I grew up in a wonderful shul that afforded the few other kids and I a great opportunity to interact with many elderly people, some of whom were Holocaust survivors or veterans of WWII, with representation from both the American and Russian armies. We kids were pretty friendly and tight-knit (we still are!), despite varying ages. [There is an extremely high proportion of us who entered the rabbinate and the field of Jewish education. We had no youth groups during shul and we actually remained in shul during our rabbi’s speech and davened with our parents! -EK]. The Bar and Bas mitzvah celebrations were big events as they were rare. I remember once a youngster celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in shul, but he and his family were not regular synagogue attendees. We had never seen them before. Clearly, our beloved Rabbi and mentor, Avraham Halbfinger z’l, had a relationship with the family and invited them to celebrate in our special shul. I still remember the young man talking about his “Haftorah” and then talking about his “whole Torah.” In my native Boston, half does not rhyme with calf: it rhymes with cough.
Rav Soloveitchik taught that the purpose for the rabbinic institution of Haftarah was not to learn the Torah, but rather, to hear the word of God (Shiurim l’Zecher Abba Mari Z’l II: 212-213). I also recall hearing (perhaps in the name of the Rav as well) that a component of the Haftarah is to recall the Temple’s destruction and the hope for redemption. We see this clearly in the blessings following the reciting of the Haftarah. The Haftarah itself was meant to provide a memory of the glory that was and a paean of hope for the future.
This concept is made crystal clear during the seven Haftaros of consolation, the sheva d’nechemta.
There is a dispute about interrupting these seven Haftaros if Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbos, which could happen for the month of Av. The Shulchan Aruch rules;
"ראש חדש שחל להיות בשבת...ומפטירין 'השמים כסאי' חוץ מראש חדש אלול שחל להיות בשבת שמפטירין 'עניה סערה'" (שלחן ערוך, אורח חיים תכ"ה:א)
“When Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbos we read ‘Hashamayim Kis’i’ (Yeshayah 66) except for Rosh Chodesh Elul that falls on Shabbos; on that Shabbos we read ‘Aniyah So’arah’ (Yishayah 54)” (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 425:1)
Rabbi Moshe Isserlish disagrees.
"ויש אומרים 'השמים כסאי' (טור, מרדכי..) וכן נוהגין במדינות אלו..." (שם)
“There are those who say (when Rosh Chodesh Elul falls on Shabbos) ‘Hashamayim Kis’i’ and this is the tradition in the Ashkenazic lands” (Ibid.)
The Mishnah Brurah attempts to explain the Rama’s ruling:
"דבהפטרה זו יש בה תרתי, זכרון ראש חדש ונחמות ירושלים" (מ"ב שם ס'ק ו)
“This Haftarah (Hashamayim Kis’i – the one reserved for Shabbos Rosh Chodesh-) contains both themes of Rosh Chodesh and comfort over Jerusalem” (Ibid. Mishnah Brurah #6).
The Mishnah Brurah even suggests making up the missed Haftarah by reading it after the seventh week’s (sixth Haftarah) Haftarah.
I heard that Rabbi Soloveitchik ruled according to the Shulchan Aruch, rejecting the position of the Rama, whom he, a Lithuanian Jew, would normally follow. He viewed the seven haftaros of consolation as a thematic unbreakable chain. Were the Haftarah for Rosh Chodesh to intrude, it would defeat the critical sequence of the seven. Reading the 3rd Haftarah after the seventh would therefore not accomplish the goal according to Rav Soloveitchik. (Thank you to Reb Doni Adler for bringing this to my attention).
Rabbi Yonoson Sacks explains the thinking of Rav Soloveitchik (Torah Web, 2006):
“Although all seven of the haftoros are taken from sefer Yeshayahu, surprisingly their order does not follow the sequence of the navi. The haftorah of Parshas Shoftim for example, is found in perek 51, whereas the haftorah of Parshas Re'eh which is read a week earlier is taken from perek 54.
Tosafos (Megillah 31b s.v. Rosh Chodesh) explains the order of these haftoros reflect the unique progression of the quality of consolation. The Pesikta Rabbasi explains that although the first of the sheva d'nechemta assures Bnei Yisroel of true consolation, "nachamu nachamu ami - comfort, comfort, my people", it is not Hashem who consoles Bnei Yisroel directly, but rather the navi as an emissary of Hashem who promises consolation.
Then next hatorah which begins "vatomar Tzion azovani Hashem, v'Hashem shecheichani - and Tzion said Hashem has forsaken me, Hashem has forgotten me"(Yeshayah 49 – Haftarah for Eikev), underscores the refusal of Tzion to accept an indirect nechama. We yearn for Hakadosh Baruch Hu to console us directly.
The haftorah of Parshas Re'eh reiterates this feeling of abandonment and despair - "aniyah so-ara lo nuchama - afflicted storm tossed, unconsoled one." (Yeshayah 54). Ultimately, Hashem Himself consoles us. Hence the haftorah of Parshas Shoftim begins, "Anochi Anochi hu menachemchem - it is I, I am He who comforts you" (Yeshayah 51).
The next Haftarah, Ki Seitzeh (Yishayah 54) “Jubilate O Barren one” makes the case for salvation stronger, but the Jewish nation is not fully convinced. This is also the Haftarah for Noach, when God starts over, as He promises here.
The sixth in the sequence, the Haftarah for Ki Savo (Yeshayah 60) is when the Jewish people really begin to believe and understand. “Arise, shine! For your light has come and the Glory of God has risen over you.”
The ultimate Haftarah of the seven, “Sos Asis ba’Hashem” – “blissfully do I rejoice through God, my soul jubilates through my God for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation” – represents the destination of true consolation. Halacha mandates that this Haftarah be read prior to Rosh Hashanah. It is incumbent for Israel to be at this stage of solace as we stand before God in judgment.
Rosh Hashanah is the coronation: it is when we proclaim God as our sovereign and our fealty to God and His Torah. Rosh Hashanah is of course intrinsically connected to Yom Kippur, which, in addition to being our day of atonement, is the day the second tablets were brought down to the Children of Israel from Moshe. Our ultimate comfort is with tis gift, which functioned as a betrothal between the Jews and the Almighty.
In this sense, I found it interesting that Rav Soloveitchik famously commented on the sequence of the Sheva Brachos, which are recited in the presence of a bride and groom during the wedding and the subsequent celebratory week.
The Rav explained that the first blessing, over wine, sanctifies the actions. The second blessing declares a purpose to God’s creation: “That He created all for His honor.” Blessings three and four describe man’s physical and spiritual aspirations. He differentiates the two blessings, which have overlapping language. Blessing number three ascribes a goal of marriage as “biologically motived and socially stabilizing.” The fourth blessing comes to describes the “transcendental worthiness of two individuals, each accountable to God.”
Once these two physical and spiritual beings unite, we find much overlap of language with the sheva d’nechemta and the final three blessings.
The fifth blessing, “Sos Tasis v’sagel ha’akarah” sounds exactly like the opening of the 7th Haftarah, “sos asis” with the motif of the barren woman taken from the 5th Haftarah. The opening verse of the seventh Haftarah ends with: “He enwrapped me as a bridegroom invests his finery with priest-like dedication and like a bride who graces her garments” (Yeshayah 61:10).
The Rav makes the connection explicit:
“This may explain why the Sheva Brachot relate the personal happiness of the groom and bride to the Messianic fulfillment. “Soon, O Lord our God, may there be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem a sound of gladness, a sound of joy, the sound of the bridegroom and the sound of the bride, the sound of rejoicing bridegrooms at their weddings (based on Yirmiyahu 33:10-11). We find a similar correlation in Isaiah 62:5, (from the 7th of the Haftaros of consolation) “As the bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so shall God rejoice over thee Zion (yasis alayikh elokayich). The couple is challenged to reach out to Knesset Yisrael, to identify with the strivings of the broader community, its travails and its triumphs, and thereby to hasten the coming of the Messiah.” (Man of Faith in the Modern World: Reflections of the Rav, Vol. II, pp. 63, “As a Bridegroom with His Bride”)
These seven Haftaros are an unbreakable sequence. Each one is needed. The Rav even rules that way halachically, not just homiletically. They are critical steps in our transformation from depressed exiles with all hope lost, to Children of God betrothed to Him with a Torah and a covenant of love and commitment.
We also learn that consolation is a process; there is no immediate panacea. There are so many times I’ve visited a shiva house, offering my insignificant words of consolation, and then leaving feeling my visit did not make a difference. The bitter pain of the mourners was not palliated in any way. But weeks, months or years later, the mourner mentions in passing how my visit comforted them. Obviously I did nothing else in the interim. Their process of mourning enabled them to accept the consolation as time elapsed, not in the moment.
The Jewish people, in eight weeks, transform themselves. We start on Tisha b’av and its aftermath with an inability to accept any form of consolation from God, who exiled us and destroyed the Temple. Two months later, we receive the covenant of Torah and declare over and over with tears at the end of Yom Kippur, “Hashem is Elokim!” as our beloved shechinah departs back to heaven. This spiritual and emotional makeover bespeaks the power and process of true consolation.
If you think about the formula recited at the home of an Ashekazik mourner, we join the mourners with those crying over our exile.
"המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך אבלי ציון וירושלים"
“May the Omnipresent comfort you among all those mourning for Zion and Jerusalem”
This process of achieving comfort derived from these 7 prophetic snippets from Yeshayah, is invoked at a house of mourning , and also, ironically mirrors the blessings recited under the Chuppah. May we spend the next five weeks understanding the essence of nechamah and its critical and transformative process which applies to all the events in ou