The three haftarot before Tisha b’Av (Tlata d’Poranuta – the Three Haftarot of Admonition) and the seven haftarot after it (Shiva d’Nechamta – the Seven Haftarot of Consolation) are the earliest recorded haftarot known to us. We are aware of this fact because there are collected midrashim on each of them in a book from the Talmudic period called Pesikta d’Rav Kahana (4th-5th century CE; Eretz Yisrael). These haftarot are also unique in that unlike other haftarot or prophetic readings recited during the year which are linked thematically in one way or another to the weekly Torah readings, these special haftarot have no special association to the Torah readings they accompany. For instance, there seems to be no natural link between the conciliatory words of this week’s haftarah (Nahamu nahamu ami – Comfort, comfort My people) and Parshat Vaetchanan.
This anomaly led some darshanim to seek some “associative” homiletic link between this Torah reading and its haftarah. Rabbi Zadok HaCohen from Lublin, one of the most creative Hasidic masters living at the turn of the 20th century, asked this very question: “If Isaiah’s message is one of consolation, how could it possibly be appropriate to link it with a Torah reading which begins with Moses describing his appeal to God to be allowed to enter the and along with God’s devastating denial?”
He answers this question with a profound allegorical answer. Moshe symbolically represents the realm of the miraculous, where God provided for all of the people’s needs directly – a world ruled not by human responsibility and action but by divine fiat. In a “Moshe” ruled world, human decisions, achievements and choices were given only a minor role.
With the changing of the guard and entry into the promised land, governance of the world would be by way of a partnership between God and human beings. Human decisions and responsibility and the building of God’s society on earth would become the most tangible sign of a world built along with God. Moshe’s departure turned the children of Israel from children into adults. (See Pri L’tzadik Vaetchanan 13)
Is there solace in this message? Rabbi Zadok asserts that the potential relationship with God as an adult is so much more difficult than it is for someone who is dependent. Responsibility comes at a price. Still, life as an “adult” is more meaningful because one’s choices matter. Nevertheless, God wants us to know that we are not abandoned in this project and this is where Isaiah’s message comes in. God comforts us by with the knowledge that we are not alone in this project. His presence is with us to give us the requisite strength to conquer the challenges which face us in the land of reality.