Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God. — Isaiah 40:1
The Torah portion for this week is Va’etchanan, which means “I pleaded,” from Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 40:1–26.
At age 109, Alice Herz-Sommer is the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor. Her secret to life? “I see beauty everywhere.” An interviewer asked her, “What is the secret of you feeling so good at your age?” Alice answered, “Optimism . . . Look for the good. Life is beautiful, extremely beautiful . . . We have to be thankful that we are living. I know about the bad things, but I look only for the good things.”
This week’s Haftorah is not connected to the Torah reading like the others. Instead, it is connected to the time period on the Jewish calendar at this time of year. This Haftorah is always read on the Sabbath following Tisha B’Av – the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av – the darkest day of the Jewish year.
On Tisha B’Av, many tragedies befell the Jewish people. The First and Second Temples were destroyed, centuries apart; the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1942; and World War I broke out on this day, which led directly to the devastation of World War II and the Holocaust. This day is for remembering all these tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people and for crying out to God. It is a day of tears.
The very next day, however, we begin to heal. We do this by drawing closer to God, improving ourselves, and by focusing on the blessings in our lives. The Haftorah that we read days after Tisha B’Av begins, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” The time for hurting has ended. The time for healing has begun.
The Jewish sages wonder why the word “comfort” is used twice. Wouldn’t it have been enough to use the word once? One possible answer is that whenever a word is repeated in Scripture, it’s to stress the importance of that word. In this case, the repetition of “comfort” tells us that we are commanded to be comforted. This isn’t just a suggestion – it’s a requirement!
Sometimes when we experience tragedy, we find it hard to get past our misery. Some people wallow in their pain way too long. This is not only unhealthy, but it’s also not what God wants for our souls. God wants us to heal and to be comforted. But we have to be willing to move on.
Alice Herz-Sommer experienced the greatest tragedy of our times. She witnessed terrible atrocities and lived through some of the darkest days that this world ever saw. Yet, when the time came, she moved on. She chose to see the good and the beauty in life. She chose to be grateful for her blessings. She chose life.
Comfort, comfort my people. This is what God wants for us. It’s time to heal all our brokenness and focus on our blessings. This isn’t just a nice option; it’s our divine duty.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President