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    Comfort & comforters

    The name Shabbat Nachamu derives from the opening words of the haftarah, Nachamu nachamu ammi – “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people” (Isa. 40:1).

    These words are a command to the prophets, “Comfort, comfort My people”.

    It is easy to misread the command and think it is addressed to the people themselves, denoting, as if it were, “Be comforted, be comforted, My people”.

    What is the context of the verse?

    There has been a tragedy; the enemy has prevailed; the Temple is in ruins, and Israel are in exile.

    If God were addressing Israel, it would be like the advice people often give to others who are in trouble, “Come on, cheer up, cheer up!” Similarly, when other people are in a state the advice is often, “Calm down! Relax!”

    Well-meaning advice, but impractical. The problem won’t suddenly go away because of a phrase.

    The haftarah is far more practical. It tells the prophets, “Take your time, work on the people’s morale, restore their faith!”

    This is harder advice, but it works. It has been required on many occasions in our national history, as it is in our personal lives when things go wrong.

    The old-time maggidim knew what to do. Their long discourses started by making people cry: they ended by making them laugh.

    In time of tragedy, the people don’t need to be told how black things are: they need a comforter who can help them to see the glimmerings of light.

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