Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

Following the three haftarot of rebuke are seven haftarot of consolation. The number of haftarot not only is doubled but another is added on to those, bringing us into the High Holiday season. This haftara, Nachamu, always follows Tisha B’Av and it leads off this cycle.

“Be consoled, be consoled,” says the navi (Yeshayahu 40:1). According to many commentators, this double language is once for the first Beit HaMikdash and once for the second. But this is small consolation – both our Temples are still in ruins. What consolation are we to find in these words of comfort?

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The Ben Ish Chai remarks on the phrase “Speak to the heart of Yerushalayim” (ibid. 2) that the “heart” of the Hebrew word Yerushalayim is the letter shin. Look to the “heart” of Yerushalayim, says the Ben Ish Chai: The letter shin has three branches, one for each of three Batei HaMikdash. Be consoled, Hashem is saying. Know that even in the depths of destruction a redemption is approaching beyond the power of your imagination.

The Piaseczno Rebbe, R’ Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, is sometimes referred to as the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto. He is perhaps best known to us by the name of the collection of sermons he delivered in the depths of the destruction of European Jewry, Esh Kodesh (the Holy Fire). His sermons span three years, 5700-5702, and they end with last week’s dire warning prior to Tisha B’Av, Shabbat Chazon 1942.

R’ Shapira wrote of Shabbat Nachamu during the summer of 1941. He wonders about the incongruity of the names of G-d used by the navi. Be consoled, says “Elokechem,” because you have taken from the hand of Hashem double for all your transgressions. We are accustomed to seeing the name Elokim associated with punishment and Hashem with mercy. But here we find the reverse. The Esh Kodesh explains that there are losses which can be restored, there is grief that can be salved, but there is also mourning that only is ever eventually buried in the joy of future celebrations. Some losses can never truly be made whole again unless and until the ones we love are returned to us. Our G-d, the G-d of nature – Elokim – is bearing witness to the future resurrection when all of the martyrs will rise again. We are consoled by our faith in this future and in the knowledge that everything broken will be restored.

So how are we punished doubly and in what way is our reward to be doubled as well? R’ Shapira learns this answer from Rabbi Akiva, perhaps the most famous martyr of all. R’ Akiva was one of the ten martyrs of who endured the punishments of the shvatim for selling their brother Yosef into slavery. But how could this crime have been so great and the penalty deferred for so long as to ensnare Rabbi Akiva? When the brothers conspired to do what they did, they also took a solemn oath to keep secret what they had done. In doing so, they made Hashem complicit in their crime. Rabbi Akiva, as the last of the martyrs, saw that it was his role to expiate the crime of the Divine, and he rejoiced in the privilege.

The Esh Kodesh teaches that each of us has an aspect of the Divine in us when we make moral choices to act or refrain from acting in certain ways. When we as a nation make poor choices and bring judgment upon ourselves, we are also exposing this divine aspect to judgment. When the final redemption comes, we will see how everything that happened was part of the divine plan. The extra guilt we brought on ourselves for implicating the divine in our transgressions will be replaced by the merit and reward for serving Him faithfully.

Thus will our reward be doubled “from the hand of Hashem,” just as we had taken the punishment in its time. R’ Eleazar of Worms, the Rokeach, also suffered terrible atrocities at the hands of the German Amalekites of his time. He taught in his commentary on this week’s haftara that Hashem commands all of the prophets to console Israel but Israel will not be consoled. The loss is too great, the horror too much for even a prophet to overcome. So Hashem comes personally bearing tidings of redemption. “Me, I am the one to console you,” (Yeshayahu 51:12). Again, the double language. Says the Rokeach, Hashem is asking in our haftara, “Who will console Me?” The people of Israel are suffering and Hashem is partaking of their suffering. Be consoled, He says, so that I may be consoled. “Yomar Elokechem,” Your G-d will say, in the future, that the resurrection is at hand and the third and final Beit HaMikdash is ready to be built. May it be soon in our lifetimes.

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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He has written on Israeli art, music, and spirituality and is working to reawaken interest in medieval Jewish mysticism. He can be reached at avraham@thegeula.com.
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