The Comfort of Shabbos Nachamu

Nachamu nachamu ami (Yeshaya 40:1–Haftarah)

The Shabbos after Tishah B’Av is commonly referred to as Shabbos Nachamu, based on the Haftarah read on Parashas Va’eschanan that begins Nachamu Nachamu ami — Comfort, comfort My people — and this Shabbos is widely observed as a minor Yom Tov. However, Harav Yehuda Wagshal of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim points out that it is difficult to understand what actual comfort we are celebrating when the Beis Hamikdash still lies in the same ruins that it did a few days ago when we mourned its destruction on Tishah B’Av.

Further, even on Tishah B’Av itself we begin lifting some of the signs of mourning at midday, such as putting on tefillin and sitting on regular chairs. In light of the fact that it was on the afternoon of Tishah B’Av that the Temple began to burn, why is this considered a time of consolation?

The verse in Zechariah (8:19) enumerates the four Rabbinical fasts — Shivah Asar B’Tammuz, Tishah B’Av, Tzom Gedaliah, and Asarah B’Teves — and prophesies that there will come a time in the future when they will be marked as Yamim Tovim and days of tremendous happiness and rejoicing. Even if the coming of Moshiach and the Geulah Sheleimah enable us to forget the pain and suffering that we endured in exile, a Yom Tov commemorates a time when something joyous and positive occurred. What transpired on these days that makes them fit to become Yamim Tovim?

One of the brachos promised in Parashas Ki Savo (Devarim 28:3) for those who observe the mitzvos is, “Blessed are you in the city, and blessed are you in the field.” To what city and field is the verse referring? The Daas Z’keinim explains that “blessed are you in the city” refers to Yerushalayim, while “blessed are you in the field” refers to Zion, as the verse states (Micha 3:12), “Zion will be plowed like a field.”

Harav Simcha Wasserman notes that this is difficult to understand, as the verse in Parashas Ki Savo is intended as a brachah, while the verse in Micha is obviously intended as a punishment. Why would we cite a curse to elucidate the meaning of a blessing?

Rav Wasserman explains that in order to answer this question, we must first understand the nature of the act of plowing. When a farmer plows his field, he tears his beautiful grassy land asunder and reduces it to a plot that looks barren and desolate. Thus, if plowing were viewed in a vacuum, it would appear to be an act of destruction, and if the farmer stopped at this point and did nothing further to his field, he would indeed have ruined it. However, if he follows up by planting new seeds and watering them, the seemingly harmful act of plowing will be transformed into a constructive prerequisite that facilitates the growth of a new harvest.

Similarly, when Hashem is compelled to punish the Jewish people for their sins, we describe it as churban (destruction), but in reality, Hashem does not destroy — He plows. If we neglect to engage in self-introspection to learn the appropriate lessons and instead opt to leave the plowed field as is, then it indeed becomes a churban, for nothing positive resulted from it.

If, on the other hand, we take the message to heart by correcting our mistaken ways and rebuilding our relationships with Hashem, we transform the churban into a constructive act that enables us to rebuild and reach spiritual levels that could never have been attained without experiencing the plowing. This explains how the brachah in Parashas Ki Savo can be interpreted based on the verse, “Zion will be plowed like a field,” for when Hashem metes out punishment, He does not view it as a curse, but rather as a productive opportunity to plow and create new crops.

With this introduction, Rav Wagshal suggests that the four Rabbinical fasts enumerated by Zechariah marking various aspects of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash will be transformed into Yamim Tovim to commemorate the fact that the destruction of the first two Temples enabled us to enjoy the third Beis Hamikdash, which will be even greater and more magnificent than the two that preceded it. Thus, when Moshiach comes, we will celebrate these days for their role as days of plowing, which set the stage to make the ultimate redemption possible.

Just before Harav Elchonon Wasserman was murdered by the Nazis, he addressed the other Jews of Kovno who were about to be killed together with him. In discussing the unparalleled opportunity to die al kiddush Hashem, he quoted the words that we recently said in Nachem (console Yerushalayim) on Tishah B’Av: “Ki atah Hashem ba’eish hitzasa u’ba’eish atah asid livnosa — Hashem, with fire You burned the Temple, and with fire You will be rebuild it.”

Rav Elchonon added that, similarly, the same fire that consumed their bodies would be the fire that would rebuild the Jewish nation. Rav Wagshal explains that he was not merely saying that if a punishment happens through fire, so too correspondingly will the rebuilding be through fire. Rather, Rav Elchonon meant that the fire of destruction would become the fire of plowing that would facilitate the growth of the field.

With these insights, Rav Wagshal concludes that we can now appreciate why Shabbos Nachamu immediately follows Tishah B’Av, as well as why the comfort begins in the afternoon of Tishah B’Av itself, for even at the height of the destruction, we trust that Hashem’s churban is not truly a churban, but rather an act of plowing that enables us to rebuild our relationships with Him.

Q: When is it preferable to sell an item to a person who already has some of it?

A: Rashi writes (7:2) that the commandment not to show favor to non-Jews includes a prohibition against allowing them to own any part of the Land of Israel. The Mishpat Kohen maintains that if for any reason a person is selling land in Eretz Yisrael to a non-Jew, it is preferable to sell it to one who already owns property in Israel.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email