Divine Consolation – On Shabbat “Nachamu”
This Shabbat is the Shabbat after the fast of Tisha b’Av. It is traditionally referred to as “Shabbat Nachamu”- the “Shabbat of Being Consoled.” This name comes from the opening phrase of the week’s Haftarah which opens with the words “Nachamu nachamu…” I would like to share with you something I heard many years ago from Rav Shimon Schwalb zt”l who was a very distinguished rabbi in New York.
The Haftarah (ישעיהו פרק מ פסוק א – ב) opens with these verses:
(א) נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי יֹאמַר אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם:
Comfort, oh comfort My people,
Says your God.
(ב) :דַּבְּרוּ עַל לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ כִּי נִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד ה’ כִּפְלַיִם בְּכָל חַטֹּאתֶיהָ
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
And declare to her
That her term of service is over,
That her iniquity is expiated;
For she has received at the hand of the LORD
Double for all her sins.
In these two verses we see two different verbs for speech. Hashem’s communication is “ נחמו- comfort.” The communication of the prophet is “ דברו על לב-speak tenderly.” What is the difference between the two verbs?
The Challenge of Human Consolation
The prophecy cited in the verses above refers to the Redemption. After the horrors of our Exile, Hashem will redeem us and at that time we will have many questions for Hashem: Why did we need to suffer, as the prophet says, “Double for all her sins”? Why was there a Holocaust? And so on…
No human has the answer to these questions. No human can explain the Holocaust. But our questions will be answered by Hashem. And that is what Hashem promises us when He says that He will comfort us. He will provide us with the explanation for our history.
Yosef Consoles His brothers
Rav Schwalb based his explanation of the verb “נחם” on its use in the story of Yosef and his brothers. After the death of Yakov Avinu, Yosef’s brothers feared that now Yosef would take revenge on them. So, they offered themselves to Yosef as his slaves. Then Yosef spoke to them as follows (בראשית נ:כ-כא):
:וְאַתֶּם חֲשַׁבְתֶּם עָלַי רָעָה אֱ-לֹהִים חֲשָׁבָהּ לְטֹבָה לְמַעַן עֲשֹׂה כַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה לְהַחֲיֹת עַם רָב
:וְעַתָּה אַל תִּירָאוּ אָנֹכִי אֲכַלְכֵּל אֶתְכֶם וְאֶת טַפְּכֶם וַיְנַחֵם אוֹתָם וַיְדַבֵּר עַל לִבָּם
Here again are the two verbs “וינחם” and “וידבר על לבם”. What do they mean in this context?
The brothers were afraid that Yosef would take revenge on them. But Yosef explained that he cannot do this. Yosef understood that all that his brothers’ treachery led to saving the nascent Jewish people. Yosef understood the Divine truth. That enabled “נחם” – consolation. Consolation is achieved through comprehension and explanation. Coming to terms with or understanding the past.
The brothers were afraid that Yosef would abandon their children. So, Yosef promised that he would support them. That was “וידבר על לבם”- he spoke to their hearts. “Speech to the hearts” means allaying fear of the future.
Yosef saw the Divine plan in his life’s story and he could explain it to the brothers. He could speak to their hearts and make them stronger for the future.
But for us today awaiting the redemption, what about the life story of our people? Prophets can allay our fears of the future but they cannot explain the past.
Returning to our the verses above from our Haftarah, we see it is the prophet who will “speak to our hearts” preparing us for the future but first, it will be Hashem Himself in the first verse who will console (מנחם) us making our understanding of the past as clear as the Divine truth was to Yosef.