Double Sins, Double Consolation

Nachamu nachamu ami (Yeshayah 40:1 — Haftarah)

The well-known haftarah that is read on Parashas Va’eschanan begins with “Nachamu nachamu ami — Comfort, comfort My people.” Why is the word “nachamu” repeated? The Midrash explains (Eichah Rabbah 1:57) that because the Jewish people sinned doubly, as indicated by the double expression (Eichah 1:8) “Cheit chat’ah Yerushalayim — Jerusalem has greatly sinned,” they were doubly punished, as Yeshayah continues to say (40:2), “Ki lakcha miyad Hashem kiflayim b’chol chatoseha — the Jews received double from Hashem’s hand (as punishment) for all of their sins.” As a result, when they repent their sins, they will be doubly comforted, as indicated by the double expression “Nachamu nachamu ami” in our verse.

What is difficult to understand is the Midrash’s statement that the Jews doubly sinned. How is this to be understood? It can’t mean that they did a lot of sins, because then the verse would simply say that they did many sins. What does it mean that each of their sins was doubled, and what is the connection between this and a double consolation?

The Darkei Mussar explains that Hashem gave us the Torah to be a light unto the nations, meaning that the Torah is not only for us, but for all the nations of the world. If we behave the way that Hashem commanded us, the non-Jews will see our conduct and be so impressed by it that they will want to imitate us and they will become elevated as well. For this reason, the Torah was given in 70 languages, corresponding to the 70 nations of the world.

Unfortunately, when we don’t behave properly, not only do we go down spiritually, but the non-Jews for whom we’re supposed to be role models go down as well. He writes that in his times, people complained that the non-Jews around them acted like lowly animals. He suggests that instead of focusing on them and blaming them for acting so inappropriately and immodestly, we should focus on ourselves and realize that if we behave in the way that we are supposed to, we will elevate not only ourselves but them as well, so the fact that they are acting in this manner is on some level our fault and responsibility.

In light of this, he explains that the Midrash says that the Jews sinned doubly because not only did they sin, but their actions had a negative impact on everybody around them, and they were held accountable for this as well. As a result, we were doubly punished, not only for our sins but also for theirs. However, the Midrash adds that the time will ultimately come when we will properly fulfill our mission and purpose, and not only will we be elevated, but the entire world will be elevated with us, and we will be doubly comforted for all of our pain and suffering, may it be speedily in our days.

Q: The Mishnah Berurah (61:2) writes that all of the 10 Commandments are hinted to in the three paragraphs of Shema, and a person should think of them when saying the relevant verses that allude to each of them. How many of them can you find throughout Shema?

Q: When would a person be obligated to repeat all three paragraphs of Shema at night, even though he said all of them as part of the evening prayers, did not specifically intend not to fulfill his obligation, and prayed after nightfall and without any immodest sight or foul odor in his presence or vicinity?

A: The Mishnah Berurah lists the following allusions: The phrase “Hashem Elokeinu — Hashem is our G-d” corresponds to the commandment to believe in Hashem, and the expression “Hashem Echad — Hashem is One” refers to the prohibition against believing in other gods. The verse commanding a person to love Hashem with all of his heart, soul and might alludes to the prohibition against swearing falsely in Hashem’s name, as somebody who loves a King will not take a false oath in His Name.

The commandment to write a mezuzah on the doorpost of your house represents the mitzvah of not coveting another person’s possessions, as we place the mezuzah on our doorpost and not on that of our neighbors. The verse in the second paragraph of Shema that discusses gathering in one’s grain is an allusion to the prohibition against stealing, as it implies that one should gather his grain, but not that which belongs to others.

The verse threatening that one will be destroyed for worshipping idolatry refers to the prohibition against murdering, as somebody who kills another person will be killed. The verse promising long life corresponds to the commandment to honor one’s parents, for which the Torah promises long life.

The warning against allowing the eyes to lead one astray hints to the prohibition against immorality. The verse in the last paragraph that discusses remembering all the mitzvos refers to the commandment to remember and observe Shabbos, which is considered equal to all 613 mitzvos. The final words, “Ani Hashem Elokeichem — I am Hashem your G-d” correspond to the prohibition against bearing false witness.

A: The Biur Halachah writes that a person who normally makes “early Shabbos” and recites the Friday night prayers before nightfall expects to repeat Shema again after dark. As such, if one week he happens to make a “late Shabbos” and recites the evening prayers in their proper time, unless he explicitly had clear intention to fulfill his obligation, he must repeat Shema again because his default intention is presumed to be in accordance with his usual custom, which is to fulfill his obligation not when saying Shema as part of the evening prayers, but during his subsequent repetition of Shema.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer 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