For seven weeks after Tisha Be-Av (the fast day to mourn the destruction of both temples in Jerusalem), Jews read a “haftarah of consolation” from second Isaiah. This week, the sixth haftarah of consolation does not even mention consolation or comforting. Only once does it refer to mourning:
Your sun will not set again
And the moon will not be taken away.
For God will be your everlasting light,
And the days of your mourning will be done. (Isaiah 60:20)
The mourning will be over because all of Jerusalem’s people will return to their city-state, and all the other nations of the world will honor them, serve them, and bring them fabulous wealth.
The consolation in the sixth week’s haftarah, then, is the promise that all the suffering of the Israelites under the thumb of the Babylonians will end, and the people (or at least their descendants) will live happily ever after.
Will this happen after a certain number of years or centuries, or after a certain condition has been met? In other chapters, second Isaiah1 reminds the Israelites that they must return to God before God will return Jerusalem to them. In Isaiah 60, the prophet does not worry about any conditions.
Instead of a time frame, this prophesy is attached to a place: Jerusalem. Furthermore, Jerusalem’s future triumph is the triumph of the God of Israel, not just of the Israelites who live in God’s city.2 God elaborates:
Your gates will always be open;
Day and night, they will not shut—
To let the wealth of nations come into her [Jerusalem],
And their kings will be leading the processions. (Isaiah 60:11)
The magnificence of the Lebanon will come to you:
Juniper, fir, and cypress together,
To beautify the makom of my holy sanctuary,
And I will honor the makom of my feet. (Isaiah 60:13)
makom (מָקוֹם) = place, location.
God’s “footstool” is either the temple in Jerusalem, or the city itself, according to Psalms 99:5 and 132:7, Lamentations 2:1, and 1 Chronicles 28:2.3
Since the second destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., the city of Jerusalem has been rebuilt, and a mosque has been erected where the temple once stood. But the prophecy by second Isaiah in the sixth haftarah of consolation has never come true. For a small minority of Jews, it remains an aspiration. For others, it is a potent symbol. For almost two thousand years, Jews have ended celebrations of Passover and Yom Kippur by shouting: “Next year in Jerusalem!”
It is a joyful shout. The idea of Jerusalem gives many people comfort.
My husband and I finally went to Jerusalem in 2020. We stayed there for three weeks, until the Covid pandemic forced us to choose between taking one of the last airplanes to the United States, or making aliyah and applying for permanent residency in Israel. We flew home.
This week I am in need of comfort and consolation for a personal reason: my mother died recently, a few days after we celebrated her 93rd birthday with her. She was in hospice, so her death was neither a surprise nor a tragedy. But I am aware of the void in my life, and my own fragility.
How could I write a new blog post the week after my mother died? According to Jewish tradition, I should stay home for seven days of mourning (shiva)3 and refrain from “labor”4 (including writing) and from reading the five books of Torah or the Prophets.5 During this time, my Jewish community should visit me so I can say a prayer called the Mourner’s Kaddish, which requires ten witnesses. But I have no Jewish community where I live now, a two-hour drive away from my Jewish friends in Portland. My mother requested cremation rather than a funeral, so the first time I recited the Mourner’s Kaddish for her, I had to do it during a service on Zoom. My greatest comfort these days is the patient help and support of my husband. But I am also comforting myself by doing what I love most: reading and writing about Torah. Yes, I need to keep remembering my mother, who she was when I was growing up and who she was in old age. But I also need to keep remembering who I am.
If I were “sitting shiva” during these seven days, my Jewish friends would come to my home and recite the traditional condolence to a mourner:
Hamakom yenachem etchem betokh she-ar aveilei tziyon viyerushalayim.
May hamakom comfort you among the rest of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
hamakom (הַמָּקוֹמ) = the place.
This expression reminds mourners that they are not alone; the death of relatives and friends is part of life—even in Jerusalem, where those walking on the Temple Mount during the time of the second temple greeted mourners with the words “May the one who dwells in this house comfort you.”6
The temple was considered the dwelling-place of God. Thus God is the true source of comfort. An earlier Talmud tractate records the blessing: Blessed is the comforter of mourners.7
Thus in the words of condolence spoken during the past millennia, hamakom is as a name for God, a name that does not appear in the bible.
The idea of Jerusalem does not comfort me. But the idea of God as a makom of consolation does. Somewhere in each soul is a place of connection to the reality before words.
- Chapters 1-39 of the book of Isaiah were written in the 8th century B.C.E. Chapters 40-66, sometimes called “second Isaiah” or “deuteron-Isaiah” were written after the Babylonian conquest in 587 B.C.E.
- The books of Exodus through Deuteronomy forecast a single nation of Israel consisting of the descendants of Jacob, a.k.a. Israel. The two books of Samuel describe the unification of much of Canaan under kings David and Solomon. In 1 Kings, the united kingdom of Israel splits into two kingdoms after Solomon’s death in the 10th century B.C.E. The northern kingdom is called Israel or Samaria, and its capital is Samaria; the southern kingdom is called Judah, and its capital is Jerusalem. When the Assyrians conquered Samaria in 722 B.C.E., many of its people fled to Judah. Biblical books written during the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century B.C.E. refer to Jerusalem as the once and future capital of the people who are again called Israelites.
- See my post Haftarat Ki Tavo—Isaiah: A Place for Feet. Also see Psalm 26:8, which refers to “the makom of the dwelling-place of your glory”.
- The seven days of formal mourning, called “sitting shiva”, begin immediately after the burial. The end of the burial is also when Jewish mourners begin saying the prayer called the Mourner’s Kaddish, which requires ten witnesses.
- Semachot 5. Semachot, originally called Evel Rabati, is a late (eighth-century C.E.) Talmudic tractate.
- Semachot 6.
- Semachot 6.