This Shabbat, known in the Jewish calendar as Shabbat Nachamu (Consolation), is the first Shabbat that follows the Ninth of Av which, according to tradition, is the day on which both Temples were destroyed.
In studying this week’s Parasha, Torah portion, and its corresponding Haftarah from the Book of Isaiah, I cannot but stop and marvel. I marvel at the way G-d works. I am in awe at the depth and wealth of symbolism of the Hebrew language and the wisdom of our sages.
This week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11, is a painful one, at least for me. In it, Moses shares with the Israelites that he implored and pleaded with G-d to let him enter Eretz Yisrael and was refused. The Hebrew word for implore, to plead is “etchanan” or in Hebrew אתחנן.
Now, an epigrammatic lesson in the Hebrew language is called for in order to help elucidate the point that I wish to make in this article. For those unfamiliar with the language, it is imperative to note that one of the most important fundamentals of the language is the root system. Each Hebrew word is derived from (generally) a three letter root. Words that share the same root are most likely also related in their meaning (and etymology).
The three letter root of the word אתחנן “etchanan” (The prefix Va’ in Hebrew means “and”) above is חנן. That is also the root for the Hebrew words meaning to pardon, to forgive לחנון . Likewise, חנון, the Hebrew for the words merciful and forgiving shares the same root. The word חנון is one of the adjectives that the Torah also uses to describe G-d and, according to Judaism, is one of His thirteen attributes.
Returning to this week’s Torah portion, I will venture to say that when Moses pleaded with G-d, he was not pleading only on his behalf. I sincerely believe that he was also pleading on behalf of all of Am Yisrael and its future generations. After he shares with the people his plight of not being able to enter the Land, Moses goes on to predict that in future generations they will turn away from G-d, worship idols, leave His commandments and be punished for that. Moses, had always pleaded for Am Yisrael. He knew he would not be there in the future to plead for them when they would need it. His heart cried for his beloved and stubborn people. After forty years of leading them in the desert through some harsh conditions, he knew too well that it would be impossible to prevent them from lapsing. I believe it is, therefore, safe to assume that in his unselfish love for G-d’s people, Moses was imploring Him to forgive and pardon His people for any possible transgressions they might commit in the future
I also have strong reason to believe that our merciful, forgiving and gracious G-d listened to his appeal, which brings me to this week’s Haftarah reading from Isaiah 40:1-26. It is the first of a series of seven “haftarot of Consolation” which commence on the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av, the day both Temples were destroyed. It begins: “Console, O console My people . . . Announce to Jerusalem that her period of exile has been fulfilled and that her sins have been forgiven.”
Today, on this Shabbat, Shabbat Nachamu, seventy years ago, my beloved parents, may their memory be blessed, were liberated from the Nazi death camps. On this day, Shabbat Nachamu, they were reborn. The pleading, תחנון, of Moses had finally reached our merciful, forgiving, חנון, G-d’s ears, who in return, pardoned, חנן, Am Yisrael and the Jewish people. They were lifted out of the abyss and carried to the Land that Moses saw but could not enter. They saw, and will continue to see through us and our future generations, the fulfillment and the witnessing of the Eternal Covenant between G-d and His people and a reaffirmation of our unyielding belief as expressed in the words of Samuel to King Saul “ נצח ישראל לא ישקר” – The Eternal of Israel shall never lie!