Rabbi of Beit Yehuda Congregation, Jerusalem
What is the meaning of the double consolation in the opening verse of the Haftarah, "Be consoled, be consoled, My nation" [Yeshayahu 40:1]? It is true that Zion "has been given double for all her sins" [40:2], and therefore it is due for double consolation. But what does this mean?
It would seem that the answer to this question can be found in the double encouragement of a verse later on:
"Climb up to a high mountain, herald of Zion, raise up your voice with strength, herald of Jerusalem. Lift it up, do not be afraid, tell the cities of Yehuda: Behold, here is your G-d." [40:9].
The prophet is teaching us that there are two items of good news – one by the herald of Zion, and one by the herald of Jerusalem.
The news of Zion, that is, Zionism, requires us to climb a mountain, in order to view history from a perspective that encompasses many generations. Only through an outlook that includes broad horizons is it possible to get a view of the hand of G-d guiding the events from behind the scenes. A superficial outlook, which involves paying attention only to immediate and pressing problems, is liable to generate despair in one's heart. The sages have taught us that the face of the generation of redemption is like the face of a dog. One interpretation of this statement is that when a person hits a dog with a stick it bites the stick and not the man holding it. This shows that it has a limited view, and in order to overcome this shortcoming the prophet tells us to climb a tall mountain.
The second news item, about Jerusalem, demands great strength, as in the verse, "He told His nation about the power of His deeds, to give them a heritage among the nations" [Tehillim 111:6]. The way to breathe a soul into the enterprise of redemption is to break out of normal limits of awareness, not only to see the hand of G-d but to develop a special brand of hearing, to be able to hear the voice of G-d (which Yeshayahu calls "your voice" – see above, 40:9). The voice of prophecy demands its rightful place in a world which has become accustomed through thousands of years of neglect to a situation where G-d's voice in no longer heard at all, and where it has been replaced by philosophy.
When the voice of G-d is not heard, moral bewilderment becomes the norm. Self-confidence disappears, and we suffer from a lack of strength, including the strength to fulfill the following command out of a feeling of moral righteousness: "I will pursue my enemies and I will reach them, and I will not return until they have been destroyed" [Tehillim 18:38]. Yeshayahu encourages us in our time of bewilderment. He calls out with all his might: "Raise up your voice with strength... Lift it up, do not be afraid, tell the cities of Yehuda: Behold, here is your G-d!"
The political strength of the nation illustrates the universalist viewpoint of Divine guidance: "Behold, the nations are like a drop in a bucket, and like dust rubbed off of a scale. The islands will be cast away like dust." [Yeshayahu 40:15].
And, from this exalted viewpoint, we are told to observe the greatness of the acts of creation: "Lift up your eyes and see – Who created these? He who brings out their hosts by number; He calls them by name. By the abundance of His power and by His vigorous strength, not one of them is missing."[40:26]. Behind the events of the hour, we are invited to meet the One who caused the world to be created by speaking, He who guides it from behind the misty curtains of international politics.