First haftarah of consolation (Shabbat Nahamu)

Rabbi Jan Uhrbach
Va'et-hannan By :  Jan Uhrbach Acting Dean of the Rabbinical and Cantorial Schools Posted On Jul 27, 2018 / 5778 | The Voice of the Prophet

This special haftarah, which begins nahamu nahamu ami—“comfort, oh comfort, My people,” is the first of seven special haftarot of comfort (drawn from Isaiah 40–63). During these seven weeks, the relationship between the people and God—strained almost to breaking on Tishah Be’av—is slowly rebuilt, allowing us to stand before God once again on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Unlike more common understandings of what is “comforting,” here the comfort offered by the prophet depends upon a stark confrontation with our own mortality; not only every individual but every society is temporary, and human power (however seemingly impressive) is no more lasting than straw in the wind. This finitude is then contrasted with God’s eternality, immeasurable power, and unfathomable wisdom. The message seems clear: comforts grounded in denial of our mortality and our limits are false comforts indeed.

Food for thought:

  • Which “comforts” are temporary and shallow, and which offer lasting and deep reassurance?
  • Focusing on matters of transcendent and ultimate meaning can be unsettling and challenging; how can it also offer comfort?
  • What are the consequences of seeking false comfort by trying to deny our mortality?

Listen to the haftarah brought to life as it is declaimed in English by renowned actor Ronald Guttman by subscribing to The Voice of the Prophet podcast.