The “three haftoros of retribution” read on the Shabbosos of the Three Weeks of mourning, are followed, on the next seven Shabbosos after Tisha B’Av until Rosh Hashona, by “seven haftoros of consolation.” They start this Shabbos, which “Shabbas Nachamu” because its haftora (Yeshaya 40:1-26) starts “Nachamu, nachamu ami” – Hashem’s command to His prophets, “Console, console My people.”
Rabbi David Abudraham (d. 1341), in his renowned commentary, explains the order of these seven haftoros in the name of the Midrash: Hashem tells His prophets in this first haftorah to console the Jews, and they complain at the start of the second haftorah (ibid., 49:14), “And Zion [the Jewish people] has said, Hashem has forsaken me.” By giving the prophets the task of consoling us, Hashem implied that He deserted us.
The prophets’ words are of course those of Hashem – see ibid., “My words that I have placed in your mouth” (ibid., 59:21) – but we refuse to accept their consolation. We want it to come directly from Hashem Himself. At the start of the third haftorah (ibid., 54:11), the prophets bring our complaint to Hashem: “O afflicted, storm-tossed one [the Jewish people], who has not been consoled.”
In the first verse of the fourth haftorah (ibid., 51:12), Hashem responds, consenting to the justness of our complaint: “I, I am He who consoles you.” In the haftoros of the following two weeks, (ibid., 54:1-10; 60:1-22), He continues to console us directly.
Our response to Hashem’s consolation comes in the seventh haftorah (ibid., 61:10): “I will rejoice greatly in Hashem, my soul will be glad in my G-d” – expressing our joy at His direct consolation and profound connection with us.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that this powerful exchange between the Jewish people and Hashem emphasizes our extraordinary special relationship with Hashem:
The destruction of both batei mikdash and our exile from Eretz Yisrael resulted from our misdeeds. Despite this sorry background, however, Hashem directed our prophets to console us with a two-fold consolation – “Console, console My people.”
Yet, we refused to be satisfied with the prophets’ two-fold consolation, complaining, “Hashem has forsaken us.” We complained that He asked the prophets to console us rather than consoling us Himself. And Hashem accepted our complaint. He agreed to our demand that He console us Himself, for His mercy upon us was aroused.
As He told us in Vayikra 26:44: “Even when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not abhor them nor will I spurn them to destroy them or annul My covenant with them, for I am Hashem, their G-d.” Despite the destruction and the exile, the essence of the Jewish soul remains utterly united with Hashem, unaffected by whatever happens on the physical level.
But Hashem’s fatherly love for us (despite our flaws) must be requited. We must return to Him sincerely and wholeheartedly, so that we deserve the end of the exile when His love for us will be openly revealed before the eyes of the entire world.
Hashem’s solemn covenant with us will never be broken. He is just awaiting our final acts that will show how much we really want Moshiach now, and Moshiach constitutes the full consolation we have been awaiting for thousands of years.
(Based on teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)