The prophet begins by reassuring the people that, even while still in exile, if they put their faith and trust in G‑d they have nothing to fear. The tendency of the exiled Jew is to fear his oppressors even when they only plot to do harm. But this very enemy with all his plots can be turned to naught overnight. Such was the case with Haman and many others who sought to destroy the Jews. The matter is actually up to them, the prophet insists. If they did teshuvah and committed to G‑d, they will have nothing to fear.

In hindsight, though, “Jerusalem”—the city and its people—will have “drunk the cup of fury and bewilderment till the last drop.” The horrors of the exile will have been unmatched by the experiences of any other nation in history. The time would yet come for the people to rouse themselves from the troughs of suffering.

In a loving call to Jerusalem, the prophet doubly urges it to “awaken,” “shake off the dust” and “don your garments of splendor.” Much of the terminology in this haftarah (and the other haftarot of these weeks) is used in the famous “Lecha Dodi” hymn recited upon the arrival of Shabbat.

The only legitimization for the Jewish exile was sin. They had done nothing to the nations of the world that could excuse the latter’s treatment of the Jewish people. This was true for all of our people’s exiles, as far back as the one in Egypt. Now that their sins had more than adequately been atoned for, there should be nothing hindering the total redemption of the Jews. The prophet echoes the lament of G‑d Himself for every moment this bitter exile continues. The length and endurance of the exile defies all explanation. G‑d Himself says so. But G‑d promises that it will end: the desecration and profanation of G‑dliness in this world will cease.

The reading concludes with the prophetic call to the Jewish people to return home. At that time they will need no weapons or ammunition to ensure safety from the lands they are fleeing. Indeed, they will not flee, but ascend in peace and comfort, for G‑d will be at their head.

Understanding the Progression of the Haftarot of Consolation

The haftarah of Shoftim is the fourth of the “seven haftarot of consolation.”1 These seven haftarot are all taken from the book of Isaiah. Many of the commentators make note of the fact that we do not read these segments in the order in which they appear in Scripture. As an example, the third reading (for Parshat Re’eh) begins in Isaiah 54, the haftarah for this week is in chapter 51, while the next reading (for Ki Teitzei) is back in chapter 54—but is the first half of that chapter (with the haftarah for Re’eh, two weeks earlier, comprising that chapter’s second half).

So it becomes clear that there must be another cause for the order of these haftarot.

The commentary of Tosafot on the Talmud2 picks up on this, and remarks briefly that “the way about these consolations is that they become finer as they continue.” There are greater and more intense levels of consolation in each of the readings as they go on. This idea is expounded upon in Siddur Rashi, a siddur (prayerbook) with commentary and laws attributed to the great sage Rashi:3

The way in which the comforter comforts is in a gradual fashion. One who consoles a destroyed person too much can be compared to telling a beggar “Tomorrow you will be a king” . . . the beggar will not believe him. (This is what occurred in Egypt with Moses: when he came and told the Jews that redemption was imminent, the verse4 states that “they did not listen to Moses because of shortness of breath and hard work”).

After beginning with Nachamu (“Comfort,” the first of the seven readings) the ensuing haftarot acknowledge the deep bereavement of the people. As such, the next two readings begin “Zion said, ‘G‑d has forsaken me, my L‑rd has forgotten me” and “O afflicted, storm-tossed one, who has not been consoled.” These segments are read before the [fourth] reading, which begins “I, only I, am He who comforts you.” Only after G‑d consoles His people with His great mercy is there is no room to call her “[one] who has not been consoled.” Until now it had been the prophets who consoled her, but from now on it is the Almighty Himself. After this comfort has been offered, the Almighty apportions it much goodness and greatness—these which appear in the next three readings (Rani Akarah, Kumi Ori and Sos Asis).

In other words, the way in which these consolations become continuously “finer” is reflected in the first verse of each haftarah. After the prophet comforts the people, they are still not completely consoled. This is reflected in the first two verses of the next two haftarot (quoted above), in which the anguish of the people is still felt. This week’s haftarah begins with the comfort coming from G‑d Himself, this being a full and total comfort. Once this has been achieved, the next three haftarot speak of tremendous elevation for the Jewish people in the time of Moshiach.

Levush,5 quoting Abudraham,6 sharpens this idea. He explains that the disconsolateness expressed in the first verses of the second two haftarot is the result of G‑d’s instruction to the prophet to comfort the people (the beginning of the first haftarah). The first verses of each haftarah are to be read as a dialogue in itself. Upon hearing that the prophet has been instructed to comfort them, the Jewish people express their anguish: “Zion said, ‘G‑d has forsaken me, my L‑rd has forgotten me.” Will the comfort only come by way of an emissary, and not from G‑d Himself?

According to this, the beginning of the third haftarah is to be read as the message the prophet carries back to his sender: “‘Afflicted, storm-tossed one, who has not been consoled’—the people do not find comfort with me; they want it coming directly from You.” And so, the beginning of this fourth haftarah is the Divine response that indeed “I, only I, am He who comforts you.” The first verses of next two readings speak of the spouse-like relationship of G‑d and the Jewish people (Rani Akarah), and the G‑dly light in which the people will bask (Kumi Ori). Finally, in the first verse of the seventh reading, the Jewish people are at peace: “Sos Asis BaHashem—I will rejoice intensely with G‑d.”

It is in this haftarah that we have turning point in the process of healing and redemption. Since the days of Moses, the Jewish people have insisted on settling for nothing less than direct communication with G‑d Himself. Before the giving of the Torah, G‑d suggested to Moses that “Behold, I am coming to you in the thickness of the cloud, in order that the people hear when I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever.”7 Moses relayed the message to the people, and they were dissatisfied:

“They want to hear directly from You,” Moses told G‑d. “They maintain that there is no comparison between one who hears a message from the mouth of the messenger and one who hears it from the mouth of the king himself. They say, “We want to see our King!”8

Even after the sin of the Golden Calf, when G‑d stated that “I shall send an angel ahead of you” to lead the travel in the the wilderness, Moses retorted: “If Your presence does not go along, do not bring us forward from here!”9

The Jew and G‑d are bound quintessentially and entirely. Anything less than that bond being realized simply doesn’t suffice—on either end.