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Parshat Vaetchanan – Shabbat Nahamu

Parshat Vaetchanan – Shabbat Nahamu (Isaiah 40:1-26)
August 5, 2017 / 13 Av 5777

This Shabbat begins a two-fold journey from the darkness of Tisha b’Av to the light of the Yamim Noraim (the holidays of the month of Tishei – Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot). The haftarah cycle for this period is marked by the Shiva d’Nehemta (the seven haftarot of consolation) all taken from the later part of the book of Isaiah (chapters 40 to the end of the book). These haftarot proclaim the idea of reconciliation with God and the return of the people from exile.

The reestablishment of a rapport between God and His people was not a simple process after the trauma of exile. The prophet had to work hard to remind the people that God was at their side in confronting the trials which faced them. A series of three verses, juxtaposed with each other, offers a window into this renewed acknowledgement of God: “(10) Behold the Lord God comes in might, and His arm wins triumph for Him… (11) Like a shepherd He pastures His flock; He gathers His sheep in His arms and carries them in His bosom, gently He drives the mother sheep. (12) Who measures the waters with the hollow of His hand. And gauged the skies with a span, and meted earth’s dust with a measure, and weighed the mountains with a scale and the hills with a balance? (13) Who has plumbed the mind of the Lord; what man can tell of His plan?”

In these four sentences, the prophet has described God’s power to save His people, His ability to tenderly nurture them, His greatness above and beyond human experience and the human inability to comprehend Him. Needless to say, the variety of images do not easily mesh with each other. Still, they express the human attempt to come to terms with the experience of God as we in our finite way are able to understand it. We seek God’s intimacy, power to save and strength when we need them. We yearn for the comfort of God’s nurturing hand when we are in need of solace, yet we are awed by God’s ultimate “otherness” and His being above and beyond our human experience.

The anomaly of these contradictions is what make God, God. Our inability to fathom or fit all of the pieces of the puzzle together in order to truly know Him, in fact, nurture our awe.

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp.
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Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary:

  • Underwriters:  Rabbi Michael and Erica Schwab.
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