Haftarat Va-Etchanan: The Time of Comfort


[Ashkenazim/Sefardim: Yeshayahu 40:1-26

Yemenite Jews: Yeshayahu 40:1-26, 41:17]



The Shabbat after Tisha Be-Av, which recalls the destruction of the two Temples, is called "Shabbat Nachamu" – the Shabbat of Comfort.  This expression (from the words of Yeshayahu) is used in the Haftarah, and announces to Jerusalem that her time of exile has expired. How appropriate it is for our day.



"Comfort, comfort My Nation – says your God" (Yeshayahu 40:1).



Throughout the course of all generations, one of the Sages of Israel’s holiest tasks has been to rebuke the Nation of Israel for its sins.  This rebuke obviously comes not out of hatred, but out of a deep concern for helping the Nation return to its proper path.  Harsh words were   delivered against the transgressions of the stiffed-necked Nation and for its refusal to perform Hashem's will.  Bitter tears and pained hearts often accompanied these rebukes - an indication of the Sages’ great sorrow, even as they tried to help Israel repent. Their ultimate goal was of course to bring the Nation of Israel spiritual and physical joy in both this world and the World to Come.



Only Sages of the highest stature, spiritual giants, could offer comfort by mentioning the merits of the Nation of Israel and emphasizing its purity and holiness in order to lead them to the path of supreme Divine spirituality.  Such Sages were few.  Plenty of other Sages felt that words of comfort for the Nation of Israel, and too much patience, would merely anaesthetize their conscience and entice them away from proper ethical behavior.



Nonetheless, the time for comfort has arrived in our time: "Comfort, comfort My Nation – says your God.  Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her time of exile has expired, that her iniquity has been forgiven, for she has received from the hand of Hashem double for all of her sins" (ibid. v. 1-2).  The current obligation for all Sages, righteous and holy individuals, is to comfort the Nation of Israel.  Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook taught us this in his article "Nechemat Yisrael" ("The Comfort of Israel" in Ma'amrei Ha-Re'eiyah, p. 279).  If there is a great mitzvah to comfort mourners for their personal tragedies, how much more so is there a mitzvah to comfort mourners for national tragedies.

  

But what type of comfort are we talking about?  "Her time of exiled has expired, that her iniquity has been forgiven." The time of the Redemption has arrived, the springtime of our history has finally appeared after a difficult winter.  "We were exiled from our Land on account of our sins" (from the davening on Yom Tov).  This principle is mentioned in the Tanach numerous times.  It is clear that the Exile is not simply a punishment, and certainly not an act of revenge, but an experience that served to purify us.  The cessation of our national and political activities, coupled with indescribable suffering over the course of the generations, expunged our transgressions.  We are now therefore capable of renewing our pure and noble national lives in our Land (Orot, Ha-Milchamah 3).



The appearance of the Nation of Israel in the world was a Divine revolution of cosmic importance.  There were always righteous, holy and pure individuals in the world.  The Nation of Israel was not created for this purpose, but, as was said to Avraham Avinu: "And I will make you a great Nation" (Bereshit 12:2), "A kingdom of priests and a holy Nation" (Shemot 19:6).  And this refers not only to holiness on an individual level, but on the communal level as well.  We are not talking about solitary individuals in an ivory tower who are capable of directing their lives toward the light of Hashem's word, but holiness on the National level, spanning all strata of society.



To our great distress, the Nation of Israel failed in its role.  Our Kingdom was not a holy one, but rather a den of sinners.  The ethics of communal life were fully and irreversibility corrupt.  Despite all the efforts of our prophets to lead the Nation back to the straight path, the Kingship of Israel had to be dismantled completely.



According to Maran Ha-Rav Kook, the task of the Second Temple was to prepare the Nation of Israel to deal with its new life in Exile, i.e. as individualistic Judaism (Orot, Le-Mahalach Ha-Ede'ot Be-Yisrael 5).



Two thousand years have since passed, and today we are again capable of building a pure and upright Nation (Orot, Ha-Milchamah 3).  This is the reason behind the deep aspiration for the Land of Israel which was awakened in the Nation of Israel, who in a miraculous manner, began to flow back into its Land from the four corners of the earth.



In contrast to all of our defamers from without and within, we live in a country with a high ethical level.  An Israeli humorist once said that he does not understand why in the International Competition of "Ms. Ethics," we always end up in last place by consensus of the nations of the world – yet we are the only one who show up!



To our great joy, with a few exceptions who do not represent us, the Nation which dwells in Zion upholds a high ethical standard.  This does not mean that we have reached the ideal level which Hashem expects from us and that we can rest on our laurels. But we have the potential to create the ideal country, the foundation of the eternal, Divine throne (Orot, Orot Yisrael 6, 7).



Without a doubt, there are times when it is necessary to harshly rebuke individuals within our Nation whose behavior is most inappropriate, but the comfort of which we are speaking is in relation to the entire Nation (Ma'amrei Ha-Re'eiyah, p. 285).  This comfort will be actualized by emphasizing the light within us and re-instilling faith in our future and ourselves.



The time of comfort has truly arrived: "A voice calls in the desert: Clear the way of Hashem, make a straight road in the plain, a highway for our G-d.  Every valley will be raised, and every mountain and hill will be lowered, the crooked will become straight, and the rough places plain.  And the glory of Hashem will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together, for the mouth of Hashem has spoken" (ibid. v. 3-4).