On the Shabbat after Tisha B’Av we read the first of the seven Haftarot of consolation, known as the Sheva de’Nechemta. This Haftarah begins with G-d commanding the prophets to give hope and comfort to the Jewish People, “Nachamu, Nachamu ami.” As a result, this Shabbat is known as “Shabbat Nachamu.”
But how should the prophet go about consoling the Jewish People for the seemingly unending series of tragedies that is Jewish history? What can he say that will give us comfort and rather than causing additional pain? If he describes the glorious future that awaits us, will that help? Or would it be so far-fetched, so distant from our experience of anguish and hopelessness, that we would dismiss is as unrealistic? The nations that stood in the way of us returning to our land – the Babylonians, the Persians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Caliphates, the Ottomans, the British – each of these was an empire of epic proportions. How is it possible for a tiny nation with no political or military resources to defy them?
Thus, the first thing the prophet needs to do in order to give us hope is to prove that the path to Redemption is a possibility, and that G-d is capable of affecting history and bending it to His will.
מִי מָדַד בְּשָׁעֳלוֹ מַיִם וְשָׁמַיִם בַּזֶּרֶת תִּכֵּן וְכָל בַּשָּׁלִשׁ עֲפַר הָאָרֶץ וְשָׁקַל בַּפֶּלֶס הָרִים וּגְבָעוֹת בְּמֹאזְנָיִם:…הֵן גּוֹיִם כְּמַר מִדְּלִי וּכְשַׁחַק מֹאזְנַיִם נֶחְשָׁבוּ הֵן אִיִּים כַּדַּק יִטּוֹל:
Who measured the sea with His handfuls, and affixed the sky with a ruler? And placed in a measure all the dust of the earth, weighed mountains on a scale and hills on a balance? …
The nations are a drop in a bucket, reckoned like dust on a balance, so, the continents are like a dust mote. (Yeshayahu 40: 12, 15)
The Haftarah reminds us that G-d created the universe and all that is in it. When measured on the scale of the Universe, nations and empires are infinitesimal. What power do they have relative to the Creator?
Likewise, in the Parsha, Parshat VaEtchanan, which is always read on Shabbat Nachamu, we read how Moshe Rabbeinu reminds the Jewish People of their personal experience of G-d’s power over history:
אוֹ הֲנִסָּה אֱלֹהִים לָבוֹא לָקַחַת לוֹ גוֹי מִקֶּרֶב גּוֹי
בְּמַסֹּת בְּאֹתֹת וּבְמוֹפְתִים וּבְמִלְחָמָה וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרוֹעַ נְטוּיָה
וּבְמוֹרָאִים גְּדֹלִים כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לָכֶם ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם בְּמִצְרַיִם לְעֵינֶיךָ:
אַתָּה הָרְאֵתָ לָדַעַת כִּי ה’ הוּא הָאֱ-לֹהִים אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּוֹ:
Has G-d attempted to come and take Himself a nation from another nation,
with miracles, signs, and wonders, with war and a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with great awe, like everything that He did for you, Hashem, your G-d, in Egypt, before your eyes?
You were shown so you would know that it is Hashem who is G-d, there is nothing besides Him. (Devarim 4: 34-5)
Having experienced the Exodus, the Jewish People know for a fact that G-d can depose any tyrant and bring ruin the most invincible of empires. No so-called “superpower” can stand in the way of G-d’s plans for our destiny.
The Haftarah goes on to point out that the Jewish People do not actually need any proof of this fact, as it is something that they already know:
הֲלוֹא תֵדְעוּ הֲלוֹא תִשְׁמָעוּ הֲלוֹא הֻגַּד מֵרֹאשׁ לָכֶם
הֲלוֹא הֲבִינֹתֶם מוֹסְדוֹת הָאָרֶץ:
וְאֶל מִי תְדַמְּיוּנִי וְאֶשְׁוֶה יֹאמַר קָדוֹשׁ:
Do you not know, have you not heard? Has it not been foretold to you?
Do you not understand the foundations of the earth? ….
To whom can you liken Me, and find Me equal? says the Holy One.
According to the Haftarah, the Jewish People are expected to know that G-d is not only the creator of the world, but also the only power in it. We are have been shown that He can affect not only the forces of nature, but also the forces of history. If He wants the Jewish People to come back to the Land of Israel, nothing will stand in His way.
Still, in the midst of pain and tragedy, it is hard to remember that this is so, and we need the prophet to remind us.
By renewing our buried memory of G-d’s intervention in our history, the Haftarah begins the process of renewing our faith in our future. This is the first step in the seven-step process of comforting the Jewish People and giving us a vision of our destiny as a feasible, attainable goal.
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Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל