Shabbos Nachamu, named for the first word in the Haftorah, starts a cycle of seven weeks called the “Sheva D’nechemtah”. These seven weeks between Tisha B’av and Rosh Hashana mark an uptick and change in the tone of our relationship with Hashem. Whereas Tammuz and the first half of Av were characterized by Hester Panim and distance from Hashem, we are now comforted and consoled by Him. The seven Haftorahs read in these weeks all contain words of comfort and encouragement as we come out of our grief and greet Hashem once more as His beloved nation.
Most famous among these seven is the first, which was read this past week, on Shabbos Nachamu. There, the navi Yeshaya, who foretold many of the tragedies of his time, is told by Hashem to go out now and comfort B’nai Yisrael: “Nachamu, nachamu ami…comfort, comfort My nation…”
It’s important to note that these prophecies didn’t herald the redemption itself—Yeshaya witnessed the exile but did not live to see any redemption. What then is the consolation and the comfort that these words are meant to convey?
נַחֲמ֥וּ נַחֲמ֖וּ עַמִּ֑י יֹאמַ֖ר אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃
Comfort, comfort My nation, says your G-d
My daughter Temima wasn’t so small when she was born—at 5 lbs, 10 oz, she missed the mark of a low-birth weight baby by 2 ounces. Less than an hour after she was born, however, she was admitted to the NICU due to what the nurse on call thought was respiratory distress. She was not found to actually be in respiratory distress, and though she was examined again and again, not one doctor was able to pinpoint what it was about her breathing that seemed off. After four days of observation and testing, we were sent home.
Temima seemed happy to nurse, though she did seem to eat less and sleep more than my other kids. Sure enough, our one week check up at the pediatrician showed that she had lost an alarming amount of weight. On the doctor’s advice, we started a two-hour feeding schedule, round the clock. This meant that every two hours, on the hour, my alarm would ring and I would try to wake her and coax her into eating.
Three days later, at our follow-up, she had dropped yet another pound. Scared and out of options, I decided that I would go to a lactation and feeding consultant to see if the situation could be helped. On the spot, I called a friend who was able to recommend someone. I booked her next available appointment, and continued the two hour feeding schedule for the next several days, going into the pediatrician’s office daily for weight checks.
At this point, Temima had been seen by all but one of the doctors and PAs working at our doctor’s office, and her odd breathing had been commented on as well. It was something that was brought up at every check-up, and yet no one had any suggestions as to what it could be.
The following week, we went for our feeding consultation, and after perfunctory greetings, we sat down so I could demonstrate how I typically fed Temima, who was very hungry. As was usual for her, she drank three to four sips, and stopped, her eyes fluttering shut as she breathed heavily.
The consultant looked at me with shock and exclaimed, “Of course she can’t eat! She has laryngomalacia!”
With that, we had a name for what was wrong. Within minutes, she had explained what this meant (Baruch Hashem, nothing serious, just that the muscle above the larynx was weak and was flopping over it, making her breathing and eating labored), and that we should see an ENT for possible treatment, although in all likelihood she would outgrow it as she gained strength.
דַּבְּר֞וּ עַל־לֵ֤ב יְרֽוּשָׁלִַ֙ם֙ וְקִרְא֣וּ אֵלֶ֔יהָ כִּ֤י מָֽלְאָה֙ צְבָאָ֔הּ כִּ֥י נִרְצָ֖ה עֲוֺנָ֑הּ כִּ֤י לָקְחָה֙ מִיַּ֣ד יְהוָ֔ה כִּפְלַ֖יִם בְּכָל־חַטֹּאתֶֽיהָ׃
“Speak to the heart of Yerushalyim, and call out to her,
that her time (in galus) is done,
because her sins have been appeased,
because she’s taken double from Hashem for all of her sins.”
What does this mean? Chazal teach us that our galus, and our individual suffering, is not without purpose or without Divine Ordinance. Every minute we endure is calculated and meted out by Hashem, for our ultimate good.
Our exile, and our suffering, can end three ways, all indicated in the verse:
we can reach the end of time, where our galus is set to end regardless of our actions;
we can repent and bring redemption earlier;
or we can have suffered twice as much for our sins and hasten the redemption through that.
The take away here, and the message of comfort, is clear: every moment we suffer is counted by Hashem and doled out according to His plan. Not a tear nor a moment of pain go unnoticed. When the designated time is done, through any of the above ways, the redemption comes immediately.
Having previous experience with ENT offices, I knew that the wait lists were notoriously long. When one of my sons had needed tubes several months prior to this, the doctor I wanted (let’s call him Dr. G) had a three month wait, and no one, not the pediatrician nor the audiologist could get us in sooner.
I said this out loud and to my shock, the feeding consultant confidently said to me, “Do you want Dr. G? Because I can get you Dr. G.” She whipped out her phone and within seconds was chatting with the no-nonsense receptionist. Minutes later, I had an appointment for early the next afternoon. I went home with some general feeding tips, happy and relieved that we were on the right path.
As you may recall, Temima had failed her newborn hearing screening. We had made two previous attempts to follow up and redo the test. Oddly, both attempts had been unsuccessful. The first was at hospital’s audiology clinic, scheduled by the NICU when she had originally failed. When we showed up for our appointment, after having received the confirmation call the day before, we were casually informed that the audiologist wasn’t in, and that we should reschedule. We did, with a different office. Our first attempt at that office was also unsuccessful, due to unexplained technical issues with the testing device. The morning after this feeding consultation was our third attempt.
I went in with a very light heart, sure that I was just checking off a box on a list of follow-ups, and as I filled out all the prerequisite forms, I happily told the nurse that yes, she was indeed very small, but we’ve solved the mystery and we’re going to Dr. G later today for treatment. She was duly surprised and asked how we had managed that, being that his wait list was so long and Temima was only a month old. I told her about the feeding consultant and she remarked that as a well known audiology clinic, you’d think she’d have that kind of pull too with Dr. G. but that she could never get his receptionist to budge an inch.
About an hour later, shell-shocked and heartbroken, and newly informed that Temima was profoundly hearing impaired, I listened as the audiologist told me how essential it was that I see an ENT right away, as soon as humanely possible, though she didn’t know how I would get a quick appointment with someone credible. I couldn’t think fast enough, but the nurse piped up in a disbelieving and excited voice: “She has an appointment with Dr. G in just two hours!”
ק֣וֹל קוֹרֵ֔א בַּמִּדְבָּ֕ר פַּנּ֖וּ דֶּ֣רֶךְ יְהוָ֑ה יַשְּׁרוּ֙ בָּעֲרָבָ֔ה מְסִלָּ֖ה לֵאלֹהֵֽינוּ׃ כָּל־גֶּיא֙ יִנָּשֵׂ֔א וְכָל־הַ֥ר וְגִבְעָ֖ה יִשְׁפָּ֑לוּ וְהָיָ֤ה הֶֽעָקֹב֙ לְמִישׁ֔וֹר וְהָרְכָסִ֖ים לְבִקְעָֽה׃ נִגְלָ֖ה כְּב֣וֹד יְהוָ֑ה וְרָא֤וּ כָל־בָּשָׂר֙ יַחְדָּ֔ו כִּ֛י פִּ֥י יְהוָ֖ה דִּבֵּֽר׃
“A voice calls out in the desert, “Pave the path of Hashem, level the wilderness, make it a road for our G-d. Let every valley lift, and every mountain and hill lower, and the crooked path will be straightened, and the ridges will be plains. The glory of Hashem will be revealed, and all people will see together that Hashem has proclaimed all this.”
It’s often hard for us, 2000 years into the galus to imagine what the geula will look and feel like, and how we can possibly shift into that existence. Hashem is telling us here not to despair, that when the time for our redemption comes, and Hashem calls for an end to our suffering, all paths will be straightened before us, and all obstacles will be removed.
When the time comes for a yeshua, mountains will move and paths will appear where there were none before…and in this promise from Hashem, we take comfort.
There was an audible sigh of relief and exclamation of surprise and amazement. Having not processed anything yet, I protested that we were going for her feeding issues only, the audiologist looked at me strangely and remarked that Dr. G would have to deal with the hearing loss first and that I should realize how lucky I was to have the appointment.
We went to Dr. G that day. I walked in an absolute mess who could barely form sentences, and in his kind and gentle way, he was able to make the actual diagnosis and to guide me as to what the next steps were. He told me everything that the audiologist had failed to mention (that with hearing aids, cochlear implants, and speech therapy there was plenty of hope) and reminded me to trust Hashem, to daven, and to know that it would be okay. He, too, was surprised how I had made it to him so fast, barely hours after the failed tests, but to me, as I walked out of his office, it was clear that it was an act of G-d.
The following morning found us back in the pediatrician’s office for a weigh-in. The one doctor on the team that we had never seen strolled into the room where I was holding Temima. As he crossed the doorway, he stopped, listened, and casually asked, “So, how are we treating the laryngomalacia that I hear?”
Countless NICU doctors and specialists and every other doctor and PA in this particular practice had been puzzled for 6 weeks by her breathing and should have known right away what was wrong. Instead, it was revealed at the most opportune time, by the one person who could get us that vital appointment, literally for the exact day of the diagnosis, sparing us the heartache of having to wait weeks to get the guidance and official diagnosis we would need for hearing aids and Early Intervention. After that, of course, the laryngomalacia became matter of fact and obvious to all her doctors and was eventually outgrown with no intervention at all.
The Haftorah reading ends with the ultimate words of comfort:
הֲל֤וֹא תֵֽדְעוּ֙ הֲל֣וֹא תִשְׁמָ֔עוּ הֲל֛וֹא הֻגַּ֥ד מֵרֹ֖אשׁ לָכֶ֑ם הֲלוֹא֙ הֲבִ֣ינֹתֶ֔ם מוֹסְד֖וֹת הָאָֽרֶץ׃ … וְאֶל־מִ֥י תְדַמְּי֖וּנִי וְאֶשְׁוֶ֑ה יֹאמַ֖ר קָדֽוֹשׁ׃ שְׂאוּ־מָר֨וֹם עֵינֵיכֶ֤ם וּרְאוּ֙ מִי־בָרָ֣א אֵ֔לֶּה …ה
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Was it not told to you from the beginning? Do you not understand the basis of this world? … To whom can you liken Me, and find equal to Me? asks the Holy One. Lift up your eyes high and see, Who created all this? …”
The ultimate comfort and consolation is knowing that Hashem, the Ultimate Master, Creator, and Orchestrater of all events is the One conducting the events of your life.
And lest we think that we, and the events of our lives, are too inconsequential for His Divine providence, the Haftorah ends by reminding us:
הַמּוֹצִ֥יא בְמִסְפָּ֖ר צְבָאָ֑ם לְכֻלָּם֙ בְּשֵׁ֣ם יִקְרָ֔א מֵרֹ֤ב אוֹנִים֙ וְאַמִּ֣יץ כֹּ֔חַ אִ֖ישׁ לֹ֥א נֶעְדָּֽר׃ …
“…It is He who brings out the hosts (of the Heavens, i.e. the stars) by count, and calls them each by name. And due to His great power and vigorous strength, never is one missing!”
When we put our faith in Hashem, and trust Him to guide our ways, He will protect us, lovingly calling us and knowing us by name, and we will not fail nor flounder.
The suffering of the Yidden and the galus didn’t end with Hashem’s command to Yeshaya to go comfort B’nai Yisrael; in fact, it had just begun. Dr. G’s helpful words didn’t mark an end to this story–not by a long stretch. But we felt a deep sense of comfort in seeing that we were not overlooked or abandoned to our fate by Hashem, and that we were indeed under His constant care.
In the upcoming weeks of consolation and comfort, it is in this that we take comfort…so we’ll end with a tefilla…
May we merit to see Hashem’s presence constantly,
As He, in His great wisdom, unfolds the events of our lives,
May seeing Him give us much comfort as we await the arrival of Moshiach,
And may we know only joy and happiness.
This coming week we will end the Haftorah, the second of the Sheva D’nechemta, with this very prayer
כִּֽי־נִחַ֨ם יְהוָ֜ה צִיּ֗וֹן נִחַם֙ כָּל־חָרְבֹתֶ֔יהָ וַיָּ֤שֶׂם מִדְבָּרָהּ֙ כְּעֵ֔דֶן וְעַרְבָתָ֖הּ כְּגַן־יְהוָ֑ה שָׂשׂ֤וֹן וְשִׂמְחָה֙ יִמָּ֣צֵא בָ֔הּ תּוֹדָ֖ה וְק֥וֹל זִמְרָֽה׃