Seven Levels of Nechama-Overview-Part One
Transcribed and unedited: They are called the Sheva D’Nechemta, the seven haftarot of comfort. I think it is a fair assumption to say that if they take us from TishaB’Av to Rosh Hashanah, that in some way the haftarot are a lesson in how to prepare ourselves to go from TishaB’Av, from this horrible sense of destruction, to Rosh Hashanah, which is this unbelievable sense of possibility, unlimited possibilities, infinite potential. It is very difficult to go from one extreme to the other. And for some reason those stages are all incorporated under the offices of Nechama, of consolation.
So that means that we would have to find a very good definition of Nechama that goes beyond comfort, because to say that if someone has suffered a loss and you comfort that person simply by consoling that person, you could take him from the deepest depths of hell to the heights of Rosh Hashanah does not really make sense. So there has to be a better working definition of Nechama. So that is our major objective, and then to go through the haftarot, I hope you all have a Chumash with all of the different haftarot because you will see how they read, literally, as poetry and that taking it step by step through the process of mourning—from the process of mourning—to believing in all the possibilities of life. So that is what we are going to do. You are going to need a Chumash in order to follow.
So let us start with a few general ideas, a few general questions about Nechama that will help us focus on defining what Nechama is. I am about to go out of town. Excuse me. And I have a very dear friend whose mother and father are ill. His mother is on death’s door, so everyone agrees that his mother is not going to live more then a day or two. You are going out of town for two months, so you know that you are not going to be there when his mother dies, and you know that you are not going to be there when he is sitting shiva for his mother. You feel terrible because he is a close friend. So you go to him and you say, “Listen, you know, I know your mother did not die yet, but I am going to be out of town when she dies, and I am going to be out of town when you are sitting shiva for her, so I can give you consolation now before I go out of town.” You do not think it is a good idea? Audience: “I think it is hilarious.”
Well, what about if his father is also ill, but not as ill as his mother, and everyone thinks that his father is going to recover, but you being a fantastic doctor, and having read all these medical records and everything else, you know that his father is going to die in three weeks. Max of three weeks. So not only do you say to him, “Listen I know your mother is about to die, I am going out of town, I am sorry I will not be here for the funeral. I am sorry I will not be here for the shiva. I want to give you consolation now. But listen I am also not going to be here when your father dies. And I am also not going to be here for the shiva for him, so I want to give you a double consolation.” That is a good friend, is it not? Why?
There is no explanation necessary why it does not work.
But G-d does it. The first haftarah of consolation is Nachamu, nachamu, ami, “Be comforted, be comforted, My people.” And the midrash asks, why does it say Nachamu twice? One is Nachamu over the forth-coming destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash, and the second Nachamu is for the eventual destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash.
Now neither one has happened yet. The first Beit Hamikdash is still standing, Bavel is a rumor, a growing rumor and a growing sense of tension. Right now the issue is Assyria. But because Isaiah the prophet is not going to be around when the temples are going to be destroyed, so he says, “Listen, I am not going to be here, so what I would like to do is I would like to comfort you now for the destruction that is about to happen.” Same thing.
Or I have a better idea. Have you ever been at a shiva house and the person who is sitting shiva says, “I do not understand why my father had to have such a painful, horrible death. I do not understand. He was such a good person, he never hurt a fly, he was always sweet. He was always kind.” Did you ever hear it? Did you ever hear it even about someone who was a really cruel person. Audience: “Yeah.”
You never heard someone say– I hear it all the time. Audience: “Sometimes at the funeral when they are talking about the person but not–” No where the family say, “Oh he was so wonderful and he never hurt a fly.” And you know that he did hurt a fly.
I had this when I was a prison chaplain so this inmate named Lemuel Smith, who was brought into the prison, he had been sentenced to death and then the supreme court ruled that the death penalty in New York at that time for killing a corrections officer was unconstitutional because it was only for killing one specific person: a corrections officer, or a police officer. So he was sent to the prison where I was a chaplain and I was a chaplain in charge of all new coming inmates. So he was in the cellblock that was straight out of Silence of the Lambs. And I hated going to that cell block, but that is where they put the most dangerous inmates. I was nervous.
So every chaplain in the prison had an assistant. One of the inmates is an assistant and that is because they want to do it because it helps them for their probation rights. So he sounds a little apprehensive, you know, he gave me a list of a new inmate, Lemuel Smith. Everyone knew about Lemuel Smith at the time. He had taken a female CO, he raped her, cut her into pieces and put her body in the garbage. So he said, “Rabbi, I know him from other prisons. You do not have to worry about it. He would never hurt a fly.” So what do you mean he would not hurt a fly? “Rabbi, he would never hurt a fly. A woman, yes. But a fly, no.”
Alright but did you ever hear, you are sitting in shiva, and somebody says, “Oh, my father was the biggest Zaddik in the world. He was so religious, he was so good in business, he was honest.” And everybody knows his father spent ten years in prison. I have had that experience. So usually you just sit there and everybody shakes their head. You know what you feel like saying is, “I will tell you exactly why G-d did this to your father. He was a horrible human being.” How many friends would you have? No one would want you in their shiva house, correct? G-d does it.
Second haftarah. G-d says, “What do you mean what happened to you? What do you mean, ‘What did I do to you?’ The question is: what did you do to Me? You guys were terrible.” Now I understand that G-d has to rebuke and G-d has to teach them, I understand. But why is that included as part of Nechama? It is another issue that we have to deal with.
What else does the word Nechama mean? For example, V’YeeNachem Hashem Kee Asah Et HaAdam. What does that mean? At the end of the portion of Bereshit, “G-d regretted that He created man.”
So the word Nechama not only means comfort, it also means to regret something.
Or, in the following verse it says Kee NeChamTee Kee Aseeto, I regret that I ever created man. So here you have V’YeeNachem Hashem, G-d regretted, Kee NeChamTee, because I regretted, and then listen to the next verse.
One verse says V’YeeNaChem Hashem, G-d regretted, and the next verse says Kee NeeChamTee, because I regret, and the third verse is V’Noach Matza cheyn, and Noach found favor. Why was Noach’s name Noach?
Ze Yinachameynu Mee MaAseynu Mei’itzvon Yodeynu, at least according to the Ibn Ezra, he will comfort us from the curse that G-d has placed on the land because Noach supposedly invented the plow. So you have: I regret, I regret, the next verse is Noach which means comfort. So the Torah uses them even interchangeably. And by the way the Gemarah in Sanhedrin says that the reason his name is Noach, comfort, the last line in the Gemarah in Sanhedrin is Zadik Bah L’Olam, when a Zadik comes to the world, Tova Ba’ah L’Olam, good comes to the world. So therefore there was a sense of Nechama when Noach was born.
But anyway how is it, in Hebrew, whenever you have one word that means two or three different things, then you have to look at the common denominator of the words to look at the true definition of the word? Rav Kook does this in a magnificent way with all of the letters of the aleph-beit. For example, the word eleph means a thousand. It means, what else? To learn. So it also means to be high and mighty. Both in Hebrew and in English.
So Rav Kook goes through every letter and then he shows you how you can take any Hebrew word and take the meanings of the Hebrew words, the letters, and that will tell you what the essence of the word is. Now is not the time to do it.
But anyway so what is the common denominator between Nechama, as comfort, consolation, and Nechama as regret? Even as “resting,” because Rashi’s explanation of the name Noach is Yinachamenu, will give us comfort. So that means it is the same word.
Another point: always, always, and this is at the decree of the sages, the two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, the parsha is Kee Tavo. And you have to realize in the time of the Gemarah not everyone read through the Torah once a year. Sometimes they went through it once every three years. Sometimes through the Torah once every seven years. But always, always, two weeks before Rosh Hashanah you would read Kee Tavo with the Tochacha.
Now you know that the rebuke in Kee Tavo is devastating, it is frightening, it is horrible. Everything that happened in the Holocaust is described in Kee Tavo. If you have a period that is defined as the seven weeks of Nechama, as seven weeks of comfort, what place does a parsha of such devastating warnings and Tochacha have in this period?
Now I understand that it is necessary for pre-Rosh Hashanah, but you cannot have both at the same time. You cannot tell me that Tochacha has a place in the middle of Nechama. It just does not make sense. You cannot scare me out of my wits and then tell me, “Oh, you scare everyone, and then say, ‘Be comforted anyway.’” It is a little difficult to believe.
Another point: you tell me, whether you sense a pattern in the following. In the first haftarah of the seven begins with the word Nachamu, Nachamu. The fourth haftarah of the seven begins with the words Anochee, Anochee. The translation does not matter. Anochee, Anochee. Uri, Uri. Sos, Asis. Paroach, Teefrach. What is the pattern? Double. We have all these doubles.
So the reason is like this: in the first haftarah, G-d says to them Nachamu, Nachamu– comforted, be comforted, comfort, depending on how you read it. Because the pasuk says Keeflayim B’Chol Chatoteha. Double for all your many sins!
If you look at the opening verse of the first haftarah of the seven, which is the haftarah for V’EtChanan, G-d says, “I took double from you, for all of your sins.” I punished you double for all of your sins. And the Maharal has a lengthy explanation of why there was a double punishment for every sin, but it would be too much of a tangent. I do not think it is worth going into it now. But basically it has to do with the fact that when a Jew sins, it not only goes against his physical essence, it goes against his spiritual essence as well. But that is not really an important point for our theme today.
So because the sins were punished Keeflayim, double, therefore the words of Nechama are doubled. What does that mean?
The Maharal also says that the prophesies of Yeshayahu were different and Yeshayahu is the author of all of the seven haftarot that were written. The prophesies of Yeshayahu were different from all the other prophesies of all the other Niveem, except for Moshe Rabbeinu. So Moshe Rabbeinu is an entirely different concept of Navi because he saw G-d through a lens that was clear, and in fact not only was it clear, but it magnified because he was able to see things with extra clarity. Which is why, you know, that Luzzatto became a lens carver, because of the whole idea of the Lensman series, where do you think Doc Smith got it from? Did you read it?
But Yishayahu is the greatest of all of the second tier prophets. And he says like this: every other prophet explains the Maharal, you would hear the prophets voice. Moshe, you would hear G-d’s voice coming out of Moshe’s mouth. So Moshe you would hear G-d’s voice, and all other prophets except for Yeshayahu, you would hear the prophets own voice with his spin on the prophecy that he received. With Yeshayahu you heard an echo of G-d’s voice.
What is an echo? The second time, a repetition.
So Nachamu, Nachamu, Anochi, Anochi, Uri, Uri, Sos, Asis, and what is the difference? Audience: “Why is it all one word?” Oh it is not only one word, I was just giving you a selection. You will see a few more in a little bit. In fact you talk about it all the time, you just do not realize. Now what is this idea of having—now if you want to point out that Yeshayahu is a different caliber of Navi then everyone else, then all of the other Naveem, then why does it come out only in comfort? So obviously G-d is making a point: that the time when you want to hear G-d’s voice the most powerfully, from Yeshayahu, is coming out when he is comforting. That is the primary role of Yeshayahu: to comfort. And that is when G-d wants them to hear G-d’s voice in a more powerful and more meaningful way then any other time. It is coming out through Nechama. So obviously there is this special commitment to Nechama beyond everything else.
Another idea is that there is a new biography out about Albert Einstein.. So one of the things that people notice about Einstein is that whenever he was having a conversation with you, he would always repeat his last sentence or his last phrase. So if you would say to him, “Oh, how are you?” “I am fine. Fine.” Or whatever he said at the end of a long conversation, he would double it. There were certain theories about why Einstein would repeat himself at the end of a sentence; so most of the theories were that it was just a quirk which some people have and some type of short circuit in his articulation or in his vocabulary. But if you read through the book, and whenever they have a direct quote of Einstein with the repetition, you just sense that whenever he repeats himself at the end of a sentence, it is that he is thinking about what he said. Do you know what I mean?
In other words it is not just, “How are you feeling?” “I am fine,” or “I hope you are okay.” It is: “I hope you are okay. I hope you are okay.” Because sometimes you could say something one time and people can just say it simply to be polite. When you are walking by someone in the street, “Oh, hi. How are you?” And then you walk away. You are not interested in your answer and they are not really interested in hearing anything. They do not want to know how you are. It is just something that you say to somebody.
But, whenever you really want to make a point, sometimes you have to repeat it to know that it was not simply just a platitude or something nice that you wanted to say to someone. I think it is very true about this whole idea of Keeflayim, of all of the words of Nechama, being double. There is this extra—G-d is extenuating, so to speak, the words of Nechama to know that He really cares about what He is saying, that it is meaningful to Him.
It does not happen anywhere else in the Bible, except when G-d is calling someone. Avraham, Avraham. Yaakov, Yaakov. Otherwise He does not double. So that whenever a name is repeated, Avraham, Avraham, Rashi inevitably will say that this is a term of great love and endearment so that means that there is an unbelievable expression of love when G-d is comforting the Jews and repeating himself and it is almost thematic to each and every one of the seven haftarot.
So why is it that you have this special thing in Nechama, this special love? Now I want to just read a list of words to you, or phrases. I am not going to translate it. Do not care about the translation. And you tell me when the deep phrases ring a bell. Just let me finish the list. In the fourth haftarah: Heetorerei, heetorerei. Uri, uri. kooma Ari Mei’afar Koomee. In the fifth haftarah: Kee yamin Oosmoll teefrotzi. Al TeeraE Kee Lo Teyvoshie, V’Al Teecolmee. In the sixth haftarah: Koomee, Ori, KeeVa Orech. OchVod Hashem Aliach Zarach. Sound familiar. Where is it from? Audience: “Lcha Dodi.” Yes. So we have to wonder why is it that in Lecha Dodi you have—why did Rav Shlomo Alkabetz, obviously it is intentional, why did he go to the haftarot of Nechama to find the main words, the themes almost, of Kabbalat Shabbat? What is the connection between Kabbalat Shabbat and the Haftarot? And is there a reason that he specifically chose number four, number five, and number six? Because that is where they all come from. Four, five, and six. Then another important thing, this is still the introduction of what we have to figure out in discussing Nechama. I know it is a long introduction, but it is worthwhile.
There is a midrash, which we will be quoting many times today, called the Pesikta. And it was written by Rav Kahana. So the Pesikta in the thirtieth chapter, says as follows: that the seven haftarot work in stages. The first stage is Nachamu, Nachamu, meaning that G-d said to Yeshayahu and to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, go and comfort my people. They need to be comforted. So the midrash says that Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov and Yishayahu went to the people to comfort them.
The second haftorah is, begins with the pasuk, VaTomer Tzion, and Zion says, Azavanee Hashem, G-d has left me.
So the Pesikta says this was the response of the Jewish people when Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, etcetera, etcetera, came to comfort them. What are you comforting me for? G-d has obviously abandoned me. What comfort can there be if G-d has abandoned me?
The third haftarah begins with the phrase: Aniya so’ara, that the Jewish people are poor and storm tossed. They are distraught. Meaning, you know, the minute they said: “you cannot comfort me, because G-d has abandoned me.” You know sometimes when you acknowledge the reality of the devastation of your situation becomes worse.
So in the third haftarah the Jews are just totally distraught. Even more than they were. Because when they realized that Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov cannot comfort them, when they realized there is absolutely no one who can comfort them, and they say that and finally they are able to express their sadness and say, “G-d has abandoned me,” they are so devastated that they become, in the third haftarah, Aniya so’ara. They are storm tossed, they are distraught.