Today is September 21, 2017 -

Va-ethannan 5763

Haftarah Parshat Vaetchanan
Shabbat Nachamu
(Isaiah 40:1-26)
July 20, 2002

This week’s haftarah begins a series of seven haftarot (sheva d’nechemta) which offer the people of Israel consolation in the weeks which follow Tisha B’Av. The first haftarah of this series lends its name to this special Shabbat. What makes this haftarah an appropriate message of consolation to the people of Israel?

This midrash offers a possible answer. It records the following dialogue between God and the prophets: “The Holy One Blessed be He said to the prophets, ‘Go and offer comfort to Jerusalem.’ Hosea went to offer them some comfort. He said to the city, ‘The Holy One Blessed be He, has sent me to offer you comfort.’ Jerusalem said to Hosea, ‘What do you have in hand?’ He said to her, ‘I will be as the dew to Israel.’ (Hosea 14:6) Jerusalem replied to him, ‘Yesterday, you said to me, Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit (Hosea 9;16), and now you offer me comfort? Which of these statements shall I believe, the first statement or the second?’…. Micah went to offer comfort. He said to the city, ‘The Holy One Blessed be He, has sent me to you to offer you comfort.’ Jerusalem asked in return, ‘What do you have in hand?’ He said to her, ‘Who is like God to you who pardons sin and ignores transgressions (Micah 7:18). She said to him, ‘Yesterday, you said to me, For the transgression of Jacob is all this and for the sins of the house of Israel (Micah 1:56), and now you expect me to accept your consolation? Which should I believe, your first statement or your second statement? [and so it went with each of the prophets.] The prophets returned to God and said to Him, ‘Master of the Universe, Jerusalem has not accepted the solace that we have offered her.’ God responded, ‘You and I will go together to offer her comfort.’ As it is written, ‘Nachamu nachamu ami – Be comforted, be comforted, My people.’ [Instead of reading it this way, the midrash reads the last word – “imi – with Me” – implying that God offered His solace along with the prophets – ‘Be comforted, be comforted for I, God, join you (the prophets) in offering comfort to the people of Israel’.] (adapted from Pesikta d’Rav Kahana Parshat Nachamu 8 – Mandelbaum edition)

In our greatest tragedies and in our most traumatic afflictions, human consolation seems inadequate. In these moments, it is the knowledge that God is with us and that we are never alone, that offers the greatest consolation. We may never have the answers to all of our questions. We may grow despondent over the contradictions that face us but God’s companionship and concern remain constant. There is no greater solace than this.

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.
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