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Va-ethannan 5772

Haftarah Parshat Vaetchanan
Shabbat Nahamu
(Isaiah 40:1-26)
August 4, 2012
16 Av 5772

This Shabbat we begin a cycle of seven special haftarot of consolation (Shiva deNehamta) which follow Tisha b’Av and lead up to Rosh Hashanah. Isaiah’s message, in this haftarah, opens with the words: “Nahamu nahamu ami yomar E-lohechem – Be comforted, be comforted, O My people, says your God.” (40:1) Rabbi David Kimche (Provence 12th century) rightly asserts that the repetition of the word “nahamu” is meant to emphasize God’s profound intention to offer His troubled people solace. Rabbi Shalom Paul (US, Israel) points out that the doubling of words is a major characteristic of the later chapters of Isaiah which are known for their words of comfort. (Isaiah 40-48, Mikra L’Yisrael, p. 86)

Still, the plain sense of this coupling did not preclude sages throughout time from attempting to discover even deeper meaning in these doubled words. The renowned Hasidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak from Berditchev (18th century Ukraine) offered a psychologically insightful interpretation: “When God, blessed be He, offered us solace, He caused us to remember all of the troubles that had previously come upon us in order that our appreciation of our solace would be doubled. This is why this solace was offered using the name “Elo-heichem – your God” which indicated the aspect of divine justice.” (adapted from Kidushat Levi Hashalem L’Shabbat Nachamu p. 351)

What consolation is to be found in remembering past troubles? How is this to be considered a “double consolation”? The Berditchever seems to be making two important points. Since this verse uses the divine name “E-lohim”, which the rabbinic sages identified with divine justice (as opposed to divine mercy), R. Levi Yitzchak concludes that the source of divine mercy offered in this verse is tinged with aspects of justice. He wants us to know that consolation is more meaningful when a person views it though the perspective of what they have been through and understands where they have been. This gives a person the perspective to avoid the pitfalls which caused the previous situation. Here, we truly have a “double consolation”. The knowledge of consequences is a precious gift to be valued no less than serenity and solace.

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.

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