Parashat VaEtchanan: Nahamu Nahamu
The Shabbat after Tisha B’Ab is known as “Shabbat Nahamu,” a reference to the portion from the Prophets read on this Shabbat, a section from the Book of Yeshayahu (40) which begins, “Nahamu Nahamu Ami” – “Comfort, comfort My nation.”
We read this prophecy of comfort and consolation every year after Tisha B’Ab even though nothing has changed. The Bet Ha’mikdash is still not rebuilt, we still live in a state of exile, we still endure many difficult problems and hardships, and we still wait and yearn for redemption. If nothing has changed, then for what reason do we suddenly change our tune from mourning to comfort? Why do we now speak of consolation and hope, if the situation remains the same?
One explanation, given by Rav Shimshon Pincus (1944-2001), is that the phrase “Nahamu Nahamu Ami” itself provides us with consolation. The very fact that G-d calls us “Ami” – His nation – despite our wrongdoing which led to our exile, is a reason for us to feel comforted and consoled. Despite all we’ve endured, we know that we are still G-d’s beloved and cherished nation, and this itself is reason for hope and optimism.
There is also an additional explanation. The Gematria (numerical value) of the word “Nahamu” is 104, and thus the Gematria of the phrase “Nahamu Nahamu” is twice 104, or 208. This is also the Gematria of the name “Yishak.” Yishak Abinu is associated with the divine attribute of Din (“judgement”), as opposed to Abraham Abinu, who is associated with G-d’s attribute of kindness and compassion. The phrase “Nahamu Nahamu” alludes to us that even within judgment there is reason for comfort and encouragement. Even when it seems like G-d deals with us harshly, He is, in truth, dealing with us with love and compassion. Everything G-d does is for our ultimate benefit and is done with love and kindness, and this is true even of the hardships we sometimes experience. This is why we feel comforted despite the fact that nothing has changed – because we know that even the calamities which have befallen us are, in truth, manifestations of G-d’s kindness and compassion.
This opening verse of the Haftara concludes, “Yomar Elokechem” (“your G-d says”). The verb “A.M.R.” generally denotes a soft, gentle tone (in contrast to “D.B.R.,” which generally refers to a stricter, harsher mode of speech). Significantly, it appears here in conjunction with the divine Name “Elokim,” which refers to G-d’s attribute of strict justice. This phrase, too, conveys the message that there is no substantive difference between G-d’s judgment and His compassion, because the two are really one and the same. Even when G-d appears to deal with us harshly, He is, in truth, treating us with love, compassion and kindness.
Parashat Va’ethanan contains the famous verse, “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Ehad” (“Hear, O Israel – Hashem our G-d, Hashem is one”). This verse bids us to “hear” – meaning, to understand and contemplate – that “Hashem Elokenu,” both attributes of G-d, are really “Ehad,” one. The Name “Elokim,” as mentioned, refers to the divine attribute of judgment, whereas the Name of “Havaya” refers to G-d’s kindness. We affirm several times each day the fundamental belief that “Hashem Elokenu,” the two different ways in which we experience G-d in our lives, are, in truth, “Hashem Ehad” – one and the same, and both stem from His kindness. We are required to recite this verse several times each day because of the vital importance of this tenet, that everything G-d does is done with love and kindness, and is for our benefit. This fundamental belief is our source of consolation after Tisha B’Ab, after we’ve mourned the destruction of the Bet Ha’mikdash, and it is our source of consolation whenever we deal with difficult hardships over the course of our lives.