I3The haftarah of Parshat Eikev begins as follows:

Zion says,
My Lord has forsaken me,
My Lord has forgotten me,
Can a woman forget her baby
Or disown the child of her womb?
Though she might forget,
I never could forget you.
See I have engraved you
On the palms of My hands,
Your walls are ever before Me. (Isa. 49:14-16)

Michael Fishbane notes that the haftarah provides a counter-point to Lamentations and Tisha b’Av (The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot, 291). Historically, Isaiah preceded the experiences described in Lamentations, but in our contemporary experience, the liturgical reading of Lamentations on Tish’a B’av precedes the reading of this haftarah, as consolation for those recorded events. Isaiah’s description of Zion’s plaint, therefore, appears to reiterate the feelings of abandonment expressed in the megillah. The end of Lamentations reverberates with a collective cry: “Why have You forgotten us utterly, forsaken us for all time?” (Lam 5:20). Isaiah’s depiction of Zion: “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me” (Isa. 49:14). This assertion by Zion is rejected, however. Isaiah continues: even if “a woman forgot her baby,” the Lord “never could forget you” (15).

This poignant image of the unlikely abandonment of a child by his or her mother is illustrated by the nightmares of destruction which described babes and sucklings languishing in the squares of the city, as their life runs out in their mother’s bosoms (Lam 2:11-12), and worse, in the graphic descriptions of the fourth chapter of Lamentations. The comfort that is promised, therefore, is all the more profound. Since mothers were in the unhappy predicament of being unable to save their babies, even neglecting them, God’s proclaimed inability to forget His people is meaningful. If it had seemed to the people that the Lord “acted like a foe” and “laid waste all [Zion’s citadels” (Lam 2:5), they now here of His assertion that “your walls are ever before Me”—for indeed, “I have engraved you on the palms of My hands” (Isa. 49:16).


As the second of the seven Haftarot of Consolation, these words of Isaiah approach the notion of consolation from a variety of perspectives. The twelfth century French Talmudist, Rabbi Simcha ben Samuel of Vitry (student of Rashi), wrote one of the oldest commentaries on liturgy in Jewish literature. It is called the Mahzor Vitry. In it, Rabbi Simcha discerns a deliberate hierarchy in the order of the haftarot:

… The latter ones (haftarot), which all speak of comfort, are read from Tish’a B’Av until Yom Kippur, in the way that one comforts (a human mourner) slowly by stages, for someone who offers comfort too close to the time of tragedy is like one who predicts the future: “Tomorrow you will be king,” which the bereaved cannot believe… therefore “Comfort you,” “And Zion shall say” – although Zion is destroyed, do not say that she is abandoned. Since God has “comforted” her already in His mercy, He does not call for mercy again. Up until this point the prophets comfort her; from here onwards He comforts her. And once she has received consolation, we follow with: “Sing, O barren one,” “Arise and shine,” “I shall rejoice.”

The structure of the consolation is built on different levels, easing in to the comfort addressed to the people, and growing continually stronger.

A different explanation is offered by a midrash quoted by the fourteenth century Spanish liturgist Rabbi David ben Josef Abudraham. In his magnum opus, he notes that the order of the haftarot represents a three- fold dialogue between God, the prophet and the people of Israel:
The Midrash suggests… that they (the Rabbis) established that the first of these haftarot would be “Comfort, comfort My people” – as though God is commanding the prophets to comfort His nation. To this Israel responds: “And Zion says, ‘God has abandoned me’” – i.e., she is not consoled by the comfort of the prophets… And where the haftarah is “a stormy afflicted one who will not be comforted,” it is as if the prophets once again declare before the Holy One: See, Israel is not appeased with our consolations. Therefore the Holy One Himself again speaks: “I, I am your comforter,” and then He says, “Rejoice, O barren one who has not given birth,” and also “Arise and shine, for your light has come.” To this, Israel responds: “I shall surely rejoice in Hashem” – as if to say: now I have reason to rejoice and to be joyful, “My soul will rejoice in my God for He has dressed me in garments of salvation….”

Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom suggests yet another parallel that sheds light on the seven Haftarot of Consolation. He aligns these seven haftarot with seven stages of Jewish mourning.

The first haftarah focuses on God’s greatness, as does the traditional graveside recitation of “tziduk ha-din” (acknowlegement of God’s judgment) and Kaddish, which declares the glory of God.
The second haftarah, our subject here, attests to God’s steadfast commitment and support, which is an essential response to the mourner who begins to sit shivah feeling overwhelmed, and literally bereft.

The third day of the week of mourning is considered the most intense, with a teary eye to the past. It is only after the third day that the mourner may begin to contemplate the future, and it is in the third haftarah that the collective mourning Israel is comforted with the redemption that will come. As the week of shivah progresses, the mourner interacts in a more personal way with those who arrive to comfort him or her.

So too, in the fourth haftarah, God speaks directly to the city, providing the personal touch. The fear of the future empty of the one lost characterizes the fifth day of shivah, as the week wears on, and the fifth haftarah refocuses the people’s attention on the future, bolstering their faith that it will be good. As the week of shivah moves to its end, the mourner confronts feelings of impotence in the face of death, and in so doing, recognizes the order to the universe.

The sixth haftarah describes the self-doubt felt by Israel, as the people look to a brighter future and feel insecure in their ability to succeed. The haftarah emphasizes, however, the glory that is the people’s due, as they emerge from the period of mourning.

Indeed, the seventh and final haftarah builds on this sense of glory, and recognizes the esteem with which the rest of the world will regard Israel, a serious overturning of the lowliness that had been theirs, in destruction.

Indeed, the final day of the week of shivah is the mourner’s re-entry into the world, as he or she emerges into society. So too, the final Haftarah of Consolation attests to Israel’s role as a people among nations, with a profound connection to their Creator, and it is the recognition of that intimacy by society at large that provides the final consolation, as God’s distance from His people is utterly reversed.


When a comforter leaves the home of a mourner, he or she turns to the mourner with the following wish and prayer: May HaMakom – the Divine – comfort you amidst all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. This statement alone connects the personal experience of the loss of a loved one and the collective experience of the exile of a people. God is referred to as “HaMakom,” the Place, as the essence of stability. The mourner regains a sense of balance by staying in one place, the home. The people finds solace in the sense of God’s permanence.

One might think that these haftarah messages of consolation would be most appropriate during each of the seven days following Tisha B’Av, an immediate consolation. They are read, however, on seven successive Sabbaths, and since mourning is prohibited on Shabbat, the comfort they provide is essential. That is, they require us to recognize that there are times of no mourning. On Shabbat, the Jewish people experience the personal connection with God with no interference from the potential for despair; Shabbat counteracts it. Why seven successive Sabbaths? Would not one haftarah suffice? Ah, but mourning is a process, as the week of shivah recognizes, and its antidote, consolation, requires time to unfold as well.


Although Isaiah assures the people that they will return and repopulate the Land, they are not convinced. The people are despondent since they are but a few, and the Land is desolate. The prophet responds by enjoining the people to consider their ancestors, Abraham and Sarah.
Look to the rock you were hewn from,
Look back to Abraham your father
And to Sarah who brought you forth
For he was only one when I called him,
But I blessed him and made him many. (51:1-2)

Ostensibly, the analogy relates to the fact that a few people, the diminished population when the Children of Israel express doubt regarding their future, may indeed yield multitudes, as did Abraham and Sarah, a mere couple. The metaphor may be expanded to include the fact that Abraham and Sarah were blessed with a child when all hope was lost. So too, redemption will take place even when all seems lost. How beautifully this notion connects to the words of God noted above:
Can a woman forget her baby
Or disown the child of her womb?
Though she might forget,
I never could forget you (Isa.49:16)


The prophet offers words of comfort to dispel the dismay caused by the desolation of the Land:
Truly the Lord has comforted Zion,
Comforted all her ruins;
He has made her wilderness like Eden,
Her desert like the Garden of the Lord.
Gladness and joy shall abide there,
Thanksgiving and the sound of music. (51:3).

God promises to restore Zion to the Garden of Eden. Gladness and joy will reign supreme. These words bring us full circle. In essence, herein lies the answer to the request at the end of Lamentations:

Take us back, O Lord , to Yourself
And let us come back;
Renew our days of old! (Lam 5:22)