thought when they stated (sefer “Shira Yisrael”—R. Moshe Ibn Ezra), “Devarim hayotzim min halev, nichnasim el halev, Words that come from the heart will enter into the heart.”

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