Imagine you are at the base of a towering mountain, its peak shrouded in clouds. The summit seems impossibly far, the climb treacherous. You’ve just descended from another mountain – a descent that was painful and swift. Now, you must climb again. Yet, a voice whispers, comforting you, “Fear not, the ascent, however challenging, leads to a place of comfort, of renewal. So, is the climb harder than the fall?”
This question isn’t merely rhetorical, nor is it limited to mountaineering. It resonates deeply with the Jewish spiritual journey, particularly between the 9th of Av, the day of mourning over the destruction of the Temple, and Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. This is a period that transitions from the intense mourning of the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, to a phase of consolation and renewed hope. This period begins with Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of consolation, and initiates seven weeks of solace expressed in the seven prophetic readings (haftarot) of consolation read on each of the Sabbaths during that time.
Taking its name from the first words of the reading from the prophets read on this day (Isaiah 40:1-26), “Nachamu, Nachamu ami,” which translates as “comfort, comfort my people,” Shabbat Nachamu invites us to rise from the ashes of destruction remembered over the previous three weeks and look ahead towards brighter days. But why is the period of mourning a mere three weeks long, while the seven-week period of consolation is more than double in length?
Rabbi Berel Wein insightfully explains that the journey of redemption is more challenging and time-consuming than the descent into despair, but therein lies its unique beauty and strength. “Destruction requires far less time and effort to achieve its sad and nefarious goal. When the end comes, it does so with inevitably and swiftness.” On the other hand, rebuilding, renewal, and the journey toward comfort is a process riddled with obstacles. The road to redemption is not linear. There are setbacks, disappointments, and frustrations. Yet, every stumble and every delay only testifies to the magnitude and the worthiness of what we are striving to build. This explains why the prophet Isaiah uses the word “comfort” twice in the opening verse of this prophecy.
This insight is as relevant today as it was in biblical times, especially when we reflect upon the return of Jews to their historic homeland. The Jewish people, having faced near destruction in the previous century, are now in a phase of rebuilding. This process is far from complete and has its fair share of challenges. Yet, every step taken on the soil of our forefathers is a step towards comfort, a step towards the fulfillment of prophecies.
Let us take heart in knowing that, even though the road ahead may be bumpy, the process of rebuilding has begun. We are in the season of comfort, of hope, and of renewal. It may not be instantaneous, and it may not be easy. But every Shabbat Nachamu is a reminder that the journey is underway, and God, in His infinite wisdom, is comforting us – twice over.
So, as we stand at the base of this mountain, we need to remind ourselves: the climb might be tough, but the summit is worth it. The question then, isn’t about how hard the climb is, but about how committed we are to undertake it. After all, isn’t the sweetness of reaching the summit amplified by the difficulties overcome on the ascent?