Time of Consolation

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

After Tisha B’Av, we read a weekly series of 7 Haftoras addressing our consolation: our punishment has been paid in full. But the consolation is not what we would expect, as the victims—the Jews—are not the focus:  

“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and declare to her that her term of service is over, that her iniquity is expiated; for she has received at the hand of the Lord double for all her sins. A voice rings out: “Clear in the desert a road for the Lord! Level in the wilderness a highway for our God! Let every valley be raised, Every hill and mount made low. Let the rugged ground become level and the ridges become a plain. The presence of the Lord shall appear, and all flesh, as one, shall behold—for the Lord Himself has spoken.” 

Redemption of the Jews has an objective: that God’s word be revered. Upon redemption, God tells the prophet to announce that the land be prepared for God. But as God does not travel, and certainly not “on land,” the above metaphor means that God’s presence is recognized on Earth as His word comes true: both in His threat of punishment for violation, and in His deliverance of the Jews from punishment, as sin is expiated. The prophet says openly, “The ‘presence’ of the Lord shall appear.” Therefore, redemption seeks to elevate the former sinners with an increased realization of truth, “God’s presence.” This higher level of wisdom of God will avert future calamities. 

The redeemed Jews are not the focus, as we read next:

A voice rings out: “Proclaim!” Another asks, “What shall I proclaim?” “All flesh is grass, all its goodness like flowers of the field: grass withers, flowers fade when the breath of the Lord blows on them. Indeed, man is but grass: grass withers, flowers fade—but the word of our God is always fulfilled!” 

The prophet makes clear that man is like grass and blossoms that wither and fade. But God’s word comes true. The danger in redemption is that man focuses on his redemption—on himself—and not on God. The prophets aims to correct this. 

Ascend a lofty mountain, O herald of joy to Zion; raise your voice with power, O herald of joy to Jerusalem—raise it, have no fear; announce to the cities of Judah: “Behold your God! Behold, the Lord God comes in might, And His arm wins triumph for Him,” see, His reward is with Him, His recompense before Him. 

Now the prophet shifts focus from the Jewish “people,” to Jerusalem, which was devastated during its exile. The fame of the city, the capital, and the renewed foot traffic and historical fame all threaten to obscure God. Therefore the prophet calls the “cities” to focus on God, “Behold your God!” Furthermore, God is supremely powerful and unopposed, “coming in might and triumph.” This is now further emphasized:

Like a shepherd He pastures His flock: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them in His bosom; gently He drives the mother sheep. 

God validated as mighty and triumphant as He cares for His flock, but there is a primary reason behind God’s might: He is the Creator:

Who measured the waters with the hollow of His hand, and gauged the skies with a span, and meted earth’s dust with a measure, and weighed the mountains with a scale and the hills with a balance? 

God is omniscient; no one taught Him:

Who has plumbed the mind of the Lord, what man could tell Him His plan? Whom did He consult, and who taught Him, guided Him in the way of right? Who guided Him in knowledge and showed Him the path of wisdom?  The nations are but a drop in a bucket, reckoned as dust on a balance; the very coastlands He lifts like motes. Lebanon is not fuel enough, nor its beasts enough for sacrifice. All nations are as naught in His sight; He accounts them as less than nothing. 

God is incomparable:

To whom, then, can you liken God, What form compare to Him? The idol? A woodworker shaped it, And a smith overlaid it with gold, forging links of silver. As a gift, he chooses the mulberry—a wood that does not rot—then seeks a skillful woodworker to make a firm idol, that will not topple.

This expresses the feeble dependency idols have on their makers. None compare to God:

Do you not know? Have you not heard? Have you not been told from the very first? Have you not discerned How the earth was founded? It is He who is enthroned above the vault of the earth, so that its inhabitants seem as grasshoppers; who spread out the skies like gauze, stretched them out like a tent to dwell in. He brings potentates to naught, makes rulers of the earth as nothing. Hardly are they planted, hardly are they sown, hardly has their stem taken root in earth, when He blows upon them and they dry up, and the storm bears them off like straw. “To whom, then, can you liken Me, to whom can I be compared?” —says the Holy One. Lift high your eyes and see: Who created these? He who sends out their host by count, who calls them each by name. Because of His great might and vast power, not one fails to appear.  (Isaiah 40:1-26)

Consolation must target man’s recognition of God, and we understand God as the sole creator and ruler: the prophet emphasizes the “founding of earth” and that God “makes rulers of the earth as nothing.” These two praises of God are as we said: he is Creator and Governor, HJ makes and maintains.  

Consolation is not a reprieve for the exiled Jews. Consolation intends to imbue man with truths about God and His word. This will truly maintain people in a consoled state, as this knowledge earns them God’s consolation.