Shabbat Nachamu’s haftarah is in many ways the most longed-awaited haftarah of the entire year.
Until now, the Three Weeks and Tisha B’Av have forced us to focus upon the seemingly endless trials and tribulations of our nation’s history. For any thoughtful, Jewishly-sensitive individual, it is a dark period indeed.
Suddenly, Tisha B’Av ends, and we are greeted by Isaiah’s clarion call of comfort: “Nachamu, nachamu ami, yomar Elokeichem” — “Be consoled, be consoled, My people, says your G-d.” The world as we understand it returns to normal, and we no longer focus exclusively on the dire straits of Jewish history. Finally, our national mourning ceases.
But what kind of nechama has actually been achieved? The Beit Hamikdash remains in ruins, worldwide anti-Semitism grows ever stronger, assimilation and intermarriage continue unabated, and our beloved country, Medinat Yisrael, is continually reviled by the nations of the world in their “hallowed halls of justice.”
It is likely this kind of question that led such luminaries as Rashi and Radak to explain Isaiah’s words as referring to the Messianic time to come. In other words, our people continue to face some of the same existential threats as they did when Rashi and Radak penned their interpretations. As King Solomon declared long ago, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Kohelet 1:9).
Given this information, I could readily understand Isaiah writing, “Nachamu ami,” using the word “nachamu” one time, since authentic nechama has yet to come. But why, then, does he proclaim, “Nachamu, nachamu,” seemingly indicating that we have something to be comforted about now and in our time? Fortunately, an answer is offered by the Midrash.
“Why does the text state ‘nachamu’ two times? Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi said: ‘This is because all of [the Jewish people’s] punishments were doubled. As Jeremiah said: “Shever al shever nikra — destruction upon destruction has occurred” (Yirmiyahu 4:20); “Bacho tivkeh balayla — she weeps, yea, she weeps in the night” (Eichah 1:2). Since all her punishments were doubled, so too will all her consolation be doubled. As the text states: “Nachamu, nachamu ami” ’.” (Midrash Zuta, Eichah 1:14, translation my own).
I believe the Midrash is teaching us that the doubling of “nachamu” is a powerful lesson of unlimited hope, the prologue to the ultimate fulfillment of the verse, “For Your salvation, I hope, O L-rd,” uttered by Jacob toward the dawn of Jewish existence (Bereishit 49:18).
Moreover, Isaiah is promising us, “Never fear!” Even though the Messianic period has not yet arrived, when the Mashiach does come, we will not only be comforted measure for measure for each of the bitter and heartrending periods of Jewish history — we will be comforted in double. At last we will witness the fulfillment of Zechariah’s stirring words, “And the L-rd shall become King over all the earth; on that day shall the L-rd be one, and His name one” (14:9).
With the Almighty’s bountiful mercy and our fervent desire, may we merit to witness the coming of the Mashiach, the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash, and the complete fulfillment of “Nachamu, nachamu ami,” soon and in our time.