Comfort, comfort, my people
For 39 chapters, the prophet Isaiah rebukes the Jewish people. They have betrayed G-d and worshiped idols; they have become arrogant as well as sycophants to the nations. The prophet tells Hezekiah the king that his children will be transformed into eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylonia. The message is dark.
Then chapter 40 begins, “Comfort, comfort my people, will say your G-d,” Isaiah says. “Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her, for she has become full [from] her host, for her iniquity has been appeased, for she has taken from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.”
This portion is read the Sabbath after the fast of the 9th of Av, which mourns the destruction of the two Jewish temples in Jerusalem. It breaks the three-week period of gloom to remind a people whose core has been shattered, uprooted from their G-d-given land. Isaiah’s consolation is that all will be forgiven if we return to our creator.
Rabbi David Kimche, known by his Hebrew acronym, Radak, lived nearly 900 years ago. Born in southern France, David lost his father early in life and was raised by his brother. It was at a time when Judaism was under massive attack from the Christians. The Crusaders marauded through France, Germany and Spain and killed hundreds of thousands of Jews. The survivors were targeted by the church, which demanded that the Jews admit that their religion was a sham, their Talmud an anti-Christian diatribe, their rabbis bogus. Throughout most of his 75 years, the Radak used his commentary to refute Christian claims that the Bible contains numerous references to Jesus Christ.
The Radak broadens the plain meaning of Isaiah’s words of comfort. “All this comfort will apply in the future during the days of the Messiah, and the repetition [of the word ‘comfort’] is meant to bolster [the message],” the medieval rabbi wrote.
Although he prophesied during the end of the first temple, Isaiah’s words mark a reference to the catastrophe the Jewish people would undergo nearly 500 years later. The Babylonian exile after the first temple was 70 years. But Isaiah focused on the destruction of the second temple nearly 2,000 years ago. The holy place in Jerusalem has not been rebuilt. The people remain under occupation — even in their promised land. While claiming victimhood, the nations of the world exploit every opportunity to hurt the Jews.
The suffering of the Jewish people differs from that of the nations. The Jews have paid in blood many more times than the others. The Armenians suffered a holocaust by Turkey more than 100 years ago. Today, they are a free albeit embattled democracy. The Puritans were expelled by England, but for more than 200 years remained the elite of the United States. The Czech Republic emerged from German and Russian occupation to become one of the richest and most stable countries in Europe.
But with the added pain comes unimaginable comfort. In 1945, Britain, which occupied Palestine, elected the Labor Party to power. The party had promised to stop the White Paper and establish a Jewish state in Palestine.
Instead, Labor did the opposite. The government of Prime Minister Clement Attlee vigorously opposed Jewish immigration to Palestine and dashed hopes of statehood. Labor’s reasoning: The Jews had been decimated by Hitler and were in no position to stop the victorious British Empire and its U.S. ally. The Jewish demand for immigration was seen as bogus: Who was left from the Jews of Europe?
G-d’s miracle was that no more than 200 Jews overturned what threatened to become an eternity. Starting in 1946, the Jewish underground — Irgun and Lehi — unleashed a reign of terror against the British, with up to 100,000 troops in Palestine, or more than one for every six Jews. Within weeks, the British army and police hid behind the huge walls of their compounds. Irgun and Lehi, despite the threats of the Zionist establishment, were aided by the Jews.
Eventually, the Haganah was forced to join the revolt. Within months, London, also under economic and political pressure, said it was calling it quits. Never had a decimated people rose so quickly from the ashes.
“Behold the Lord God shall come with a strong [hand],” Isaiah says, “and His arm rules for Him. Behold His reward is with Him, and His recompense is before Him.”
The State of Israel did not end the exile. The elite might have become super-rich, but many of them still look over their shoulder every time they leave the country. The international coalition against the Jews remains intact. This coalition, led by the Western democracies and Iran, defends every aggression while delegitimizing the Jewish right to defense.
If this was Czechoslovakia or South Vietnam, the result would have been national collapse. Last week, the Iranian-sponsored Islamic Jihad fired more than 1,000 missiles and rockets from the Gaza Strip in a little more than two days. Some 15 percent of these projectiles exploded in the Gaza Strip, causing numerous casualties. Despite missile landings throughout the south and center of Israel not one Jew was seriously hurt. This miracle had been foretold in both Scriptures and the Midrash.
Isaiah’s prophecy is that the suffering, the exile can end. The caveat is that the Jews must end their dependency on the nations and place their trust in G-d. After 2,500 years of betrayal, this should be easy. But history has shown that the Jews have been swayed by the empires and their quislings.
The Radak and other commentators focus on Isaiah’s promise of divine help. They agree that his message is that G-d will rule the world with a power that will make even the most recalcitrant Jew forget his obedience to the gentile. The Jew will recognize that his only protection comes from G-d and that he needs nobody else. Those who trusted in G-d throughout the exile will be rewarded. Nobody will be left behind.
“Like a shepherd [who] tends His flock, with His arm He gathers lambs, and in His bosom He carries [them]. The nursing ones He leads.”
And now it’s our turn to prepare for this prophecy.