The Road Toward Comfort and Redemption
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
My Tisha Be’av experience this year was a unique one. I found myself not only bemoaning the unthinkable tragedies that have befallen our nation, but rather involved in a mourning process of a different kind. I found myself asking the tough questions – has the causeless hatred that led to our destruction ended? Are we kinder, more tolerant and more compassionate towards one another? Are we a united nation? Are we less petty? I spent Tisha Be’av in a state of despair at the lack of answers in the affirmative I had for these questions. Recent news headlines did not support improvement in this regard either. What would provide me comfort?
Shabbat Nahamu – the Shabbat of comfort had to hold the key ingredient, the comforting thought and idea that would lift me out of my wallowing. The Haftarah this week is from the prophet Isiah. Jeremiah was the prophet of destruction, whereas Isiah is the prophet of comfort and redemption. Why is it that Isiah specifically was chosen as the prophet of comfort and redemption?
The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni on Isiah (443) states that Isiah overheard God saying ‘Who shall I send as a prophet to the Jewish people’ … Isiah said to God ‘Here I am, send me.’ God said to Isiah ‘My children are bothersome and rebellious. Do you accept upon yourself to be struck and degraded by them?’ Isiah replied ‘Yes I do, and I am not worthy to be sent as your messenger to your children.’ God said ‘Isiah, ‘You have loved righteousness and hated evil’ (Psalms 45) – you have loved to find justifications for my children’s actions and hated to find negativity in them, therefore I have anointed you.’
I humbly suggest that both comfort and redemption have their origin in the ability to focus on the essential positive within others. Like Isiah, we have to work on ourselves and ensure that we do not allow the negativity and the shortcomings of ourselves and of others, to embitter our hearts and shut off our love and positivity. We need to master the art of looking past the external rough barriers of strife and unfair criticism that we face so often. Yes, we need to focus on the essential goodness and Godliness within ourselves and within others. Rather than looking for an opening to criticize others, let us look for openings to judge one another favorably.
Friends, the opening words of the prophet Isiah are often translated or perhaps mistranslated as ‘Be comforted, be comforted my nation.’ Our major commentators translate these words as ‘Comfort them, comfort them, my nation’. These words are a divine instruction to the prophets to go out and comfort the Jewish people. We no longer have prophets and must therefore seek to comfort one another. Shabbat Nachamu is therefore to be taken as a divine instruction to comfort one another. Yes, we are comforted and comfort others by focusing on goodness. It is this that transforms a dark and dreary world into a world of light, understanding, love and peace – the antidote to the baseless hatred that resulted in our exile and suffering. Wallowing over negativity keeps us from comfort and redemption. Seeking and focusing on the goodness and the Godliness in every person will comfort us and redeem our world.