Thoughts on Shabbat Nachamu

Last week (Saturday evening through Sunday evening) was Tisha b’Av, one of the saddest times on the Jewish calendar. This is the day that traditionally both Temples were destroyed, and historically numerous other atrocities have befallen the Jews throughout the centuries.

Less than a week later, we are celebrating Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of Comfort, which takes its name from the opening verses of this week’s haftarah, Isaiah 40:1-26. Shabbat Nachamu is the first in a series of seven haftaroth leading up to Rosh Hashanah that speak of Hashem’s consolation for His people.

“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, (TLV)

How is it possible to move from intense mourning to joyous comfort and consolation in less than a week? The atrocities have not gone away, they still sit on the display cases of our collective memory. Occasionally new items are added to the display as anti-Semitism rises its ugly head as in Charlottesville or the Squirrel Hillneighborhood of Pittsburgh. Plus there are other atrocities that, while not anti-Semitic, still crash like a tsunami on the beaches of our hearts, such as the double shooting in El Paso and Dayton last Shabbat. The world is literally going crazy, mourning is not limited to an annual memorial but often a part of daily life. Where is the comfort?

Traditionally Tisha b’Av is a time sadness and mourning, remembering what has been lost. There is fasting, sitting on low stools or the floor while reading the plaintive cry of the book of Lamentations. The continual discomfort is a reminder of exile and persecution. Then there is a subtle shift in focus. During Mincha (afternoon prayer), while still in mourning and fasting continues, instead of looking backwards considering what has been lost, we get up off the floor as if hearing the faint calling of Shabbat Nachamu. Instead of focusing on what has been lost, there is a quiet pull to a future hope, a coming consolation that the author briefly touched upon in the middle of Lamentations when he proclaimed 

This I recall to my heart—therefore I have hope: Because of the mercies of ADONAI we will not be consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning! Great is Your faithfulness. “ADONAI is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him.”

Lamentations 3:21-24

The past hasn’t changed, echoes of the heartache and pain remain on the shelves, but now we begin to turn looking toward a desired future. 

Look, ADONAI Elohim comes with might, with His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd, He tends His flock. He gathers the lambs in His arms carries them in His bosom, and gently guides nursing ewes.

Isaiah 40:10-11

There was discipline, judgement and desolation, but future redemption and hope are promised. There is a Talmudic story that suggests this change of focus. Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya, Rabbi Yehoshua, and Rabbi Akiva look south over the valley from Mt. Scopus and seeing the rubble that remained of the 2nd Temple, they tear their garments in mourning. When they arrive at the Temple Mount, a fox scampers out of the rubble where the Holy of Holies used to stand. Three of the sages break down in tears while Rabbi Akiva laughs. The three rabbis are shocked to say the least, “why are you laughing” they demand. Akiva questions them, “why are you crying?” The three speak of the destruction and loss. Akiva agrees, but then goes on to explain,

In the prophecy of Uriah, it is written: “Therefore, for your sake Zion shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become rubble, and the Temple Mount as the high places of a forest” (Micah 3:12), where foxes are found. There is a rabbinic tradition that this was prophesied by Uriah. In the prophecy of Zechariah, it is written: “There shall yet be elderly men and elderly women sitting in the streets of Jerusalem” (Zechariah 8:4). Until the prophecy of Uriah with regard to the destruction of the city was fulfilled, I was afraid that the prophecy of Zechariah would not be fulfilled, as the two prophecies are linked. Now that the prophecy of Uriah was fulfilled, it is evident that the prophecy of Zechariah remains valid.

b. Makkot 24b

Today, some us live in the restored, rebuilt sovereign nation of Israel. While we continue to remember what was lost and the many centuries of exile, at the same time we celebrate in the consolation and restoration that began in 1948 and continues to this day. It is not yet perfect; we are not yet in the Messianic Age. However, we do see the reward and recompense of Hashem as He continues to shepherd His flock. As per the prophecy, elderly men and women are sitting in the streets of Jerusalem; a simple walk down Ben Yehuda or Jaffa street and a glance at the coffee shops and cafés bears this out. Children play in the parks and the sounds of joy and laughter can be heard through the land.

However, there remains another prophecy, another source of consolation for which we continue to wait. Yeshua spoke these words over Jerusalem,

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! 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!’”

Matthew 23:37-39

Israel has been restored and, in many ways, comforted, but there is still a further, more complete consolation coming. On Shabbat Nachamu when we proclaim, “Prepare the way ofAdonai,make straight in the deserta highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3), we recognize that part of that preparation is assisting all of Israel to say “Baruch ha-ba b’shem ADONAI. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” At that time, Messiah Yeshua will be able to fulfill his words to Jerusalem bringing true comfort and consolation to his people.

In a later passage of consolation, Isaiah proclaims,

It is too trifling a thing that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the preserved ones of Israel. So, I will give You as a light for the nations, that You should be My salvation to the end of the earth.

Isaiah 49:6

The ultimate consolation and restoration of all things will be realized when both Israel and the nations proclaim together, Baruch ha-ba b’shem ADONAI

Shabbat Shalom

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