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Friday, August 15, 2008

Nachamu - Zion and Jerusalem

על הר גבוה עלי לך מבשרת ציון, הרימי בכח קולך מבשרת ירושלים, הרימי אל תיראי, אמרי לערי יהודה הנה אלהיכם

(ישעיה מ', ט')

This shabbat we read the first of the seven haftarot of consolation (sheva de'nechamata), the first one being from chapter 40 of Yeshayahu, known also as nachamu, nachamu ami ("comfort ye, comfort ye, My people"). The prophet calls upon Zion and Jerusaem to comfort the people of Israel:

"O thou that tells good tidings to Zion, get up into the high mountain; O thou that tells good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah: 'Behold your God!'"

(Yeshayahu 40, 9)

So who is the one that brings good tidings to Zion? And who is the one that brings good tidings to Jerusalem? And what is the difference between Zion and Jerusalem?

Some commentators explain that the verse refers to the prophets themselves, those who bring good tidings to the people. Most of the prophets were men, and the Hebrew word for "brings good tidings" here is mevasseret which is in the female form; this is explained in several ways, one of which is that the verse refers to the congregration of prophets, rather than to a single prophet, and whe word congregation in Hebrew - eda - is indeed in the female form.

But more interestingly, other commentators explain that Zion and Jerusalem are themselves the bringers of good tidings. And from this explanation we can try and understand the difference between the two.

Zion and Jerusalem are mentioned earlier in Yeshayahu (chapter 2), a verse we read every time we open the ark: "For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of God from Jerusalem." The Malbim writes that Zion is a name given to the seat of the Sanhedrin, the high court of 71 sages that sat in a designated room in the Temple (lishkat ha'gazit), and hence "the law" goes forth from Zion. Jerusalem, on the other hand, is the city itself, from which the words of the prophets, "word of God", goes forth to the rest of the land, the cities of Judah. This distinction holds also in our case. Zion, a symbol of the Temple, needs to "get up into the high mountain", as befits the Temple Mount and the high place reserved for kings, sages and priests. Jerusalem, a symbol of the prophets of the city, needs to "lift up its voice in strength", so that God's message is heard all over the world.

The same idea is further expounded by R. Avraham Kook. The double consolation of the prophet (nachamu, nachamu) refers to two types of redemption: an earthly redemption - Jerusalem - which is similar in nature to the national aspirations of all people on earth. And a spiritual redemption - Zion - which is unique to Israel and will come with the restoration of the Temple and the kingdom of Israel.

Our generation has been blessed to have witnessed the first redemption, that of Jerusalem. God willing, we shall also be blessed to witness the second redemption, that of Zion, soon in our times.

This idea for this week's thought is from R. Avraham Rivlin.

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