Based on the elucidations of Rav Yosef Kalatzky, and the sources of Rabbi Ari Kahn
We have left the mourning of Tisha B’av, and now enter into a phase of consolation, Nechamah. Whereas the theme of the haftarah (the supplemental Torah reading from Prophets) in previous weeks has been one of lament and rebuke, this week’s haftarah speaks of comforting. It opens with the words,
Nachamu, Nachamu, ami…
“Be consoled, be consoled, My nation!”
-Yeshayah, 40:1 (abridged)
The first of seven weeks in which we hear that our exile is temporary, and that we will be redeemed, this Shabbat has thus come to be known as the Shabbat of ‘Nachamu‘.
The Torah portion the Shabbat following Tisha B’av is always Va’etchanan; thus, this haftarah is linked as much to Va’etchanan as it is to the aftermath of Tisha B’av. The question, then, is what connection exists between Va’etchanan and the Nachamu passage.
Here are some segments of our Parasha’s opening, in which Moshe Rabbeinu told the people that Hashem had rejected his entreaties to be allowed into Israel:
“And I beseeched Hashem at that time, saying:
‘…Let me cross over and I shall see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan- this good mountain (Yerushalayim) and the Beit Hamikdash…’
Yet Hashem grew angry with me, because of you, and did not listen to me…”
(-See Va’etchanan, 3:23-26)
-Why was Moshe not allowed to enter Israel in the first place, and how were B’nei Israel to blame for it? Moshe actually expressed himself more openly about this in last week’s portion:
And in this matter you have no faith in Hashem your God…And Hashem heard the sound of your words, and became upset and swore, saying,
“Not one man of these men*, this wicked generation, will see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers…”
So too was Hashem angry at me, because of you, saying,
“You too will not come there…”
(-See Devarim, 1: 32-37)
-As you will recall from Parashat Sh’lach, Moshe sent spies to Israel (38 years before this speech to the nation), upon the insistence of B’nei Israel, on a mission to check out the land and its inhabitants. When the men returned with a frightnening report, B’nei Israel cried all night, believing that Hashem was purposely leading the nation to its destruction. Hashem punished the people severely for their basic lack of faith, prohibiting them from entering the Promised Land and sentencing them instead to die out in the desert. The men between 20 and 60 years of age at the time of the crying began to die out on the anniversary of that tragic night, every year by the tens of thousands. Even Moshe was refused entry to Israel, and rightfully blamed B’nei Israel for his fate.
You may know that the date of their misguided crying was… the night of the ninth of Av (‘Tisha b’Av)– a day that would thereafter be reserved for punishment over the millennia:
Rabbah said in the name of Rav Yochanan: That night was Tisha B’Av eve. Hashem said to them: “You cried that night a needless cry, and I will establish it for you as a crying for generations.”
-Gemara Ta’anit 29a
The destruction of the first and second Batei Mikdash would take place on that same date, many hundreds of years later, as well as many terrible tragedies that the Jewish nation would experience.
In fact, the S’forno (Harav Ovadia ben Yaakov S’forno, Italy; 1475-1550) seems to say that the people’s crying was treated exactly according to their misguided fears. They had feared for their own lives should they go to Israel, and so they were sentenced to die out in the desert, denied entry to the Holy Land.
They had also cried for their children, whom they envisioned as helpless pray for the inhabitants of the land- and this sealed the fate of future generations. All of this, he teaches, is spelled out by David Hamelech:
And they despised the pleasant land, they did not believe His word; And they murmured in their tents, and did not listen to the voice of God. And He lifted up His hand against them, to make them fall in the desert- and to make their seed fall among the nations, and to scatter them throughout the lands.
-That is to say, included in Hashem’s words regarding that generation was also the painful destruction that would follow in the future, including exile and dispersion.
Perhaps it is with such an approach in mind that Rambam makes a heavy statement about King Solomon:
And at the time Shlomo built the Temple, and knew that it was destined to be destroyed, he built a place in which to hide the Ark below, within deep and twisted underground hiding places.
-Rambam, Beit Ha’bechira 4:1
-Shocking. Shlomo Hamelech knew, even as all rejoiced at the Beit Hamikdash’s dedication, that the holy building would ultimately be destroyed.
We know now that all who accepted the spies’ report would have to die in the desert rather than enter Israel. We also know that Moshe wasn’t either allowed in- for which he blamed B’nei Israel. We know that future generations would also suffer as a consequence of the crying- and that this would be an outgrowth of the destruction of the Batei Mikdash…
-As all of this is taking shape, we must step back to recognize another important point: although the sin of crying over the spies’ negative report was terrible, it did not, Heaven forbid, threaten our existence as a nation; the future of the nation would be spared, as Hashem chose instead to destroy the Batei Mikdash:
Hashem spent His anger; he poured His fury and ignited a fire in Zion, which has consumed its foundations.
I sing for Hashem poured His anger on sticks and stones [the Beit Hamikdash], and did not pour His anger on B’nei Israel.
-Apparently, even the very act of tragic destruction was itself our salvation; Hashem allowed the Batei Mikdash to be destroyed rather than His nation. The decree that He had issued in the time of the spies, then, was incredibly an act of mercy. Knowing that His people would deserve a terrible fate, Hashem arranged events- really, the very fabric of history!- so that B’nei Israel would build the Beit Hamikdash while unworthy of lasting success- and this fact itself would ensure that ‘only’ the Temple, not the nation itself- would be destroyed!
The consolation we are now given, and its connection to Moshe’s appeals, are starting to come into focus….
Let’s see if we can pick it up from here next week.
Have a great Shabbat!
*With the exception of Yehoshua, Caleiv, and others (see the passage there)
Elli is an alumnus of the Toras Moshe, Ner Israel, and Carteret Yeshivos, and has been involved in Jewish outreach for almost 15 years. He is a Hebrew School and English Language Arts teacher, and has a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Johns Hopkins University. Of all his pursuits, Elli most enjoys teaching high-level Jewish thought and Talmud to teenage boys, exposing them to the beauty and wisdom of their heritage while highlighting their own ability to engage in advanced Torah learning. Elli lives in Lakewood, New Jersey, with his wife and children.