I2The Sabbath immediately following Tisha B’Av is known as Shabbat Nahamu, the Sabbath of Consolation.  The name is taken from Isaiah 40:1, the haftarah read on that Shabbat:

‘Comfort, oh comfort My people,’ says your Lord

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

And declare to her

That her term of service is over,

That her iniquity is expiated;

For she has received at the hand of the Lord

Double for all her sins.” (Isa. 40:1-2)


What does “consolation” mean in this context? Consolation comes in many forms. Isaiah must console a nation that has experienced destruction, devastation, and suffering. Indeed, the comfort that Isaiah offers in our haftarah spans several dimensions.

First, the word “nahamu” (comfort) is repeated twice. God assures the people that their sins have been forgiven. He promises that they will receive a double portion of goodness to replace the bad fortune that has befallen them. The Rabbis formulate this point succinctly:

They doubly sinned and were smitten doubly and they are comforted doubly as it says: Nahamu, nahamu ami.

(Eikhah Rabbah 1:57)

The Rabbis extend this comfort by playing on the words of the verse to discover an additional dimension to the consolation. They change the vowels of the word ami, which means “My people,” to transform it into the word imi, meaning “with Me.”

Thus, the verse does not simply urge consolation upon the people, but implies the promise of it, with God. Who will comfort “with” God? He addresses the prophets, who find the charge of comforting the Children of Israel impossible. God therefore commits to undertake the mission of consoling His people together with them, not only the prophets and the angels, but also other agents, both natural and super-natural, according to the Midrash. He enjoins the heavens and the earth; the living, the dead, this world and the World to Come… Each of the recruited comforters is part of a pair. Yet all that effort is to no avail, until God Himself partners with Israel. As part of a couple with God, the Children of Israel indeed find comfort.

The prophets went to the Holy One Blessed Be He and told Him Jerusalem refuses to be consoled. He said, “You and I will go and comfort her, “Comfort, O comfort My people”….comfort her in the heavens, comfort her on earth, comfort, the living, comfort, the dead, comfort her, in this world, comfort her, in the next world, comfort her [over the exile] of the ten tribes comfort her [over the exile] of Judah and Benjamin. Comfort, O comfort My people (ami), comfort her with Me (imi). (Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 16:8)

Nahamu, nahamu imi –Let us accomplish this purpose together! How comforting to know that God is not a passive observer, but an unrelenting active player.


Comfort and consolation are offered to the people of Israel through the divine presence and divine embrace. Isaiah describes the experience on several levels. He begins by describing God’s grand appearance. Note how all of nature responds to the arrival of God:

A Voice rings out:

Clear in the desert

A Road for the Lord!

Level in the wilderness

A highway for our God!

Let every valley be raised.

Every hill and mount made low.

Let the rugged ground become level

And the ridges become a plain.

The Presence of the Lord shall appear,

And all flesh, as one, shall behold –

For the Lord Himself has spoken. (40: 3-5)

That the physical terrain of the land will change with God’s appearance brings solace to those who doubt His presence.  They no longer have the capacity for such doubts, and are able to be reassured that He is there for them.

The absence of God in the lives of the Children of Israel has left a tremendous void, however. They are bereft of an anchor and a compass. The very fact that God’s presence provides them with comfort indicates their sense of His absence. Granted, the people had abandoned God in this sinfulness, and were punished, but their consolation after they have paid their dues is that God is truly with them.

When God does appear, His voice calls out to them with reassurance.  Just as God spoke directly to Abraham in His command, “Lekh lekha” that forges the relationship between them, and just as God spoke directly to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai, binding the people to Him with their acceptance of the Torah, so too does God speak to the Children of Israel in their time of need for comfort.  By declaring that He is with them, He reassures them that He is their God; they may reach out and embrace them, as He is there for them.

Nonetheless, many ask “where is God?”  One such person, an assimilated Jew, estranged from Judaism, approached the Lubavitcher Rebbe and challenged him to defend a belief in God in a post-Holocaust world.  Where is God, indeed?  Rabbi Aaron Bear Seidman, this author’s father, was witness to the conversation, and explained that one expected the Rebbe to tell the questioner to focus on observing certain mitzvot, or to explain the power of spiritual experiences.  The Rebbe’s answer, however, to “where is God?” was “Wherever you let Him in.”

How reassuring to read the words of Isaiah and hear the Almighty Himself inviting the people to let Him in.


Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said: “Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge.”

Isaiah describes profound wonder in the verse that closes the haftarah, combining the idea of divine embrace with the consolation of redemption:

Lift high your eyes and see:

Who created these?

He who sends out their host by count,

Who calls them each by name:

Because of His great might and vast power,

No one fails to appear. (Isa. 40:26)

When the people look heavenward, they are able to recall that God names and counts every star in the heavens.  This attention to detail affirms His word that hope and consolation will be people’s, even when they are inherently unable to understand Him; rather, God’s ways serve as the means to human wonder.

Given the incomprehensibility of God’s nature, man is dwarfed in the presence of the Almighty. Isaiah thus acknowledges that nothing is impossible for God.  The prophet urges the people to renew their wonder at God’s creation on a deeper level as well. This wonder will awaken assurance in His great might and vast power and inspire trust in His promise of redemption.


Isaiah’s final words echo the words of God to Abraham, when he was told to look heavenward and count the stars to see the vastness of his progeny that was to come.

Some time later, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision. He said, “Fear not, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord what can You give me, seeing that I shall die childless, and the one in charge of my household is Damesek  Eliezer!” Abram said further, “Since You have granted me no offspring, my steward will be my heir.” The word of the Lord came to him in reply, “That one shall not be your heir; none but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He added, “So shall your offspring be.” And because he put his trust in the Lord, He reckoned to his merit. (Gen. 15:1-6)

Rabbi Joseph Bechor Shor of Orleans ( twelfth  century, Northern France commentator) posits that God spoke to Abraham in broad daylight and said, essentially, “Count the stars if you can.”  In daytime, all of the stars are in the heavens, yet we simply cannot see them; however, we inherently trust that they are there. In this same manner, we are to trust in the Master of the Universe, and His Omnipresence. It is this perspective which brings comfort and consolation.


Redemption is a grand and exalted concept. When redemption happens on a small scale, our ability to grasp its greatness becomes intuitive. Such was the case regarding the events surrounding the reading of the haftarah of Shabbat Nahamu, in the Hurvah Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1920: [link)

During the First World War, the British government foresaw their victory over Turkish in Palestine forces as imminent and issued the Balfour Declaration supporting Jewish aspirations for a Jewish Homeland….[Lloyd] George appointed a Jew and a Zionist, Sir Herbert Samuel, as the first British high commissioner of Palestine….

…On the morning of Shabbat Nachamu, Samuel….entered the Churva Synagogue where there was not an empty seat. He had arrived prepared to chant the Haftorah. Soon, the gabbai (sexton) summoned him to the Torah, calling out the words Ya’amod HaNasi Ha’Elyon (may the High Commissioner arise). As Samuel stood up, the entire congregation also rose to their feet in a show of respect and admiration. Samuel made his way to the bimah (platform from which the Torah is read) and proceeded to recite the blessings over the Torah and then the blessings over the Haftorah. The British High Commissioner began chanting the Haftorah, echoing the words of Isaiah, which expresses the hopes and dreams of the nation. “Comfort, comfort My people, says the L-rd. Speak to her heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her time [of exile] has been fulfilled, that her iniquity has been conciliated, for she has received for the Hand of G-d double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1-2) The entire congregation shuddered upon hearing the words that embodied their greatest hopes and dreams. It was a moment of intense emotion. An aid to Samuel described the scene as “a golden moment where the Jews in the Synagogue felt as if the hour of redemption had arrived.”

….That morning was a special moment that would live forever in the memories of those present. It was a moment that belonged not to the messenger, but to the age-old message of hope brought on Shabbat Nachamu.

Larry Domnitch, The Jewish Holidays: A Journey Through History (New Jersey: Jason Aaronson, Inc., 2000)