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Isaiah 40:1-26

The destruction of Tisha B'av and the three haftarot of punishment which preceded it have left us distraught, grieving, and yearning for redemption. To comfort and lift our distraught spirits, and to encourage us in repentance as the Days of Awe approach, for the next seven weeks we recite successive haftarot of comfort and consolation (Aramaic: שבע דנחמתא). Their texts from the final third of Isaiah, chapters 40-66, do not relate to the weekly Torah readings. With increasing intensity each week, Isaiah calls out to God’s exiled people, saying that He still yearns for a relationship with them and wants them to come close to Him so that He can redeem them from exile.

Haftarah Breakdown and Important Themes

Verses 1-2: Having severely punished and forgiven exiled Judah’s sins, God now comforts their afflictions.

Isaiah 40:1

"Comfort, comfort, My people," says your God.

נַחֲמ֥וּ נַחֲמ֖וּ עַמִּ֑י יֹאמַ֖ר אֱלֹקיכֶֽם׃

Verses 3-5: God is on his way to Jerusalem, and all mankind will see His revealed Glory.

Isaiah 40:3

A voice calls, "In the desert, clear the way of the Lord, straighten out in the wilderness, a highway for our God."

ק֣וֹל קוֹרֵ֔א בַּמִּדְבָּ֕ר פַּנּ֖וּ דֶּ֣רֶךְ ה' יַשְּׁרוּ֙ בָּעֲרָבָ֔ה מְסִלָּ֖ה לֵאלֹקינוּ׃

Verses 6-8: Mortal man and his promises are fleeting, but God’s promise of redemption is everlasting.

Isaiah 40:8

The grass shall dry out, the blossom shall wilt, but the word of our God shall last forever.

יָבֵ֥שׁ חָצִ֖יר נָ֣בֵֽל צִ֑יץ וּדְבַר־אֱלֹקינוּ יָק֥וּם לְעוֹלָֽם׃

Verses 9-11: Leading His people back from exile, God will reward and redeem them as He promised.

Isaiah 40:10

Behold the Lord God shall come with a strong [hand], and His arm rules for Him; behold His reward is with Him, and His recompense is before Him.

הִנֵּ֨ה אֲדֹנָ֤י ה' בְּחָזָ֣ק יָב֔וֹא וּזְרֹע֖וֹ מֹ֣שְׁלָה ל֑וֹ הִנֵּ֤ה שְׂכָרוֹ֙ אִתּ֔וֹ וּפְעֻלָּת֖וֹ לְפָנָֽיו׃

So far, Isaiah has discussed God’s revelation to the Jewish people and the world as a great redeemer. He now widens the lens to capture a transcendent aspect of God’s greatness: the Creator of all.

Verses 12-14: God alone, in His wisdom, created the world.

Isaiah 40:12

Who measured water with his gait, and measured the heavens with his span, and included the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed mountains with a scale and hills with a balance.

מִֽי־מָדַ֨ד בְּשָׁעֳל֜וֹ מַ֗יִם וְשָׁמַ֙יִם֙ בַּזֶּ֣רֶת תִּכֵּ֔ן וְכָ֥ל בַּשָּׁלִ֖שׁ עֲפַ֣ר הָאָ֑רֶץ וְשָׁקַ֤ל בַּפֶּ֙לֶס֙ הָרִ֔ים וּגְבָע֖וֹת בְּמֹאזְנָֽיִם׃

Verses 15-19: Even the most powerful of nations and their idols are as nothing before Him.

Isaiah 40:17

All the nations are as naught before Him; less than naught and vanity are they considered by Him.

כָּל־הַגּוֹיִ֖ם כְּאַ֣יִן נֶגְדּ֑וֹ מֵאֶ֥פֶס וָתֹ֖הוּ נֶחְשְׁבוּ־לֽוֹ׃

Verses 20-26: Nothing in the world compares to God, and He is above everything.

Isaiah 40:22

He Who dwells above the circle of the earth - its inhabitants like grasshoppers; He who stretches out the heaven like a curtain, and He spread them out like a tent to dwell in.

הַיֹּשֵׁב֙ עַל־ח֣וּג הָאָ֔רֶץ וְיֹשְׁבֶ֖יהָ כַּחֲגָבִ֑ים הַנּוֹטֶ֤ה כַדֹּק֙ שָׁמַ֔יִם וַיִּמְתָּחֵ֥ם כָּאֹ֖הֶל לָשָֽׁבֶת׃

Other Connections

Rav Chaim of Volozhin describes the nature of the future revelation of God predicted in verse 5.

Nefesh HaChayim, Gate III 11

And regarding the future, it is written (Isaiah 40:5): “and all flesh together shall see that the mouth of the Lord spoke.” Namely, that [humanity’s] perception will be refined to the point that [they will] be able to perceive and also see with physical eyes the matter of how [Gods’s] blessed utterance permeates everything in the universe, similar to how perception of this kind already occurred at the time of the giving of the Torah. For it is written (Exodus 20:18): “and the entire nation sees the sounds”. And this is also stated [by Chazal] at the end of [chapter] Eilu Ovrim : “The World to Come is not like this world. In this world, [God’s name] is written as yud-hey yet pronounced as a-do-nai, but in the World to Come, it’s written as yud-hey and pronounced as yud-hey (Pesachim 50a). Understand this.”

ולע''ל כתיב (ישעיהו מ׳:ה׳) וראו כל בשר יחדו כי פי ה' דבר. היינו שיזדכך השגתנו עד שנזכה להשיג ולראות גם בעין הבשר ענין התפשטות דבורו יתב' בכל דבר בעולם. כמו שכבר היתה ההשגה מעין זה בעת מתן תורה דכתיב וכל העם רואים את הקולת. והוא ג''כ בכלל מאמרם ז''ל ס''פ אלו עוברין לא כהעה''ז העה''ב. העה''ז נכתב בי''ה ונקרא בא''ד אבל העה''ב נכתב בי''ה ונקרא בי''ה והבן.

Biblical translations by Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg, with some emendations; other translations from

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