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Va-ethannan 5766

Parshat Va-ethanan
Shabbat Nachamu
(Isaiah 40:1-26)
August 5, 2006

The enemies of the Jewish people seem almost unconsciously to be drawn to the three weeks between the seventeenth of Tamuz, the day that marks the first breech by the Romans of the walls of Jerusalem in the days of the Second Temple, and Tisha b\’Av, the day on which we mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. These three weeks, known as \”bein hametzarim\” which translates literally as \”between the straits\”, have throughout Jewish history been associated with Jewish tragedy. This attitude is even marked in the halacha: \”When the month of Av arrives, we decrease our rejoicing… legal proceedings should be avoided because these days are not propitious.\” (Shulhan Aruch, Orach Hayim 551:1)

Liturgically, the Shabbat after this period is known as Shabbat Nahamu – the Shabbat of Consolation. This name is derived from the first words of Isaiah\’s message in this week\’s haftarah: \”Nahamu nahamu ami – Comfort, Oh comfort My people, says your God.\” (verse 1) This haftarah marks a religious change in moods on the Jewish calendar, from a somber period of mourning, tragedy, and misfortune to one of solace, relief and reconciliation with God.

This transformation is reflected in the following midrash: \’How long will My glory be mocked, will you love illusions? (Psalm 4:3) How long will you pursue after empty things? Why do you say, \’The Holy One Blessed be He has abandoned Israel and forgotten Israel? Why do you say that the Shechina (God\’s indwelling presence) will never return to Israel?\’ Rather [the nations of the world who say these things] \’seek only delusions\’ (Ibid.) What do you nations think? Just because I [God] abandoned Israel for a moment, you really think that it will be forever? Rather, \’know that the Lord singles out the faithful for Himself, the Lord hears when I call to Him.\” (Ibid. 4) [God already made this known through Isaiah: \’Comfort, Oh comfort My people\’ (Isaiah 40:1) When the appointed time comes, \’the Lord hears when I [Israel] call Him.\’ (Psalm 4:4) (adapted from Midrash Tehillim 4:8 Buber ed. pp. 45-6)

The enemies of Israel often assume that God has rejected His people and can consequently easily be conquered. These enemies should be forewarned of the fallacy of such ideas. Isaiah\’s message is eternal and the time of consolation is upon us in these days after the culmination of Tisha b\’Av.

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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