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Va-ethannan 5769

Parshat Vaethanan
Shabbat Nahamu
(Isaiah 40:1-26)
August 1, 2009
11 Av 5769

The intense mourning over the destruction of the Temples and the end of autonomous Jewish national life reflected in the commemoration of Tisha b\’Av is over. The Jewish people desperately needs God\’s solace. Liturgically, the next seven Shabbatot were assigned special haftarot for this purpose (the Shiva d\’nehamta – the Seven haftarot of Consolation). These haftarot come from the second part of the book of Isaiah (chapters 40 – end) where God\’s consolation is one of the major themes. The first of these haftarot, which we read this Shabbat, opens appropriately with the words: \”Nahamu nahamu ami – Comfort, O comfort My people\” (40:1).

Still, every generation had its own tragedies and its own need for comfort and with this need the insecurity over whether God had the ability to provide this comfort. Each new tragedy bred insecurity and each generation sought new assurances. Where could a Jew seek reassurance? The following midrash finds proof of God\’s faithfulness in an unlikely source. If you want to confirm God\’s reliability in offering comfort, it pays to check out whether human beings are capable of offering each other solace properly:

\”Shall mortal man act more justly than God? Shall a man outshine his Maker? (Job 4:17) Can a human being be more righteous than his Creator? Rather, God\’s deeds obviously outshine those of human beings. Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: [If] Boaz comforted [Ruth]; Shall I not [be capable] of offering comfort? Boaz began to comfort Ruth by saying: It hath been told and told me\” (Ruth 2:11). Why did he use \”told\” twice? Because he meant: Your good conduct in the house has been told me, and your good conduct in the field has been told me. And Boaz continued: It has been told: \”what you did for your mother-in-law even after the death of your husband (ibid.) and I need not mention what you did for her while your husband was still alive. It has been told \”how you left your father and your mother\” (ibid.), your own flesh and blood; and how you left the \”land of your birth\” (ibid.), your own home… Then Ruth answered Boaz: \”I have surely found favor in your sight, my lord: that you have comforted me, and for that you have spoken to the heart of your maidservant (Ruth 2:13). \”Heaven forbid! No,\” said Boaz (Ruth 2:14), \”speak not of yourself as a maidservant\” – you are counted among the Matriarchs.\” Now does it not follow that just as Boaz spoke to Ruth\’s heart, good words, comforting words, [and brought her] comfort, [surely] when the Holy One comes to comfort Jerusalem, and says Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people (Isa. 40:1), [He will succeed in comforting her?] (Adapted and abridged from Pesikta d\’Rav Kahana 16:1 Mandelbaum ed. pp. 263-265)

This midrash makes a fairly radical theological statement. It takes an example of noble human behavior, surely worthy of emulation, and uses it, by way of argument, to convince its audience that the world is infused with God\’s consolation. It assumes that God\’s creations simply emulate His model. Consequently, we should be assured that He will also comfort us. It also should remind us, in turn, that all of our actions should be taken with this message in mind, namely, that people shape their opinions of God from how those who represent Him act – a message that should be carefully heeded by all those who represent the Jewish community.

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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