Isaiah – Chapter 40

Nachamu, Nachamu Ami

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

This chapter is the famous “Nachamu,” read as the haftarah the Shabbos following Tisha b’Av. Often translated as “be comforted, My people,” Rashi informs us that such is not really the case. Grammatically, G-d is speaking to the prophets and telling them, “comfort My people.” This is a prophecy for Messianic times, or for the return following the Babylonian exile.

“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem,” G-d says, “because her punishment is over. She has paid for her sins and then some!” A voice calls out that there is a clear path in the desert, by which the exiles may return. The mountains and valleys will be as if smoothed out in order to make travel easier. People are like grass which ultimately cut and dries up, but the word of G-d endures forever. Ascend to Jerusalem and call out to the nation “Behold your G-d!” G-d comes with a strong hand and He’s bringing reward for the righteous with Him. G-d is like a shepherd, caring for His flock and carrying the lambs. He measured out the waters, the Heavens and the earth; He put His word in the mouths of the prophets. If He can do all that, He can surely keep this promise!

All the nations are like a single drop that falls from a bucket, like dust in the wind (that is, they are insignificant). All the forests of Lebanon are not enough for the fire on G-d’s altar and all the animals are not enough for His sacrifices. All the nations combined are nothing compared to G-d.

What can be compared to G-d? Idols are the product of a workman’s hand – worship the One Who made the world! G-d sits above the world and people are like insects before Him. He stretches out the Heavens like a canopy over us. He reduces the haughty to nothing, as if they were never planted or sown. They’re like a tree whose trunk never took root; He can just blow them down. They’re blown away like straw in a storm.

To whom will one compare G-d? He created the stars in the sky. He calls them by name and none of them are absent. (This means that they last for extremely long periods of time, unlike human beings.) Don’t think that G-d is unaware or that He ignores the reward of the righteous. G-d is everlasting and untiring – there’s simply no way we limited beings can understand His ways. He gives strength to the weary. Those who put their faith in G-d will have renewed vigor, as eagles’ wings. They will walk and run back to the land without tiring.

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