I5This week is the fourth in the series of seven weeks between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashannah, where the haftarot are designed to comfort the Jewish people: the Shiva de-Nehemta, the Seven Haftarot of Consolation.  This week, when the Torah reading is Parshat Shoftim, the haftarah begins, “Anokhi Anokhi Hu menahem” – I, indeed I (God), will comfort you.  Thus, God responds to the complaint by the Children of Israel as expressed in the past two weeks’ haftarot: the comfort of the prophets is not sufficiently consoling; they seek solace from God directly.


The greatest comfort probably comes from the fact that God Himself answers the Children of Israel.  But the way He responds is important too.  Namely, when God declares His role of Comforter, He repeats Himself.  “Anokhi Anokhi” – instead of “I will comfort you,” God uses a double-declaration: “I, indeed, I!(verse 12)” In this haftarah alone, Isaiah uses double language several additional times: Rouse, rouse yourself. Arise O Jerusalem (verse 9);Awake .Awake O Zion! (verse 17).

Why does He do that?  Why bother saying it twice?  If every word is significant in the Bible, it must mean something!  But what does it mean?  What can we learn from God’s double declaration?

The haftarah is from the Book of Isaiah, and the prophet Isaiah uses this kind of repetition – double language – in other places too.  A few weeks ago, we read the haftarah that begins: “Nahamu, nahamu ami.”  Comfort, Oh comfort My people (40:1).  It is another time when God speaks about comforting the Jewish people, and He explicitly repeats Himself.  Why is Isaiah so special?  Why was he chosen to bring the message of comfort to the Jewish people?

The Midrash explains that when God was looking for a prophet to bring His message to the people, He had a few to choose from.  But only Isaiah answered eagerly: “Here I am; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).  It is because of that eagerness, perhaps the repetition by Isaiah himself, that God promises him prophecies of double language.  Why would that kind of prophecy be a reward?  Well, if you are lucky enough to be a prophet and have God talk to you, the more God talks to you, the luckier you are.  That implies that if He repeats things, you are especially privileged to hear the word of God twice.  In this case, it is Isaiah who was blessed.


What does it mean to be comforted by God?   When we are comforted by people (by our parents, our brothers and sisters, our friends), we feel better thanks to what they say and do to comfort us.  We are able to get over whatever unpleasantness we were feeling.  We are able to look forward, and plan. We are able to envision a time when we won’t feel bad at all.  Our haftarah presents us with the reawakening and revitalization of Zion – the Land of Israel, including her people.  The haftarah comforts both the people and the Land because it presents God saying that He personally will be the Comforter.  Closeness to God, the idea of redemption, of happiness and salvation in the future, comfort the Jewish people.

The words of the haftarah also help bring this consolation to life.  The images are vivid: “Awake, awake…clothe yourself in splendor; put on your robes of majesty.”  The idea of doing such a mundane thing as getting dressed – something we do every day – and instead of wearing ordinary clothing, to be clothed in splendor in garments of majesty!  How elegant and special that must be. Moreover, the verse continues: “Arise, shake off the dust.”  By getting up, by shaking of the dust, we are refreshed.  We begin again.  That kind of renewal is a kind of redemption, as we leave the old behind, and move forward to a new closeness with the Divine.


You may be familiar with Isaiah’s images and metaphors from the prominent Friday night prayer, Lekha Dodi.  You might think that a poem we sing on Shabbat would be all about Shabbat.  You’d be right – it does describe the beauty of Shabbat in a number of ways.  But it also incorporates the themes of our haftarah – and even some of the words.

The Friday night prayer service doesn’t begin with Lekha Dodi.  First six psalms are recited (Psalms 95-99; and 29).  Considering that they introduce our welcome of Shabbat, they represent the six days of the week.  When we have finished reciting them, we are ready for the “seventh” – the seventh day, the seventh part of the service, the part that elevates those who pray to a higher level.  Namely: Lekha Dodi.

Lekha Dodi used double language too.   You will notice “shamor” and “zakhor,” which don’t mean the same thing (“guard” and “remember,” respectively), but are used in the same way, commanding the Jewish people to keep Shabbat.  You will also notice that some of the words of Lekha Dodi echo some of the words we have already discussed, from our haftarah: “Arise from the dust” becomes “Arise,  leave from the…turmoil.”  And the double language of rousing and awakening that is repeated in the haftarah is found in Lekha Dodi as well: “Rouse yourself, Rouse yourself….”Awaken, awaken, utter a song.”  The double language that provides an extra level of comfort in the haftarah provides an extra level of enthusiasm in Lekha Dodi.  The question is: enthusiasm for what?


Let us consider the context of Lekha Dodi.  The prayer was composed by Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz.  Rabbi Alkabetz lived in the sixteenth century, in Safed, in Israel.  When it was nearly Shabbat on Friday evening each week, Rabbi Alkabetz and his colleagues, kabbalists all, took the metaphor of greeting the Sabbath literally.  Like their Talmudic forebears (Shabbat 119a), they went out to the fields to “greet” the Sabbath bride.  They sang and they danced and they prayed.  We mimic their joy in the refrain to Lekha Dodi: Come, my beloved. Let us go forth and meet the bride, and receive the Sabbath bride/queen.  The last stanza also emphasizes the celebration of welcoming the Sabbath bride into the synagogue for the evening prayers:

Enter in peace, O crown of her husband,

Even in gladness and good cheer,

Among the faithful of the treasured people,

Enter, O bride! Enter, O bride, the Queen.

Why do we talk about Shabbat as a bride?  And if the Sabbath is the bride, who is the groom?  We must also ask, as we do whenever we have imagery, what do we gain from it?  What do we gain from the image of a bride and groom?

If a groom goes out to great his bride, then the Jews who welcome the Sabbath are the metaphorical groom.  They go out to greet the Sabbath queen, after all.  But if you pay careful attention to the words of Lekha Dodi  you may notice that sometimes the bride seems to be not the Sabbath, but the people of Israel .  Sometimes, the bride seems to be the city of Jerusalem. According to Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, the mixed imagery teaches something profound: Shabbat, the people of Israel, and Jerusalem are all connected by the notion of redemption.  Shabbat is said to represent a taste of the World to Come – and that is the ultimate redemption.  The idea is that both Shabbat and redemption restore reality to a pristine state of purity.  On Shabbat, we leave aside the duties and toils of the week.  When we are redeemed, we leave behind the impurity and sin of the everyday world, and experience total delight.  By welcoming the Sabbath, we prepare ourselves to welcome the time that is no mere taste, but indeed the World to Come.  A time that will be “wholly Shabbat.”  The day of the great redemption.

That is the point of Lekha Dodi, then.  That is what makes it so special.  Lekha Dodi isn’t only talking about Shabbat.  It also presents a profound understanding of redemption of both the individual and the nation.  As Rabbi Steinsaltz explains, Lekha Dodi is “more than just a song of praise for the Shabbat day.  It is a song of deep devotion, of the bond of love between man and God…” (A Guide to Jewish Prayer, 109).  A powerful spiritual message that we remember every Friday night when we sing Lekha Dodi.


Immediately after the completion of Lekha Dodi, anyone who is in mourning – during the Shivah period – enters the synagogue, and the community has the opportunity to offer comfort.  Those present at the service rise, make room for any mourners to enter, and comfort them with traditional phrases of consolation.  In Ashkenazic synagogues, the statement is: “May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and know no more sorrow,” while Sephardic communities say, “May heaven comfort you.”

The timing is poignant: in the wake of welcoming the Sabbath bride, we comfort mourners.  The juxtaposition may seem jarring, but the custom derives from the ancient Temple, where two gates welcomed visitors to the outer court.  One gate was intended for bridegrooms.  The men would pass through the gate, and meet with well-wishers, blessing the couple’s marriage and praying that God may bless them with children.  The other gate was intended for mourners.  They were consoled and comforted by whomever they encountered.  According to this Midrash, Jews would come specifically on the Sabbath and holidays to bless the grooms and console the mourners (Pesikta deRav Kahane 17).  Our current Friday night practice of singing about the Sabbath bride right before the mourners enter combines the same elements as those present in the gateways of the Temple: Shabbat; brides and grooms; mourners; and the community of Israel who welcome and bless and console and comfort each other.