As the summer months come to a close we once again turn our focus back to school and work, and the overall tenor of our daily lives begins to echo the somber overtones of Selichot in anticipation of the ימים נראים. Even the Torah readings suggest momentous events, as this week’s Parsha describes a recommitment to a covenant with Hashem. Often overlooked, however, is the הפטרה, which is the last of the שבעה דנחמתא, the seven הפטרות of consolation read for seven weeks in the wake of the catastrophe of תשעה באב. Yet even as we prepare to solemnly welcome another year we are still invited to embrace the comfort offered by Hashem as heard through the voice of ישעיה הנביא.
ישעיה’s love for his people and their land reverberates throughout with words and phrases that have been on the lips of the Jewish people for as long as our collective memory can recall, likeלמען ציון לא אחשה ולמען ירושלים לא אשקוט, “For the sake of Zion I will not hold my peace and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not be silent”(62:1), על חומותיך ירושלים לא הפקדתי שומרים כל היום וכל הלילה, “Over the walls of Jerusalem I have appointed watchmen to guard over her, day and night” (62:6), and אמרו לבת ציון הנה ישעך בא, “Announce to the daughter of Zion that her salvation has come” (62:11). A closer reading, however, reveals that his vision is neither narrow nor parochial, even though his heart overflows with love for the Jewish people and their land.
For ישעיה, the return of the people to their land, while worthy of celebration in and of itself, is significant in at least two other ways that dwarf the return itself. First, the return of the people is seen as a sign of the restoration of the intimacy between Hashem and His people. Exile, aside from being an unnatural state, is a reflection of Divine distance from the Jewish people. The return from exile is the equivalent of a warm embrace of a loved one from whom we have felt distanced for too long. The expressions of that embrace are many; ככלה תעדה כליה - a bride donning her jewels, כחתן יכהן פאר - a groom in his regal splendor, כגנה זרועיה תצמיח - the flowering earth, and כי יבעל בחור בתולה - the passion of young lovers.
There is yet another, perhaps even more important, effect of the return. The Jewish people have a mission, one that can be fulfilled uniquely in their land. While in exile their mission is thwarted, and the promise of the return from exile is the promise that they will finally have the opportunity to act upon that which they dreamt about during their extended wanderings. And what, you may ask, is that mission? It is to establish a society which will embody the highest standards of justice, so that all of mankind may recognize the truth and beauty in Hashem’s teachings, כן ה' יצמיח צדקה ותהלה. It is so easy to get caught up in our pain, both personal and national, that in our eager anticipation of the end of the difficulties we forget that we have a greater goal to accomplish. It is this greater goal which stands at the core of our prayers during the ימים נראים - יכירו וידעו כל יושבי תבל, ויאמר כל אשר נשמה באפו ה' אלה-י ישראל מלך.
This year, more than most, ישעיה’s words touch nerves deep inside. We hold onto his words of consolation even as we see a long tunnel ahead of us shrouded in much darkness. We cannot wait for the end of the painful times although we cannot see for ourselves realistic options for our future. Yet even as we cling to the נחמה of ישעיה let us always remember that the redemption from our tribulations needs to serve as a springboard for the restoration of the intimate bonds between Hashem and His people and the recommitment to their covenantal mission of being a light unto the nations.