This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
הַפְטָרָה שֶׁל פַּרָֺשַת עֵקֶב
ב׳ משבע דנחמתא
One week removed from Shabbos Nachamu, we visit the second Haftarah of the Sheva D’Nechamasa, or the Seven of Consolation. With that, we continue Yishaiyah’s words of encouragement and comfort [Yishaiyah 49:14-51:3]. That is the theme of these seven weeks, after all. But, what is the unique message of this week? For Shabbos Nachamu, we sought to define exactly what Nechamah or “comfort” is and to explain how to achieve it under such uncomfortable circumstances. But, how do the lessons of Nechamah apply themselves in this second Haftarah?
What’s interesting is that while this week’s Sidrah, Parshas Eikev talks about what happens when the B’nei Yisrael forget Hashem, here, the first section of our Haftarah [Yishaiyah 49] begins with the false assumption of the reverse possibility, that it is Hashem Who has forgotten His people.
Says the Navi [49:14], “Vatomer Tziyon Azavani Hashem VaHashem Shicheichani”-“And Zion said: Hashem has abandoned me; And Hashem has forgotten me.” The Navi’s response to this accusation is a powerful one. In Hashem’s Name, the Navi argues “Can a woman forget her nursling?! …Even if these could forget, but I will never forget!” [Ibid.]. So, what Hashem does here is that He first compares Himself to the mother who would never abandon her child. But, then, He takes it a step further, suggesting that even if such a mother could exist—a mother who could be so sick or at least so removed from her child that she could forget or even so much as abandon her child, Hashem’s love and care for His people knows no bounds; He could never forget. No, it’s not merely because Hashem is an infinitely powerful Being Who knows and remembers everything because He’s that talented, but His love for us is infinite.
From there, the Navi continues to reassure us that Israel’s children will eventually rush home and that her destroyers will leave, for once and for all. In that light, the Navi informs us that the once desolate and bereaved land will become crowded and fruitful so that all will know that Hashem is the Savior and Redeemer. All good news, Baruch Hashem.
Now, while a typical Haftarah might end there, this Haftarah continues into the next Perek (chapter) [Yishaiyah 50] with a new conversation:
“Koh Amar Hashem Ei Zeh Seifer Krisus Imchem Asher Shilachtihah O Mi Minoshai Asher Macharti Es’chem Lo?! Hein BaAvonoseichem Nimkartem U’V’Fish’eichem Shulchah Imchem!”-“So says Hashem: Where is this [so-called] document of divorce of your mother with which I [supposedly] sent her away, or who is the creditor to whom I have sold you?! Behold, due to your [own] sins you have been sold and due to your [own] rebellious transgressions your mother has been sent away” [50:1].
So, with this new prophecy, we have a couple of questions. Firstly, we have a question about this prophecy’s inclusion in our Haftarah, and the second, a question about this prophecy’s place in the Seven of Consolation altogether. As for the first question, it seems that the first half of the Haftarah was sufficient. The message that Hashem hasn’t forgotten us and the reassurance of good fortune to come serve the role of consoling us. Adding on a full, new conversation seems to be a little much. Maybe, this second part could’ve been its own Haftarah for a subsequent week. Perhaps, there are smaller Haftaros among the Sheva D’Nechamasa that could have been combined to give this chapter some more room. Maybe. But, the point is that we’re seemingly onto a new subject, so why do we need this whole second part in the Haftarah?
The second question, and perhaps the bigger problem here, lies in the seemingly mixed messages we’re receiving from this new prophecy. On the one hand, Hashem challenges the B’nei Yisrael to show Him their bill of divorce and to introduce Him to the creditor to whom He sold them away. He makes the point that He has never divorced them or sold them away. He seems to imply that He is still with them, a comforting thought. But, then, He sticks it to the people and tells them that it has been their own defiance that has caused them to be sold and sent away. In other words, He has let them go. True, there is no bill of divorce or anything like that, but in fact, Hashem confirms the fear that in fact, He is distant from them. This statement is obviously not a comforting one. So, the question is how this prophecy makes it into the Sheva D’Nechamasa if it doesn’t sound very comforting.
Moreover, as the Haftarah proceeds, the Navi continues its verbal onslaught, scolding the B’nei Yisrael for having failed Hashem, as in the very next line, Hashem asks why He makes the effort to come out calling to the B’nei Yisrael when they don’t care to return to Him [50:2]. And all of this could be true and important for us to hear. The Navi meant it for each and every one of us and we therefore have to take every word seriously. But, where is the comfort in this prophecy? As a segment of the Sheva D’Nechamasa, where is the consolation?
As for the question as to why this whole prophecy has been attached to the previous one for the purposes of our Haftarah, perhaps it is because, although they are two different prophecies, their fundamental messages are one in the same. It’s pretty obvious if one thinks about it for just a minute. In the first prophecy, Hashem responds to the nation’s accusation that He has forgotten them and abandoned them. In the second prophecy, Hashem responds to the nation’s accusation that He has divorced them or sold them away. In each prophecy, Hashem dispels the B’nei Yisrael’s false claims to victimhood. No, Hashem has not forgotten, abandoned, divorced, or sold anyone. Hashem has never left our side. In fact, as the Navi implies, if we have things correct, we have forgotten Hashem and abandoned Him. We have cheated on Him and sold ourselves away.
Obviously, this is all painful to hear. And at first glance, it is not very comforting. However, if we consider two points, perhaps this Haftarah’s integral role in our Sheva D’Nechamasa will start to make sense. Firstly, we have to consider the true meaning of Nechamah, as we’ve explained in the last Haftarah.
Nechamah, although often translated as comfort or consolation, we have explained, has to mean something more fundamentally neutral considering the obviously negative connotations of Nechamah as it appears in Sefer Bereishis. Just to quickly review, we mentioned that the Torah says [Bereishis 6:6], “Vayinachem [וינחם] Hashem Ki Asah Es HaAdam BaAretz Vayis’atzeiv El Libo”-“And Hashem regretted that he made man on the earth and He was saddened toward His heart.” And there, we mentioned that Nechamah neither means pure comfort nor regret (as the two are opposites), but its meaning lies in what comfort and regret have in common. Both have connotations of “second thoughts,” or reconsideration. That means that to have Nechamah means to reconsider the situation, to give it a second thought.
If we understand Nechamah in this way, we can begin to understand Nechamah’s place in our nerve-striking Haftarah. That is because although the B’nei Yisrael have preconceived notions of their situation, the Navi debunks those notions and inverts them. The B’nei Yisrael feel that all hope is lost because they think Hashem has forgotten, abandoned, divorced, and sold them. And if Hashem had done all of those mean things to them, then, yes, all hope would be lost. And perhaps, sometimes, maybe often, we feel as though Hashem has done one or all of these things to us. But, says the Navi, think again. Reconsider. Maybe, just maybe, it is we who have forgotten and abandoned Hashem? Perhaps, Hashem didn’t sell us out, but we were the ones who sold ourselves? Maybe, if we’re willing to undergo through a “Nechamah” process and reconsider everything, we will respond differently to the difficult situation.
That is all the first important point that we need to think about when we encounter this Haftarah. But surely, that alone might not give us the positive comfort that we were hoping to find in the Sheva D’Nechamasa. But that brings us to our second important point.
The second point is that one we understand that it is not Hashem Who has distanced Himself from us, but in fact, we who have distanced ourselves from Him, we now have a sense of direction on our path to redemption. And it is exactly here where the true comfort and consolation lies.
As we’ve also explained in the last Haftarah, Nechamah does not mean that the situation itself has changed, but that our understanding of the situation has changed. Well, as for this situation, our understanding makes a big difference. Because again, if we think that Hashem was the mean one Who set us up for failure and just left us high and dry, we have no hope. G-d simply doesn’t care about us according to our original assessment of the situation. We are helpless and doomed to fail. But if we’re honest and realize that it is our fault, yes, that also hurts, but it also means that at least, we have the ability to do something about this situation to fix it! If it was our own actions that caused us to be distanced from Hashem as the Navi tells us, then we have confirmation that our actions can also return us to Hashem. This is actually the lesson of
Eikev, that our own actions have consequences! That means that the ball is in our court. It is all up to us.
If we consider the concept of Nechamah as reconsideration, this new confirmation speaks such volumes. Because when we began in the state of mourning and read Megillas Eichah, we pleaded and bargained [Eichah 5:21], “Hashiveinu Hashem Eilecha V’Nashuvah…”-“Return us Hashem, and we shall return…” as though it is Hashem Who needs to make the first move. And perhaps, on some level, it is true. Without Hashem allowing the possibility of Teshuvah, repentance, to exist in the first place, we would have no such hope. But, beyond that, it is we who have to start making some moves. When we reconsider whose actions matter more at this time, we realize that Hashem has been doing His part and is waiting for us to answer His call. It really is all up to us.
This idea that through our own decisions and actions, we can return to Hashem—by our own whim—is a comforting thought. Yes, it requires personal responsibility and accountability which are scary things, but it is nonetheless comforting. At the end of the day, we can choose to attain our own redemption.
May we all be Zocheh to take that personal responsibility and control our fate, allow ourselves to return to Hashem, and then, Hashem will fulfill His promise at the end of this Haftarah of Sasson V’Simchah, Todah V’Kol Zimrah, we should live it all soon with the Geulah and the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos Mevarchim Elul!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂