Parshat Va’etchanan / Shabbat Nachamu
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This Shabbat is called Shabbat Nachamu after the beginning words of the Haftorah, “Nachamu, nachamu, ami – Comfort, comfort My nation (Yeshayahu 40:1).”
Many of the commentaries discuss the repetition of the word Nachamu. Here are some of their interpretations:
Comfort from Now On
Rashi points out that this verse is the beginning of Isaiah’s prophecies of comfort as opposed to the first part of his book which primarily contains prophecies of destruction.
- Chapter 1, 3-5, 9, 13, 22 28-31, 34 and 39 is about the destruction of Jerusalem.
- Chapters 15 and 16 are about the destruction of Moav.
- Chapter 17 is about the destruction of Damascus.
- Chapters 19 and 20 are about the destruction of Egypt and Ethiopia.
- Chapter 21 is about the destruction of Babylonia.
- Chapter 23 is about the destruction of Tyre.
Thus, G-d is saying, “From this point on (in this book), I am instructing the prophets, ‘Offer comfort, and only words of comfort, to my people.’”
Immediate and Continuous
The Ibn Ezra says that the double expression means that the prophets should offer comfort immediately and continuously.
First and Second Beit HaMikdash
The Abarbanel says that the double wording of comfort indicates comfort for both the destruction of the first and of the second Beit HaMikdash. He also points out that these words are directed at the people as opposed to the king because in the previous chapter we read that King Chizkiyahu did not seem perturbed when he was told there would be an exile, for it would not take place in his lifetime. Specifically, after hearing that Babylonia would plunder the Beit HaMikdash, he said, “טוב דבר ה’ אשר דברת ויאמר כי שלום ואמת יהיה בימי- What G-d has spoken is good… because it will be truly peaceful in my lifetime.” In response to this, G-d tells Isaiah to tell the people that, despite Chizkiyahu’s indifference, He will comfort them.
Gematria of Yitzchak
The Chomat Anach (by the Chida) points out that the gematria of נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ is 208 which is the same gematria as יצחק. This alludes to the fact that the ultimate redemption will come about in the merit of our patriarch Yitzchak. (See Shabbat 89b)
Double Comfort for Double Punishment
The Chida (in Tzavarei Shalal on the Haftorahs) quotes the Midrash (Midrash Eicha 1:57 and Yalkut Shimoni 445) that says the Jewish people sinned doubly (see Eicha 1:8), were punished doubly (as it says here in verse 2 “For she has been smitten at the hand of G-d, double for all her sins”), and were now being comforted doubly.
The double sin is referring to the sins between man and man and those between man and G-d. The double punishment is because our sins destroy both the physical world and the upper, spiritual realms. The twice-repeated comfort reassures us that all this will be repaired and rectified in the future.
Sooner or Later
The Malbim says that the expression is repeated to indicate that the comfort may come sooner if we deserve it, or it may come at the appointed time if we are not deserving.
A Powerful Comfort
The Metzudat David says that the repetition of the word means that the comfort will be a powerful one.
Justice and Compassion
The Agra DeKallah (ot 38 on Va’etchanan) by Rabbi Tzvi Elimelch of Dinov (who also authored the Benei Yissachar) writes that Nachamu, nachamu indicates that even G-d’s attribute of strict judgment will agree to this comfort. This is in contrast to the time of the destruction when even the attribute of Divine mercy agreed to the punishments. In the future, however, this will be reversed, as alluded to in the words of the prophet, “Comfort, oh comfort My people, says Elokeiechem – your G-d [the name Elokim indicates strict judgment]… for she has received at the hand of Havaya (the name that indicates Divine compassion) double for all her sins.”
The Yismach Moshe, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum of Ihel (1759 – 1841) [on Va’etchanan 4:3] says that the repeated expression tells us that after this redemption there will be no other exile, as the verse says (Eicha 4:22), “Your iniquity, daughter of Zion, is finished; He will exile you no longer.” That is, since there will be no more sin, there will be no other exile.
Comfort During the Trouble
The Mei HaShilo’ach (vol. 2 likutim on Nach) says that comfort can occur even while the trouble is happening. This may be the reason for the double expression, that G-d will comfort us with the redemption and that even while we are in exile, he comforts and strengthens us.
The rest of this article will discuss one of the gates of the Beit HaMikdash called the Gate of Yechonya. The history of this gate relates to the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash. May learning about it bring about the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash speedily in our time!
The Gate Of Yechonya
The Mishnah (Middot 2:6) says that the gate on the northern side of the Azarah (courtyard of the Beit HaMikdash), towards the western side, was called the Gate of Yechonya. This is because King Yechonya (son of Yehoyakim) departed to exile through that gate.
Who was this Yechonya, and why did he go to exile via this particular gate? In addition, why was this even so significant as to name the gate after it?
A Brief Biography of Yehoyakim
Yechonya (also known as Yehoyachin) was the son of Yehoyakim who was, in turn, the son of Yoshiyahu. Yehoyakim was extremely wicked and committed many sins just to anger G-d.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 103b and Mo’ed Katan 26a) and Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 19:6) mention the following sins:
- He tattooed the name of an idol (or of the Almighty) on his genitals. The verse (Divrei HaYamim II 36:8) alludes to this when it says about his sins “and that which was found upon him.”
- He wore a garment of sha’atnez (made of wool and linen).
- He had relations with his mother, his daughter in law, and his father’s wife.
- He would kill men, rape their wives, and confiscate their property, as the verse says (Kings II 24:4), “And… the innocent blood that he had shed, and he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood.”
- He burned the book of Eicha foretelling the destruction and exile, including the name of G-d (see Yirmiyahu 36). Some say he cut out and burned, only the names of G-d.
After three years of serving Nevuchanetzar, king of Babylonia, Yehoyakim rebelled against him. (Rabbi Yehudah Landy in his book Uncovering Sefer Yirmiyahu surmises that Yehoyakim showed allegiance to the king of Egypt rather than to Nevuchadnetzar by not paying his annual tribute to the Babylonian king. He had greater loyalty to the king of Egypt since he was the one who had appointed him king.)
Nevuchanetzar sent various armies to Jerusalem who overcame Yehoyakim (Kings II 24). The king of Egypt did not come to Yehoyakim’s aid.
There are differing opinions as to how Yehoyakim died, but it appears that he died in the process of being taken into captivity by the Babylonians.
Yirmiyahu, the prophet, had foretold about Yehoyakim that “a donkey’s burial shall he be buried, dragged and tossed past the gates of Jerusalem (Yirmiyah 22:19).” Nevuchadnetzar fulfilled this by burying him inside a donkey’s carcass or, as others say, by feeding his body to the dogs (Vayikra Rabbah 19:6).
Nevchadnetzar then appointed his son Yechonya to be the ruler of Judea.
A Brief Biography of Yechonya
- Age of Ascension
One verse (Kings II 24:8) says that Yechonya was 8 years old when he became king while another verse (Divrei HaYamim II 36:9) says he was 18. The Malbim reasons that he was appointed as crown prince when his father was installed as the ruler by the king of Egypt at which time he was 8 years old. When he was 18, his father died, and he began to rule as king.
- A Short yet Evil Reign
He was king for only 3 months and 10 days, but during that time the verse (Kings II 24:9) records, “He did what was evil in the eyes of the L-rd like all that his father had done.”
When Nevuchadnetzar informed his advisors that he had appointed Yechonya as the king, they protested, saying that he was a bad pup born of a bad dog, as his father had rebelled. So Nevuchadnetzar came to Jerusalem to depose him.
- The Advice of the Sages
According to the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 19:6), the sages of the Sanhedrin came to greet Nevuchadnetzar and asked him if the time had come to destroy the Beit HaMikdash (as Yirmiyahu had prophesied). Nevuchadnetzar replied he had not come for that purpose, but rather to remove Yechonya from the throne. They then went and informed Yechonya that the Babylonian king was seeking him (and that he should surrender to the Babylonians).
- Returned the Keys
Yechonya took the keys of the Temple, went up to the Temple roof and proclaimed to G-d, “Until now You entrusted me with these keys. Now I am returning them to You.” He threw them up, and they did not fall back down. Some say that a fiery hand from Heaven descended and received them.
(It is not clear why he threw the keys up considering that the Beit HaMikdash would stand for another 11 years before it was destroyed by the Babylonians. Perhaps Yechonya thought that its destruction was imminent. It is also unclear why he deserved such a miracle despite being a wicked man. Perhaps it was the merit of the fact that he surrendered to Nevuchadnetzar rather than battling him as his successor Tzidkiyahu would do (which led to the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash). It is considered a merit for Yechonya because had he gone to battle to avoid being captured, many Jewish lives would have been lost.)
- Departed through the Northwest Gate
Yechonya and the members of the royal family left the Beit HaMikdash through the gate on the northwest of the azarah (courtyard), as the verse says, “And Yehoyachin, the king of Yehudah, came out to the king of Babylonia, he and his mother and his servants and his officers and his mighty warriors, and the king of Babylonia took him in the eighth year of his reign.” It has been postulated that the Babylonian army was camped to the north of Jerusalem, and going through the gate on the north side would have been the shortest route. (See page 278 in Uncovering Sefer Yirmiyahu.) In addition, according to the Talmud (Yoma 19a,) this gate was close to the Lishkat HaGazit (the chamber of Hewn Stone) which is where the Sanhedrin sat. So, after receiving instruction to surrender from the Sanhedrin (see above based on Vayikra Rabbah 19:6), he left through the nearby gate.
- A Cramped Conception
According to the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 19:6), while Yechonya was in captivity, the sages prevailed upon Nevuchadnetzar (through influencing his wife) to allow Yechonya to cohabit with his wife. Since he was in a narrow cell, the Babylonians lowered her into his cell with chains. She then informed him that she had seen a red rose (a euphemism for menstrual blood), and so he refrained from having relations with her–this, despite his earlier sinful lifestyle. So she was lifted out and returned to him after she had gone to the Mikvah. She conceived and bore a son who was named Assir as well as She’altiel.
- Names of his Oldest Son
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 37b) says that he was called Assir because he was conceived in captivity. (Assir means a captive.) His other name was She’altiel because he was planted by G-d. (See Tehillim 92:14 where שְׁתוּלִים means “planted.”) This alludes to the fact that his mother conceived him from a relationship that would not normally result in conception as the quarters in the dungeon were very cramped. The name She’altiel also means that G-d “asked” for His vow to be nullified. The vow, uttered by Yirmiyahu, (Yirmiyahu 22:30) was, “Thus said the L-rd: Record this man (Yechonya) as being childless, one who shall never be found acceptable…” But because of Yechonya’s teshuva, the decree was changed, and he bore many children. (The verse in Divrei HaYamim I, 3:18, records another six children besides Assir/She’altiel.) She’altiel’s son was none other than Zerubavel, leader of the Jews who ascended to Israel to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash in the time of Koresh, king of Persia.
- Archeology of Nevuchadnetzar’s Palace
It is noteworthy that the palace of Nevuchadnetzar has been explored by archeologists who found underground rooms made of stone. This is the only underground structure found in the ancient city of Bavel. In it, a system of chains was discovered that could have been used to lower prisoners into the dungeon. This matches the descriptions of the above Midrash (Uncovering Sefer Daniel, pag. 169).
- Freed from the Dungeon
After spending 37 years in jail, Yechonya was let out of the dungeon upon the death of Nevuchadnetzar. Evyl-Merodach (Nevuchadnetzar’s son and heir) not only released him but invited him to eat regularly at his royal table. He was also given appropriate clothing and seated in a higher position than the other captive kings, as the verse says (Kings II 25:28-30), “And it was in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Yehoyachin, king of Judah… Evil-Merodach, king of Babylonia… lifted up the head of Yehoyachin, king of Judah and released him from prison. And he spoke with him kindly and placed his throne above the throne of the kings who were with him in Babylon. And he changed his prison garb, and he ate meals before him regularly all the days of his life. And his meals, regular meals, were given him from the king, each day’s need in its day, all the days of his life.”
There are several theories as to why Evil-Merodach treated Yechonya so kindly:
- Advised his Father’s Dismemberment
The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 18:2) recounts that during the seven years that Nevuchadnetzar was acting like a wild animal (see chapter 4 of the book of Daniel), his son Evil Merodach assumed the throne. When Nevuchadnetzar recovered, he had Evyl Merodah thrown into the dungeon. After Nevuchadnetzar died, Evyl Merodach was freed and the people wanted to coronate him as king. He hesitated as he was concerned that Nevuchadnetzar was not truly dead and that, if he assumed the throne, his father might reappear and have him killed. So the people dug Nevuchadnetzar from his grave and threw him in front of his son. All of Nevuchadnetzar’s enemies came and stuck their swords into his body. The Abarbanel suggests that it was Yechonya who advised Evyl Merodach to do this and that they actually dismembered his body. And that in appreciation for this advice, Evil Merodach freed and elevated Yechonyah.
In truth, Yechonya gave this advice so that the prophecy of Yeshayahu be fulfilled, as it says concerning Nevuchadnetzar (Yeshayahu 14:19), “While you were thrown from your grave, like loathsome carrion.”
Based on the above Midrash, the Rambam writes (in a commentary on Megillat Esther that is attributed to him) that Evyl Merodach was imprisoned together with Yechonya. In prison they befriended each other, and when Evyl Merodach was elevated and became the new king, he released his friend. (Cited in Uncovering Sefer Yirmiyahu pg. 170.)
- Influence of Daniel
According to the Targum Sheini (on the beginning of Megillat Esther), it was Daniel, the advisor of many Babylonian kings, who prevailed upon Evyl Merodach to free Yechonya.
Here is a quote from Wikipedia (see Uncovering Sefer Yirmiyahu pg. 374 for more precise sources). “During his excavation of Babylon in 1899–1917, Robert Koldewey discovered a royal archive room of King Nebuchadnezzar near the Ishtar Gate. It contained tablets dating to 595–570 BCE. The tablets were translated in the 1930’s by the German Assyriologist, Ernst Weidner. Four of these tablets list rations of oil and barley given to various individuals—including the deposed King Yehoyachin — by Nebuchadnezzar from the royal storehouses, dated five years after Yehoyachin was taken captive.
One tablet reads:
10 (sila of oil) to the king of Judah, Yaukin (this seems to be the Babylonian version of the name Yehoyachin ), 2 1/2 sila (oil) to the offspring of Judah’s king, 4 sila to eight men from Judea…
- Back to Yechonya’s Gate
It would seem that the northwest gate of the Beit HaMidash was named after Yechonya in appreciation for the fact that he left willingly rather than resisting Nevuchadnetzar and causing death and destruction to the Jewish people as explained above.
- Other Function
Some say that this gate was also known as the Sha’ar Nitzotz – the Gate of the Spark (Tiferet Yisrael on Middot, ibid), so-called because of the room built above it which was called Beit HaNitzotz – Room of the Spark. Some say it got this name as the sun shone into it since it only had three walls (Rosh on Tamid 25b). Others say that it was called thusly because there was always a fire burning there which could be used to rekindle the fire of the altar should it go out (Be’er Sheva on ibid).
May Hashem Send us Moshiach and the Third Beit HaMikdash Speedily in Our Days!
Wishing you a Meaningful Tisha Be’Av and a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!