Nachamu, Nachamu Ami

On Sunday, Tishah B’Av, we reached the deepest part of the three-week mourning period over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. We sat on the floor, wept and lamented as we recited heart-wrenching kinos. On Monday morning the time of mourning came to an end, and in its place a seven-week period of consolation began.

On Shabbos we will read the perek in sefer Yeshayah that opens, “Comfort, Comfort My people, says your G-d. Speak consolingly of Yerushalayim, and proclaim to her that her period [in exile] has been completed, that her iniquity has been forgiven, for she has received [a] double [portion as punishment] for all her sins.”

Chait chat’ah Yerushalayim (Eichah 1:8). Chazal say that the double lashon teaches us that Yerushalayim sinned b’kiflayim, in double measure. For this she received double punishment, as the passuk says, Bacho sivkeh balaylah (Eichah 1:2). But when the time comes she will be consoled with a double measure of consolation, Nachamu nachamu ami.

What does it mean that they “sinned in double measure”? And what is the promise of a double measure of consolation?

Yerushalayim is referred to (Tehillim 483) as the “joy of all the earth.” The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 36:2) teaches us that as long as the Beis Hamikdash stood, a Jew felt no discomfort. For even if he was full of sins, he would ascend to the Beis Hamikdash, bring a korban as he did teshuvah, and merit total forgiveness, and there can be no greater joy than this cleansing process.

True happiness is something that can be attained only through serving Hashem. Yet as is true with virtually all spiritual concepts, there is a falsification or mirage of happiness, too, that is in the domain of wickedness and impurity. It is a bogus joy, most often expressed in the raucous celebrations of evildoers.

Tragically, prior to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, the Jews had replaced the true bliss of spiritual perfection with the fraudulent “joy” of folly and iniquity. This, the Shem MiShmuel suggests, was the “double sin” of the Jews. Not only did they fail to reap joy from performing mitzvos, but they misappropriated the very concept of celebration and used it to “rejoice” while committing acts of wrongdoing.

In turn they were “doubly punished.” Not only did they suffer terribly at the hands of the oppressors, but they were forced to watch as the enemies celebrated and gloated over their misfortunes. The passionate desire of the nations to persecute us was never tempered by the depths of our suffering. On the contrary, the greater our pain and humiliation, the more their appetite was whetted to perform even worse acts of cruelty. The enjoyment that this granted these most depraved of creatures was even harder to bear than the inhuman suffering itself.

Our consolation is also double. Hashem told Yeshayah to comfort Yerushalayim and tell her that “her period [in exile] has been completed, [and] that her iniquity has been forgiven.”

Chazal say that when one is motivated to do teshuvah out of love for Hashem, his iniquities actually become merits for him. Our sin was that joy and happiness, which ought to have been solely in the domain of holiness and purity, had been misused and fell into the domain of evil and impurity. Our consolation is that our hearts shall become so filled with love of Hashem that our past iniquities shall be transferred from the domain of impurity and become merits in the spheres of holiness.

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The Midrash relates that when HaKadosh Baruch Hu instructed the Nevi’im to comfort Knesses Yisrael, a number of them complied. One was Amos, who prophesied the eventual Geulah: Bayom hahu akim es Sukkas Dovid hanofeles — “On that day I will raise up the fallen Sukkah of Dovid” (Amos 9:11).

But Knesses Yisrael refused to be comforted.

“Yesterday you told us Noflah lo sosif kum besulas Yisrael — “Israel has fallen and will no longer rise,” they said to Amos. “Now you are telling us this nevuah. Which should we believe, the first or the second?”

Hoshea, Yoel, Chavakuk, Tzefanyah, Chaggai and Malachi each attempted to comfort Knesses Yisrael. Each prophesied words of consolation, and to each Yisrael replied by quoting a different nevuah of this very navi. “Which nevuah should we believe?” they continued to ask.

The Nevi’im turned to Hashem and told Him that they were unsuccessful in their mission, for their words of comfort had not been accepted.

The Abudraham explains that this is the connection between the seven haftaros of consolation. This week we learn how the Ribbono shel Olam sends the Nevi’im to console Yisrael, saying Nachamu nachamu ami.

Next week we will read the haftarah that begins “And Tzion said, ‘Hashem has forsaken me.’” This is the response to Yeshayah and all the other Nevi’im; am Yisrael refuses to be consoled.

The following week we will read that the Nevi’im report back to Hashem that Yisrael refuses to accept consolation. “Aniyah so’arah lo nuchamah — Afflicted, storm-tossed, unconsoled one.”

On the fourth week in the haftarah of consolation Hashem responds, “It is I, I am He who comforts you.” Hashem Himself comforts us and consoles us, and continues to do so for the next two weeks. “Sing out barren one, who has not given birth, break out into glad song and be jubilant”; and then “Arise! Shine! For your light has arrived and the glory of Hashem has shone upon you.”

Finally, in the seventh haftarah, am Yisrael declares that it has finally been comforted. “Sos osis BaHashem — I will rejoice intensely with Hashem.”

Then we will have reclaimed the concept of happiness, and rededicated it to its only true purpose. Our rejoicing will consist of cleaving to Hashem, and pure bliss and utter contentment will be our lot.

May we merit experiencing it speedily in our days.