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    Go comfort My people

    Chapter 40 of Isaiah is this week’s haftarah and its opening word, Nachamu, gives this Shabbat its distinctive name.

    Depiction of Isaiah from a 1904 bible card

    There is a grammatical transgression committed by many people when they look at the phrase Nachamu nachamu ammi. They think it is a message from God to the people and says, “Be comforted, be comforted, O My people”.

    But that is not what the Hebrew means. Nachamu is an active verb, an imperative, with the meaning, “O prophets, comfort, comfort My people”. The command is addressed to the prophets.

    They are being told that there are times to rebuke God’s people and times to comfort them. The rebukes are deserved when the people lapse in the pursuit of truth, justice and mercy.

    But even though the people sometimes bring suffering upon themselves, God asks two things from the prophets – to chastise the people when they deserve it, and to comfort them when that is what they need.

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