"Be comforted, be comforted my people - says your God" Isaiah 40:1
The Jewish calendar juxtaposes Shabbat Chazon and Shabbat Nachamu, the former with its message of doom and destruction, the latter with the hope of redemption and return.
Is this merely because these Sabbaths straddle the Fast of Tishah b'Av, one before and one after, or is there some thematic link between suffering and salvation?
I believe we can answer this question by referring to a verse from the Megillah of Eichah (Lamentations) commonly known to all, "Turn us back, O Lord to You, and we will return. Renew our days as of old" (Eichah 5:23). But these are not the prophet's final words. He concludes, "For even if You had utterly rejected us, You have already raged sufficiently against us" (Eichah 5:22). Is this to be taken to mean that we expect God to restore us merely because we have had enough of suffering?
Perhaps it signifies that we are confident of our redemption precisely because of the excessive aspect of our suffering. It is the dramatic Chazon of exile which brings with it the guarantee of comfort. But this is not an illogical faith. It is reasoned hope. Between Newcastle and Carlisle, the ruins of Hadrian's Wall lie testament in our own country to the empire that sought to destroy us. This was the Hadrian who crushed Bar Kochba and had Rabbi Akiva flayed alive for teaching Judaism.
There was a time when Rome ruled the world and Caesar was god. The likelihood of the empire coming to an end was considered absurd. That the Jews would survive must have seemed ridiculous, but the Romans are gone for ever. Hadrian's proud wall is a series of broken mounds.
But a hundred miles away in Gateshead Yeshivah, young boys are keeping alive the ethos of Rabbi Akiva.