Comfort, comfort my people

Every year, the Shabbat after ‘Tishah Be-Av’ {תשעה באב} – the fast day which commemorates the day of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem – marks the beginning of what is known in the Jewish culture as ‘the comfort process.’

This Shabbat is called in Hebrew ‘Shabbat Nachamu’ {שבת נחמו} (‘comfort’) – after the opening verse of the weekly Prophet’s portion (‘Haftarah’) which can be found in the Book of Isaiah:

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1)

After the British captured the Land of Israel at the end of the First World War (about 100 years ago), the local Jewish community was very excited. Their excitement reached its peak in 1920 when the first High Commissioner of the British Mandate – Herbert Samuel (who was Jewish) arrived at the Great Synagogue of the Old City in Jerusalem, a synagogue which is facing the Temple Mount, on ‘Shabbat Nachamu and was called to read the Haftarah {הפטרה}.

He concluded with the Haftarah blessing, ‘Rachem al Tzion’ {רחם על ציון}– ‘Have mercy on Zion’ after reading the weekly Prophet’s Haftarah from Isaiah:

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 40:1-6)