This week’s portion is Vaetchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11.[i] More than Vaetchanan however, this Shabbat is known as Shabbat Nachamu or Shabbat of Comforting. This is the first Shabbat after Tisha b’Av and the remembrance of the destruction of both Temples and the resulting exiles, among other atrocities that have befallen the Jewish people on this date throughout the centuries. The Haftarah for this Shabbat is Isaiah 40:1-26 which begins a new aspect of the book of Isaiah. The first thirty-nine chapters of the book have dealt largely with Israel’s chastisements due to her disobedience to the Torah as well as well as the prophesized punishments that would befall Israel’s enemies. The final twenty-seven chapters will concentrate primary with words of consolation and the future Messianic redemption, not only of Israel but also for those nations and individuals that align themselves with the God of Israel and His Messiah. Therefore, Shabbat Nachamu begins the seven weeks of consolation leading to Rosh HaShanah, the two-day moed that commemorates the creation of the world and the coronation of HaShem as King and Ruler of all creation. Rosh HaShanah also marks the beginning of the Days of Awe, which is the ten-day period of introspection and repentance that concludes with Yom Kippur.
In the opening verses of Deuteronomy 4 we hear Moshe’s admonition to those awaiting entry into the Promised Land.
“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to do, so that you may live and go in and possess the land that Adonai the God of your fathers is giving you. … Only be watchful and watch over your soul closely, so you do not forget the things your eyes have seen and they slip from your heart all the days of your life. You are to make them known to your children and your children’s children.” (4:1 & 9)
Sadly, as Moshe knew would happen, and the last three weeks woefully reminded us, Israel did not observe the statutes and ordinances of Adonai Tzavot, they did not remain faithful to the covenant nor teach their children to do so. They, in fact, chose to follow the ways of the world around them incurring the judgement of the Lord. However, the purpose of judgment and discipline is to train the wayward child to walk in the ways that he (or she) should go. As the author of the Book of Hebrews encourages his readers,
Now all discipline seems painful at the moment—not joyful. But later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble!
Knowing that discipline, when properly received, leads to righteousness and restoration, we can more fully understand the words of the prophet Isaiah in the Haftarah,
“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. Speak kindly to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed. For she has received from Adonai’s hand double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2)
נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ, עַמִּי, Nachamu, nachamu ami, comfort, comfort My people… HaShem is not the one comforting His people here, rather He is telling His prophets, those who had been bringing words of gloom and despair to an errant people, that they were now to turn from words of condemnation to words of comfort, peace, and healing. Israel had suffered enough, “she has received from Adonai’s hand double for all her sins.” The times of discipline and suffering were to come to an end and the hope of redemption was to begin.
However, we know more of Israel’s story than Isaiah. Israel returned to her land and for a season walked after her God in truth and faithfulness, but this did not continue. A few verses outside our Haftarah we read HaShem’s lament,
“Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from Adonai, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God’”? (Isaiah 40:27)
Though the time of redemption and restoration was proclaimed, it wouldn’t yet be fully recognized or received. History is clear that Israel once again went into exile after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Seventy years ago we once again saw the beginning of Israel’s redemption with the rebirth of the State, seemingly in a day. As followers of Yeshua, we recognize that forty years before the Destruction of the Temple the Messianic Age went through birth pains with the death and resurrection of Messiah, Yeshua. It is interesting to me that in Sanhedrin 98a we read
And it is written: “Behold, your king will come to you; he is just and victorious; lowly and riding upon a donkey and upon a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Rabbi Alexandri explains: If the Jewish people merit redemption, the Messiah will come in a miraculous manner with the clouds of heaven. If they do not merit redemption, the Messiah will come lowly and riding upon a donkey.[ii]
The last line, “If they do not merit redemption, the Messiah will come lowly and riding upon a donkey,” seems to have come to fruition. Remember Yeshua words,
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate! (Matthew 23:37-38)
However, desolation was not the end of Yeshua’s words to Jerusalem. Redemption will in fact come one day as He assuredly spoke to Jerusalem, “For I tell you, you will never see Me again until you say, ‘Baruch ha-ba b’shem Adonai. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” May these weeks of consolation truly bring about redemption and restoration for all Israel, as well as all the nations of the world.
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.