Names not numbers, on Shabbat Nachamu

The Shabbat after Tisha B’Av is known as Shabbat Nachamu (Sabbath of Consolation). It is based on the Haftorah from Isaiah[i], read on Shabbat, which begins with the words, Nachamu, Nachamu Ami (Be comforted, be comforted my Nation [of Israel].

The last verse concluding the reading[ii] is a somewhat abstruse affirmation of Divine Providence[iii]. It calls upon us to lift our eyes high and see who created these. The subject is not expressly noted. The assumption is that it is a reference to the stars or planets[iv]. However, the last part of the verse is inconsistent with this thesis, in that it references that no ‘person’ will be missing. Interestingly, the verse also refers to G-d who brings out the hosts by number; but goes on to say, who calls them each by name.

When I read the verse this past Shabbat, the reference to being sent out by number, but each having a name and no one being missing jumped off the page. It brought to mind the names not numbers program that is so meaningful to the children of survivors and their progeny, as well as so many others who have participated in the program.

As I researched the unique language used by Isaiah, I found a reference in the Midrash[v] that was cited by Rashi[vi], which supports my feeling that the verse might be interpreted to refer to the Jewish people and not just the stars. It discusses how when the Jewish people descended to Egypt they were not just numbered, each of their names were also recited, as recorded in the Bible. They are compared to the hosts of the heavens and stars, which, as Psalms[vii] notes, are both counted and named by G-d. As Rashi explains, the Jewish people are precious to G-d and each are called by their names both in life and when passing on, like the stars. Rashi goes on to cite the verse in Isaiah in support thereof. As Isaiah declares, G-d brings out their host by number and calls each of them by name.

The verse from Isaiah took on a new heretofore hidden meaning in light of the modern day Tisha B’Av of the Holocaust. The Nazis and their cohorts sought to murder all of Jewish people. In the process, they also cruelly sought to dehumanize them, by reducing real people to abstract numbers. My father Z”L, an Auschwitz survivor, bore such a number tattooed on his arm.

The Nazis murdered more than six million Jews. However, despite the hosts of Jews being brought out to be exterminated the Jewish people survived.

Those who were murdered still have names that are remembered; they are not just numbers. Extraordinary efforts were made to account for every person and to know their names, so that no one would be missing. This was no mean task; and as so many survivors recount, it was aided by Divine Providence. Many find solace in knowing the names of those killed in the Holocaust are preserved. Many of the children of survivors, like me, and their progeny proudly bear those names.

As Isaiah prophesized, G-d called them each by name and not a single one was missing. May all the survivors and their progeny, as well as the entire Jewish people, be comforted. Never Forget, Never Again and Am Yisrael Chai.

[i] Isaiah 40:1.

[ii] Isaiah 40:26.

[iii] Ahavat Yehonasan, by Rav Yonasan Eybeschutz, Haftorah of V’Etchanan 13.

[iv] See, for example Ibn Ezra, commentary on Isaiah 40:26.

[v] Midrash Exodus Rabbah 1:3.

[vi] Rashi commentary on Exodus 1:1.

[vii] Psalms 147:4.

About the Author
Leonard Grunstein, a retired attorney and banker, founded and served as Chairman of Metropolitan National Bank and then Israel Discount Bank of NY. He also founded Project Ezrah and serves on the Board of Revel at Yeshiva University and the AIPAC National Council. He has published articles in the Banking Law Journal, Real Estate Finance Journal and other fine publications.
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