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By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom | Series: | Level:

I

RECAP

In the previous essay, we presented a limited overview of the theories as to the origin of the public reading of the Haftarah, as well as several suggestion and general parameters as to the date of its establishment.

At the end of the shiur, we noted that although the customs of which selections from the N’vi’im would be read was community-based (if that) and it was only in the middle ages that set selections emerged (albeit with variations from community to community). With the exception of the Haftarot for the holidays, all that is provided in the Talmud is a series of rules concerning the size and method of the text – with an allusion as to the guiding principle in choosing a text. The Babylonian custom was to find thematic connections between the K’riat haTorah of that Shabbat and the selected text; the Galilean custom was to identify the first key word in the Torah reading and find a passage in the N’vi’im with the same opening word.

It is, therefore, surprising that the seven Shabbatot immediately following Tish’ah b’Av (of which this is the third) are graced with the universally practiced reading of the “seven Haftarot of consolation”, all taken from the latter half of the book of Yeshayah (Isaiah). In last week’s essay, we presented a chart of the Haftarot, noting that there is only the slightest variation in customs – there is near-unanimity throughout the Jewish world regarding the selection of texts used on these seven Shabbatot. What is even more remarkable is that the tradition of ignoring the theme (or key words) of the Torah reading in favor of the seven-fold message of Nechamah (consolation) is so global; this means, undoubtedly, that the tradition is an old one, dating back to end of the Talmudic period (note our observation about the Pesikta d’R. Kahanah in last week’s essay). We were left with four questions:

1. Why are there Haftarot of consolation at all?

2. What is the reason for seven such Shabbatot?

3. Why does this series continue until the Shabbat just prior to Rosh haShanah?

4. Why do these Haftarot violate the sequencing within Sefer Yeshayah?

We were left wondering as to the wisdom which informs the sequence, but, beyond that, the establishment of such a custom to begin with, its duration, selection and message.

We will begin by briefly noting two approaches taken by the commentators to explain the sequence – and then reassess the entire institution of Shiva’ah d’Nechemta, using our general analysis as a point of departure for suggesting a third solution to the sequence.

II

MAHZOR VITRI AND ABUDRAHAM

The Mahzor Vitri, one of the oldest commentaries on liturgy in our literature, was composed by a student of Rashi, R. Sh’mayah. He briefly notes that the order of the Haftarot of consolation are similar to the manner of “personal consolers”, who bring consolation in stages, beginning with simple and understated comfort and ending in grander visions of solace.

Although this approach has much to recommend it, it is difficult on two counts. First of all, one needs to demonstrate that, indeed, each successive Haftarah contains greater terms of consolation. Second, there are surely other passages which would offer “the next stage” in comfort. For instance, the fifth Haftarah (Roni Akarah), relates the nation coming home – and the next one, (Kumi Ori Ki Va Orekh) has a significantly grander scheme laid out for Am Yisra’el.

Beyond that, the premise is as yet unsubstantiated. Why should it be assumed that the Haftarot of consolation should be patterned after the stages of consolation proffered to a mourner by his or her friends?

R. David Abudraham, who lived in the 14th century in Seville, composed one of the most comprehensive commentaries on T’fillah. In his magnum opus (commonly referred to as “Sefer Abudraham”), he notes that the order of the Haftarot represent a three-way dialogue (I would studiously avoid the use of “polylogue”) between G-d, the prophet and Am Yisrael, as follows:

a) G-d tells the prophet Nachamu Nachamu Ami – bring comfort to My people;

b) Am Yisrael then declares vaTomer Tziyyon Azavani Hashem – G-d has abandoned me and I am not satisfied with the consolation of the prophet

c) The prophet then returns to G-d and says Aniyah So’arah Lo Nuchamah – to wit, the impoverished and persecuted nation refuses to be comforted

d) G-d then responds Anokhi Anokhi Hu Menachemkhem – this it is I, says G-d, who comfort you.

e) He then continues Roni Akarah, abjuring Am Yisrael to rejoice,

f) Followed by Kumi Ori, after which

g) Am Yisrael responds “Sos Asis”, – I will, indeed, rejoice in G-d.

This is an interesting observation, but it only goes as far as the opening line in each Haftarah (and it would have worked out so much “cleaner” if the fifth and sixth had involved the prophet and the people, such that each Haftarah was a new voice).

These are the two conventional explanations suggested by the Rishonim for the order of Shabbatot Nechamah.

I’d like to propose a new explanation of the Shabbatot of Nechamah, one which we will discover to have its roots in the approach presented in the Mahzor Vitri. In order to demonstrate the appeal of this suggestion, we need to review – and perhaps reassess – some of our conclusions regarding the inclusion of Eikhah in T’nakh (“canonization”).

III

PERSONAL AND NATIONAL MOURNING

In our brief overview of Megillat Eikhah (available on the Mikra homepage – http://www.torah.org/advanced/mikra ), we raised the question of canonization; what justifies the inclusion of Megillat Eikhah in the T’nakh. Since there were, according to the Rabbinic tradition, myriads of prophets who prophesied on behalf of and concerning Am Yisra’el, the selection of prophetic works worthy of inclusion in the canon was predicated on some message or value that transcends the primary target audience:

Only those prophecies that had eternal significance were preserved. (BT Megillah 14a)

In answering it, we noted that the dramatic development within Eikhah, which reaches its apex at the end of the fourth chapter, is presented as a series of dialogues between the Meqonen and the city. The ultimate goal of the Meqonen is achieved in the fifth and final chapter, when, in one voice, the people pour out their hearts before G-d, beginning the process of Qiunnah (dirge). Besides the direct and eschatological modes in which the text operates on a national scale, the emotional/psychological realities which unfold in the area of dealing with tragedy are most illuminating. We see how the Meqonen, who is ultimately charged with getting the city (and her children) to accept what has befallen her and to acknowledge her own culpability cajoles, encourages and pushes the city to cry out to G-d – which is the only path through which consolation can even begin. This is strikingly similar to the process of accepting personal tragedy, wherein denial, anger and hopelessness (read: helplessness) are nearly inevitable prerequisites to the process of healing. In that essay, I suggested that part of the “ongoing value” of Megillat Eikhah is its guidance to the Menachamim (consolers) on how to utilize various methods and approaches to bring the mourner to a state of acceptance and back into dialogue with G-d.

There is an additional value to the interplay between personal “fresh” Avelut and that experienced by all members of the nation on an annual basis. All of us learn how to mourn from youth – when a personal tragedy strikes, we have memories upon which to draw which help to anchor us in the rituals and emotions of mourning. When faced with the personal loss of a loved one, all of those feelings which we have learned to internalize on a yearly basis – even if somewhat distant – become part of a more intense feeling. Finally, and perhaps most pointedly, when the formula of consolation “May the Omnipresent One console you among the mourners of Tziyyon and Yerushalayim” is declaimed, the mourner truly understands that he or she is not alone in the experience of mourning, as we are all Avelim for Yerushalayim and the Mikdash.

I would like to suggest that much the same can be said for the active process of Nehemat ha’Am (the consolation of the nation) which takes place subsequent to Tish’ah b’Av. For all that Eikhah contains the seeds of comfort, it only goes so far as to open up the doors of dirge – comparable to the status of Mi sheMeto Mutal l’Fanav (one whose deceased relative is still lying before him, awaiting burial) – Rabbinically referred to as Aninut. Thus, there is no real consolation which can take place – as yet – on Tish’ah b’Av (we do beseech that G-d comfort us in the Nahem paragraph added in at Minhah, but that is our request which remains unfulfilled by the end of the day). The process of national consolation begins after the day (and its 18 hour “trailer”, during which time the Beit haMikdash was still ablaze) is over.

IV

PERSONAL AND NATIONAL CONSOLATION

Tish’ah b’Av can never violate the redemptive and other-worldly reality of Shabbat – if need be, it is postponed until Sunday. How can one mourn the terrible distance between the nation and our G-d on a day in which His presence is immanent? (Interested readers are encouraged to pay close attention to the interwoven themes present in L’kha Dodi.) Conversely, consolation belongs primarily to the realm of Shabbat. As such, the process of national consolation begins on the Shabbat following Tish’ah b’Av and continues, each new step introduced on the successive Shabbat. Just as it is the N’vi’im who warned us of impending disaster if we don’t mend our ways and repair our relationship with G-d and each other, similarly it is their task to console us and assure us of a speedy and safe return to our Land, to our G-d and to our prior glory.

This process, following the lead laid out above, is also modeled after the stages of interpersonal consolation. Therefore, it should not be surprising that the consolation is presented to us in seven steps – much as the mourner experiences seven days of (the primary level of) Avelut. I will demonstrate that each of the Haftarot, in succession, mirrors one of the days (read: stages) in consolation with which the Menahamim console the mourner.

V

SHABBAT 1: BURIAL AND KADDISH

What is curious about the first Haftarah (Yeshayah 40:1-26) is that after the first command to the prophet to comfort the people, the theme of consolation – which we would expect to be the leitmotiv in the entire passage – disappears. In its place stands a beautiful testament to G-d’s everlasting greatness against which Man’s temporary and paltry existence is measured. Here are a few selections from the passage:

1. Comfort my people, comfort them, says your G-d.

2. Speak comfortably to Yerushalayim, and cry to her, that her fighting is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from Hashem’s hand double for all her sins…

6. The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all its grace is as the flower of the field;

7. The grass withers, the flower fades; when the breath of Hashem blows upon it; surely the people is like grass…

21. Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

22. It is He who sits upon the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are as grasshoppers; Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in;

23. Who brings princes to nothing; He makes the judges of the earth as vanity.

24. Scarcely are they planted; scarcely are they sown; scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth; and He merely blows upon them, and they wither, and the stormy wind takes them away as stubble.

25. To whom then will you liken me, that I should be his equal? said the Holy One.

26. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold Who has created these things; Who brings out their host by number, He calls them all by names by the greatness of His might, and because He is strong in power not one is missing.

Wherein lies the consolation here?

Returning to the process of personal mourning and consolation, we see, at least, the template upon which this selection can be seen.

The first day of Avelut is the day of burial – from the completion of burial until the end of the day. As soon as the grave is filled in, the assembled become Menahamim, form two lines and, as the mourners pass between them, recite the familiar formula mentioned above. During the burial itself, there are three critical passages which are said:

1) El Male Rahamim – acknowleding the death and asking G-d to protect the soul of the deceased;

2) Tzidduk haDin – accepting the truth of G-d’s judgment (the verses which are included in the Tzidduk haDin extol not only G-d’s greatness, but the wispy existence of every man.)

3) Kaddish – an expanded version which is said only at graveside (and at the celebration of the conclusion of a book of Talmud – notice again how the rebuilding of Yerushalayim is inextricably tied into the powerful moments of personal mourning).

This is the necessary prerequisite of consolation. Once the mourner has accepted the reality of his tragic loss (El Male), he must realize the “bigger picture” (Kaddish) and even if he cannot internalize it as yet, G-d’s greater “view” (Tzidduk haDin), it needs to be stated. Similarly, Yerushalayim will begin to take solace once it realizes in Whose hands its fate rests and that all men wither and blow away as the grass. As the mighty Bavel rested on its ugly laurels, taunting the Levites to “sing to us of the songs of Tziyyon” (T’hillim 137:3), we remembered that all men have their limited time to crest (see Eikhah 4:21) and that G-d’s will is unstoppable.

VI

SHABBAT 2: BEGINNING OF CONSOLATION

One of the overwhelming feelings that the Avel feels once the first day – with all of its “reality therapy” – has gone, is that of isolation. After all of the hustle of the burial, the first meal (brought by others) etc., he finally sits alone (even if there are other mourners!), lower than everyone else, silent and desolate. This mirrors the tragic picture of the first chapter of Eikhah – “all of my friends have betrayed me…”. The necessary consolation for this step is to show the mourner that he is yet surrounded by friends; if he cannot see it now, he must think back to those glory days of the past and take solace in their memory.

Note how the second Haftarah (49:14-51:3) follows and responds to these sentiments:

14: But Tziyyon says, Hashem has forsaken me, and Hashem has forgotten me.

15. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, even they may forget, but I will not forget you.

16. Behold, I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before me…

18. Lift up your eyes around, and behold; all these gather themselves together, and come to you. As I live, says Hashem, you shall surely dress yourself with them all, as with an ornament, and bind them on you, as a bride does….

51:2. Look to Avraham your father, and to Sarah who gave birth to you; for he was only one when I called him, and blessed him, and increased him.

3. For Hashem shall comfort Tziyyon; He will comfort all her ruins; and He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of Hashem; joy and gladness shall be found in there, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.

Note the unique reference (not found in any of the other Haftarot in this series) to Avraham and Sarah. The father of our people, the archetype of the isolated hero, enjoyed the blessing (realized only generations later) of a tribe mure numerous than the stars in the heaven. What powerful solace for the city in mourning – her children will, as promised in v. 18, return to her and adorn her as an ornament. The bright future is, however, presented in broad strokes, utilizing vague terms to paint a glorious picture which is, as yet, unanchored in specific realia.

VII

SHABBAT 3: AN EYE TO THE FUTURE

Although we are generally familiar with 7 days as the primary unit of Avelut and that which defines the first stage of mourning, there is a subset of days within the first week:

Three days for weeping and seven for lamenting and thirty [to refrain] from cutting the hair and [donning] pressed clothes (BT Mo’ed Katan 27b)

The third day is the end of the most intense period – that of B’khiyyah. Weeping is always associated with the past – with losses and unrecoverable glory. The refocusing on the past at the end of the previous Haftarah is the final touch with days gone by – from here on, the emphasis of consolation will be on the future, which begins in the third Haftarah (54:11-55:5)

Even the opening line turns the unwillingness of the nation to be comforted into a presentation of a bright future:

54:11. O you afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with fair colors, and lay your foundations with sapphires.

12. And I will make your windows of rubies, and your gates of beryl, and all your borders of precious stones.

13. And all your children shall be taught of Hashem; and great shall be the peace of your children.

Attend to the greater specificity here regarding the future – and how the future is not only a restoration but brighter and more glorious than ever (v. 12).

Just as with the conclusion of the three days of weeping, the mourner can start looking ahead and understanding how the future may, indeed, hold days not only unmarred by tears but also be celebrated as never before. This is, of course, only theoretical and cognitively perceived while unintegrated at this point.

VIII

SHABBAT 4: INTERACTION WITH THE CONSOLER

It is often the case that the myriad of visitors during the initial period can overwhelm the mourner; even if the numbers are small, the shock and dissonance brought on by the burial can often prevent real interaction with real comforters. Words float on the air, spoken by ghostly visitors with no real presence (from the perspective of the mourner). The next step, so to speak, is for the comforters to begin the process of personal interaction with the mourner in a “real” way. In addition, the objective anchors and hopes which are presented in the first three days must give way to subjective, personal words of comfort.

After the city has heard the prophecies of grand future, rooted in a glorious past, it is time for G-d to speak directly to the heart of the city. The fourth Haftarah (51:12-52:12) introduces this direct and personal consolation:

51:12. I, I myself, am he who comforts you; who are you, that you should be afraid of a man who shall die, and of the son of man who shall be made as grass…

15. And I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea, whose waves roar…

52:5-8. Now therefore, what have I here, says Hashem, that My people is taken away for nothing? …for they shall see eye to eye, when Hashem returns to Tziyyon.

9. Break forth into joy, sing together, you ruins of Yerushalayim; for Hashem has comforted His people, he has redeemed Yerushalayim.

10. Hashem has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our G-d…

IX

SHABBAT 5: ANTICIPATION OF GREATNESS

Once the personal connection has been established between mourner and consoler, the bright future (which is the ultimate ray of hope for anyone bewailing a tragedy) must be restated. As the first intense week of mourning wears on, as the sharp shock of death and immediate awareness of loss give way to the fears about the empty future and the irreplacable seat at the table, the closest friends must bring hope to the Avel.

The fifth Haftarah refocuses attention on the future – but, unlike the second Haftarah which was as yet “cognitive” and distant, this Haftarah (54:1-10) is designed to bolster the faith that it will, indeed, be good:

1. Sing, O barren, you who did not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who did not labor with child; for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, says Hashem.

2. Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of your habitations; spare not, lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes;

3. For you shall break forth on the right hand and on the left; and your seed shall possess nations, and make desolate cities to be inhabited…

7. For a small moment have I forsaken you; but with great mercy will I gather you…

10. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall the covenant of My peace be removed, says Hashem who has mercy on you.

Note the continued emphasis on the personal connection with G-d – will I gather you…

Note also the wife/mother metaphor, stressing the personal and intimate relationship with G-d, as yet undeclared (in the previous passages).

X

SHABBAT 6: RESTORING THE DIGNITY OF THE MOURNER

One of the most powerful feelings, often subconscious but powerful nonetheless, experienced by the mourner is utter powerlessness. This is proper and even encouraged by the Halakhah (the inability to leave the house, to prepare food, to sit up) which enforces the feeling of ultimate impotence we all experience when facing the ugly countenance of death. Important as it is to give voice to this frustration, it is the job of the consolers to begin to empower the mourner.

As the city begins to shake off her dust of desolation and anticipates a bright future promised by her Comforter, she is riddled with the self-doubt brought on by this impossibly powerful blast to her self-esteem.

The response comes in kind in the sixth Haftarah (60:1-22):

1. Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of Hashem has risen upon you…

3. And the nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

4. Lift up your eyes around, and see; all they gather themselves together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far, and your daughters shall be nursed at your side.

5. Then you shall see, and be filled with light, and your heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you…

20. Your sun shall no more go down; nor shall your moon withdraw itself; for Hashem shall be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended.

K’vod Yisra’el is the main feature of this Haftarah, not found in any of the others. As the comforters begin to prepare the mourner to arise and rejoin the world – and greet the brighter future as promised, he needs their support to embrace his own glory.

XI

SHABBAT 7: RESTORATION AND GROWTH

Because the mourner has been so reliant on others (for food, for company – even for the quorum necessary to say Kaddish), the main feature of the final day of mourning is the first step of reintegration into the world. Because of the Halakhic dictum Miq’zat haYom k’Khulo (parf of the day is considered a full day), immediately after Shaharit, the comforters escort the mourner out of his house – as it were, to rejoin the world. One of the salient effects of this reintegration – notably the process by which it is initiated – is the public awareness of this “reborn” citizen in their midst.

Am Yisra’el was never intended to live in a cocoon. Much as this is “a nation that dwells apart”, that only refers to a level of spiritual and (perhaps) material self-sufficiency to be found in our nation. Quite the opposite is true, however, when we look at our purpose vis-à-vis the nations of the world. It is quite clear that from the time of Avraham, our purpose has been to “be a blessing unto all the families of the earth” and to inspire, teach and lead the children of Noach to a proper relationship with G-d and with each other.

This can not be accomplished while we are closed within ourselves, trying to decide who we are and what our mission is. It can certainly not be realized while we stagger in the self-doubt brought about by disaster; it is only after we have completed the process of mourning and fully allowed ourselves to be consoled that we can step out into the global community, walk among the nations and inspire them in such a manner that the nations will call us “the Kohanim of Hashem”.

The final Haftarah (61:10-63:9) focuses on the esteem with which the rest of the world will regard us:

10. I will greatly rejoice in Hashem, my soul shall be joyful in my G-d; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

11. For as the earth brings forth her bud, and as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so Hashem G-d will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.

62:1. For Tziyyon’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Yerushalayim’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth like radiance, and her salvation like a burning torch.

2. And the nations shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of Hashem shall express…

6. I have set watchmen upon your walls, O Yerushalayim, who shall never hold their peace day nor night; you who make mention of Hashem, take no rest.

7. And give him no rest, until he establish, and until he makes Yerushalayim a praise in the earth…

The final step in consolation comes when the whole world recognizes the intimate relationship between G-d and His people; this is when Hashem walks us outside, completing the process of consolation.

XII

STRUCTURES AND PATTERNS, MEANING AND MESSAGES

These past two essays have been devoted to a unique series of Haftarot which has ancient roots and is practiced with near uniformity throughout Am Yisra’el. We raised several questions about the Haftarot, all of which we can answer now:

The Haftarot serve as the “response” to Eikhah; much as the public reading on Tish’ah b’Av expresses the feeling of helplessness so common among mourners, similarly the Haftarot express the stages of consolation which the nation experiences in coming out of that mourning. Just as Tish’ah b’Av cannot take place on Shabbat, a day of redemption and other-worldliness, so Shabbat is the most fitting time for these readings.

There are seven Haftarot to correspond to the seven steps of consolation which the mourner experiences through the help of his fellows. The sequence, though nearly true to the selections from Yeshayah, follows the sense of those stages.

We read these Haftarot until Rosh Hashanah because we cannot properly fulfill our mission on that great Day of Remembrance – declaring G-d’s Rule over all – if we are still coping with our own tragic circumstances. There is no better preparation for Rosh haShanah than to remind ourselves of the great mission to which Avraham was called and with which we were charged, our ability to fulfill that mission and G-d’s everlasting love for us.

In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bore them, and carried them all the days of old.


Text Copyright &copy 2013 by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom and Torah.org. The author is Educational Coordinator of the Jewish Studies Institute of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles.

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