Nachamu – Consolation

The Shabbat directly following the fast of Tisha B’av is called Nachamu or “be consoled”. The name is taken from the prophet Isaiah who prophesizes the return of the Jewish people from their exile to Israel. The prophecy begins with the words, “Nachamu, Nachamu”.

Whenever there is, what seems to be, a superfluous word in the Torah the Rabbis make every effort to give meaning to it. What is the meaning of the repetition of Nachamu, be consoled?

The simple answer is that the word is repeated for dramatic effect. The Torah often uses the language of common speech and repeating a word or phrase in Hebrew is a common way of emphasizing a point.

Another answer is textual in nature. A few lines further in the prophecy Isaiah says that Jerusalem has received a double punishment from God. Therefore, it would follow that a double measure of consolation would also be required, as expressed by the repetition of “Nachamu”.

There is, I think, a deeper answer as well. The act of consolation is usually an attempt to convince the person suffering the loss that their situation is not as hopeless as they think and that they will persevere and move forward with their lives. While a person is encouraged to perpetuate the memory of a deceased relative, they are simultaneously encouraged to “move on” with life. A person who experiences a break up or divorce is obligated to continue searching for their true partner.

This understanding of consolation doesn’t seem to apply to the tragedy of the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews. Can we move on and lead totally normal lives in exile without our Temple? The answer is clearly no. A large portion of our Torah can only be fulfilled in Israel with a functioning Temple. We remember and mourn our loss every day in our prayers and in many of our customs. In fact, we are forbidden from forgetting the destruction and the exile. Where then is the consolation that we read about this week – Nachamu, Nachamu?

The answer is that there are two types of consolation, a temporary one and a permanent one. The temporary consolation is there to get us through the day. In a way it is a bit of an illusion or a dream. This is the meaning of the verse that we read in the Shir Hamaalot before benching, “when God returns the captives of Zion it will be as if we were dreaming”. The only way we can get through this long exile is by being able to dream, to look at the world through a prism shaded with illusion. We know that we are still in exile yet we act as if we are free.

The permanent consolation can only come with the return of all the Jews to Israel and rebuilding of the Temple. This is the Nachamu that Isaiah speaks of. Until that time, which should come speedily in our days, we must be content with the first Nachamu to get us through the darkness and confusion of exile on a national and on a personal level.

Is there a way for us to achieve the second and total Nachamu with our actions? The prophet continues in the Haftarah to give us the formula for bringing that final consolation (Isaiah 40:1-5).

“A voice calls out: Clear a way for God in the wilderness. Level a highway in the desert for God. Every valley will be raised, and every mountain and hill will be lowered. The crooked will be made level, and the ridges will become a plain. God’s Glory will be revealed and all flesh will see it, for God has spoken.”

The answer according to Isaiah’s prophecy is to connect to God by recognizing his presence in every aspect of our lives and the entire world. God’s presence in the world is evident to those who are willing and able to open their eyes and see. Every birth, sunrise, tornado, Tsunami, and rainbow is a Divine display. The only way we can actually “see” God is to first remove all of the obstacles, the mountains and valleys, that cloud, blur, and obstruct our vision. Once we have built a clear highway to God, He will no longer be hidden to us. The appearance that God is hidden or absent, Hester Panim, is the cause of all evil in the world. When God’s presence is fully revealed there is no room for sin or evil, for no person can dare sin in the presence of His overwhelming Glory.

May we all merit to bring the redemption and to take part in the final consolation together in our Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

** This essay can be found in Deep Waters: Insights into the Five Books of Moses and the Jewish Festivals

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