The Shabbat following Tisha B’Av is known as “Shabbat Nachamu.” The name is taken from the opening word of the week’s haftarah: Nachamu, nachamu ami—“comfort, comfort My people.” It is with this sentence that we begin the series of seven haftarot known in halachic literature as shiva d’nechemta, “the seven [haftarot] of consolation.” From the Shabbat after Tisha B’Av until the last Shabbat of the the year, we read the deeply moving words of comfort to the Jewish people uttered by Isaiah, the prophet of redemption.

The destruction of the First Temple was the decisive calamity to befall our people, one that we have not recovered from since. Although there was a degree of consolation in the building of the Second Temple and the return to Jerusalem at the time, it was nevertheless no substitute for the days of glory of the First Temple period. The words of the prophet are therefore still awaiting their ultimate fulfilment—this to be in the time of Moshiach.

After its long, excruciating exile, the Jewish people will have been through more than enough. The time will come for the Jewish exiles to return home. All hindrances and obstacles will melt away, and they will return with ease and tranquility. G‑dliness will be fully revealed, and every living being will be entirely filled with this consciousness. G‑d will tend to His people like a shepherd lovingly tends to his sheep, tenderly caring for each one according to his or her need.

Now, understandably, this fantastic future might be very difficult to perceive under current circumstances. The bulk of this reading is actually devoted to the reassurance that such a future is not only possible, but has been guaranteed by the creator of heaven and earth.

The prophet urges the people to remember that, unlike the fleeting human being who is here today and gone tomorrow, G‑d is eternal. Meditating upon the magnificence and precision of creation should drive home the point that the Almighty is capable of fulfilling all that He promises to do. Mighty nations and their power may seem daunting to their fellow men, but to G‑d they have no substance whatsoever. G‑d had given his Torah and prophecy to the Jewish people, and there was no one whose opinion He had to to ask in this regard. No created power could match its creator, and no actions on the part of any creation would suffice to sway Him if He has not chosen it to be so. At His wish, princes and ministers are reduced to naught, leaving not even a trace of their great time of power.

The Jews could rest assured that G‑d would deliver the goods He promised to them.

Lift your eyes heavenward

The final verse in our haftarah reads: “Raise your eyes on high and see who created these things!” In connection to this verse, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe told the following story:

In my youth, I got to know one of my grandfather’s1 chassidim, whose name was Reb Paysach. Paysach’s father, Reb Yisrael, was a storekeeper in a town called Hlusk (in Belarus), and was a chassid of my great-grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek2 . This Reb Paysach was a very simple man. Upon marrying into a family from Homel (Gomel), he began to earn his living by being a broker. He would transfer merchandise from Homel to the store owners in the neighboring towns, and made a very good living out of this.

It was before Rosh Hashanah 5627 (1866) when Paysach joined a group of chassidim traveling to my grandfather in Lubavitch. The group was led by the celebrated chassid Reb Mordechai Yoel of Homel. Before going into yechidut (private audience) with the rebbe, Reb Paysach wrote a note in which he described his work. Among other things, he noted that he personally traveled with his wagonload of merchandise back and forth from Homel.

My grandfather blessed Paysach with many blessings, and then added:

“You are able to consistently fulfill the verse ‘Lift up your eyes on high.’ ‘Shema’ is ‘Yisrael.’”

Upon exiting the rebbe’s room, Reb Paysach went over to the chassid Reb Mordechai Yoel to tell him about the words of the rebbe, and to ask if he could explain what the rebbe had meant by this.

Reb Mordechai Yoel explained to him the meaning behind this verse. It is a well-known Jewish custom that a synagogue is built with large windows. This is not only so that there should be light in the sanctuary, but also with the intention that the sky should be visible to those inside. The blue sky is associated in Scripture with the heavenly throne, and seeing the heavens is conducive to instilling the “fear of heaven.”3

“This is what the Rebbe meant when he said that you are able to consistently fulfill the verse ‘Lift up your eyes on high.’ You are always on the road, and can see the heavens. In this way you are able to fulfill this dictum not only while in the synagogue, but the entire day.

“The first letters of the words se’u marom eineichem (“Lift up your eyes on high”) spell ‘Shema’ (שאו מרום עיניכם = שמע). When one has ‘Shema,’ then one is on the level of ‘Yisrael.’” Reb Mordechai Yoel went on to explain to Paysach how the two names of Jacob, Yaakov and Yisrael, constitute two levels in Divine service, and how Yisrael denotes a higher level than Yaakov.4

The Previous Rebbe continues:

This Reb Paysach used to come to Lubavitch every two or three years. I met him for the first time on the eve of Rosh Hashanah 5652 (1892). He had just been to the Ohel—the resting place of his rebbes, my saintly grandfather and great-grandfather—and he was on his way to the shul for Maariv (evening services). At that time, he related to me the entire story of his aforementioned audience with my grandfather twenty-five years earlier. He then said to me:

“When the chassid Reb Mordechai Yoel explained to me the Rebbe’s words, a light was kindled in my heart. I wanted to begin learning and understanding. My neighbor, the chassid Reb Hirschel, started to learn with me from time to time. As the years passed by, I was able to study a few lines in the Tanya and in Likkutei Torah on my own.5 The Rebbe’s words to me put me on my feet.”

I was yet too young to understand, let alone feel, the deep emotional experience of Reb Paysach as he was telling me his story. But the ecstasy and joy with which he told the story—this, I understood well. At the time I remember being surprised how the man could be so full of life and joy, even though twenty-five years had already passed from the event.

Today, as I leaf through my diary in which I recorded the events of my youth, I can still see, thank G‑d, the image of the shul at the Ohel and the people that were present at the time—both those whose names I knew and those whose names I did not.

Years passed, and Reb Paysach worked his way into being a wealthy businessman. He moved to the city of Lodz in Poland, and had a very big name in the manufacturing industry. In the year 5688 (1928), when he was about ninety years old, I had the opportunity to meet him again. He once again related to me his entire story with the rebbe, and told it in the same deep emotional fashion, as if the event had occurred yesterday. As he finished the story, he added that from the time he had stopped working as a broker he always tried to live in a home that had large windows, and that his seat at home was always next to a window—this to fulfill the words of the rebbe, “Lift up your eyes on high.”

“More than sixty years have passed,” said Reb Paysach, “from when I merited to hear the words of the Rebbe, your grandfather, that ‘Shema’ is ‘Yisrael.’ From that time onward, every time I say the Shema—its twice-daily recitation; when the Torah is taken out of the ark; in the Kedushah prayer on Shabbat morning; in the Vehu Rachum prayer on Mondays and Thursdays; on Yom Kippur after the Neilah prayer—each time I remember those words, that ‘Shema is Yisrael.’ I ask of G‑d that when I say my final Shema—when it will come my time to return my soul to my maker—I have the clarity of mind to remember the holy words of the Rebbe: ‘Shema is Yisrael.’”

I will admit, without shame, that seeing this simple broker from Homel, Reb Paysach ben Yisrael—his white beard and elderly grace, his refined and gentle manner, his simplistic or wholesome bond to the words of the rebbe—that I grew envious of him.

This is the essence of a chassid—a simple Jew—of my grandfather the rebbe.6