Have you ever heard of the “Sabbath of Consolation”? When something traumatic or emotionally painful happens to someone we care about, we try to comfort the person, offering words of consolation and sympathy. We try to point out the bright side, and we try to lift the person’s spirits by invoking future hopes. That’s what the Sabbath of Consolation tries to do for Israel.
Shabbat Nachamu (the Sabbath of “Comfort”) follows the Fast of the month of Av, the ninth day of the fifth month, which is the anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple during the Babylonian siege in 586 BCE and the Roman siege in 70 CE. It’s called “Shabbat Nachamu,” a named derived from the first word of Isaiah 40: “Comfort ye (nachamu, נחמו)”:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2)
After we relive the painful trauma of the destruction of the Temple and the holy city through the commemoration of the Fast of Av, the Sabbath of Consolation comes to us speaking words of comfort, hope, and faith in the promises of God.
This Sabbath begins a series of seven successive haftarah readings selected from the later chapters of the scroll of Isaiah that the synagogue lection offers as consolations and predictions of Zion’s restoration. The synagogue reads the seven Isaiah passages on the seven Sabbaths subsequent to the fast of Av. Together, the readings are called the Seven Consolations, and each one offers a prophecy of return from exile, Zion’s restoration, and, ultimately, the Messianic Kingdom of Heaven on earth. They describe the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the holy house of God and introduce the agent of redemption: the mysterious “Servant of the LORD.” The seven consolations are in keeping with our Master’s words, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
- First Consolation (Va’etchanan ): Isaiah 40:1-26
- Second Consolation (Ekev): Isaiah 49:14-51:3
- Third Consolation (Re’eh): Isaiah 54:11-55:5
- Fourth Consolation (Shoftim): Isaiah 51:12-52:12
- Fifth Consolation (Ki Tetze): Isaiah 54:1-10
- Sixth Consolation (Ki Tavo): Isaiah 60:1-22
- Seventh Consolation (Nitzavim): Isaiah 61:10-63:9
In Isaiah 40, the first of the seven consolations, the LORD commands consolation for Zion: “Comfort, comfort my people.” The twice-stated imperative charge to offer comfort and consolation to Zion answers the text from Lamentations which we just read on the Fast of Av: “She weeps bitterly in the night and her tears are on her cheeks; she has none to comfort her … she has no comforter” (Lamentations 1:2, 9).
The haftarah reading for Shabbat Nachamu, and the subsequent six readings from Isaiah, all point to the future redemption and the coming of the Messiah. They speak of that future hope for which we ask whenever we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”