Saturday, Jul 13, 2024

A Flash of Comfort

All around the world, in shuls, shtieblach and botei medrash of all types, Jews feel waves of comfort and peace this Shabbos. As the haftorah is read and the words “Nachamu nachamu” ring out, everyone smiles at the heavenly consolation. As he addresses the forlorn nation, the novi Yeshayahu repeats himself, proclaiming, “Nachamu nachamu.” Why the repetition? What, we wonder, is added with the repetition of the word nachamu? The Medrash explains the binary Nachamu as referring to a double dose of comfort, “nechamah bekiflayim.”

The Yalkut Shimoni states that when Yeshayahu Hanovi spoke the immortal words, “Nachamu nachamu,” the Jewish people wanted to kill him. When he followed with “yomar Elokeichem,” they were calmed.


The Medrashim require explanation. When referring to nechamah, either the person who experienced loss is consoled for what has been taken from him or he isn’t. How can he be doubly consoled? Additionally, why were the people only pacified when the novi told them that the words “Nachamu nachamu” were those of Hashem?


To answer the first question, the Yerushalayimer maggid, Rav Mordechai Druk, explained that man’s nature is that after enduring a difficult period in his life, he wants to put the bad experience behind him and move on. It was painful enough to have struggled through the rough episode, and once it passes, the individual resists reliving those awful memories. He’d rather have them fade into the distance.


However, if a person realizes that the trying event was a blessing in disguise, he happily reminisces about what he went through. Recognizing that what seemed at the time to be a negative experience was really a positive one, enables him to relive it.


With this, we can understand the double consolation the Medrash refers to. Nechamah bekiflayim is indeed a double dose of comfort. The novi foresaw the great solace that will occur with the arrival of Moshiach. The final salvation which will redeem us from the bitter golus will bring a much-needed and appreciated nechamah.


Additionally, at that time, we will understand everything that transpired along the long, dark, bitter path of the exile. We will then realize that what was perceived as tragedy was necessary in order to bring about the redemption. We will see that what was perceived as a curse was really a blessing. That will be the second nechamah.


In golus, we feel pain. We grope in darkness, we mourn tragedy, and we fret about current events. In geulah, the ohr chodosh will enable us to appreciate in hindsight the arduous tribulations we encountered along the way.


That consolation can only come about through Hashem, the ultimate Menacheim.


A talmid of Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l was experiencing a very difficult period in his life. He approached his rebbi in an effort to unburden himself. The talmid, trying to maintain a lofty level, remarked, “I know that everything Hashem does is for the best, so I will embrace this situation with simcha and joy, appreciating that what I am going through is really chassodim.”


Rav Hutner reminded his talmid of the Gemara in Maseches Pesochim (50a) which states that the next world is different than this one. In this world, upon hearing good news, we recite the bracha of Hatov Vehameitiv,and upon hearing bad news, we say Boruch Dayan Ha’emes. In the next world, there will only be the blessing of Boruch Hatov Vehameitiv.


The rosh yeshiva told his grieving talmid, “If you look at your suffering and accept that everything Hashem does is for the best, and you give a krechtz and say, ‘Boruch Dayan Ha’emes,’ acknowledging that He is the Ultimate Judge, then you are following the Gemara. But to say, ‘Boruch Hatov Vehameitiv,’ in a time of challenge in this world, when you really think that you are experiencing something bad, is to make a bracha levatalah.


In other words, our obligation is to accept in our hearts yissurim that befall us, knowing that they are part of a Divine plan and that “kol de’ovid Rachmana letav ovid.” Pain will give rise to something good. However, it is only in the next world that we will be granted the clarity of hindsight to actually rejoice over all of our agonizing, distressful experiences and recite a bracha upon them.


In this world, we acknowledge the suffering and make a bracha upon experiencing it. However, at the dawn of the olam hasholeim, which will arrive after the realization of the prophecy of “Nachamu nachamu,” we will be given the power and vision to comprehend the mercy that lies at the root of all suffering, referred to in the seforim as hamtokas hadinim beshoroshom. At that time, we will also be provided the ability to make a bracha of Hatov Vehameitiv upon it.


Nachamu, nachamu. It will be good. It was always good.


I was recently discussing the current matzav in Eretz Yisroel with a leading Israeli rov. He explained the travails confronting the Torah community. “We don’t know what to make of the return of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisroel,” he said. “Some say it is ‘as’chalta d’geulah,’ the beginning of the promised ingathering of exiles in the messianic period. Others disagree and see sinister undertones in the return dominated by secular Zionists.


“Everyone, though, acknowledges that something Divine is taking place and that the founding of the state is definitely part of some type of Heavenly plan. Whatever is taking place now – all the strife – is part of that plan and process, which will ultimately prepare the world for Moshiach.”


This is the way ehrliche Yidden always viewed what has transpired and the way we ought to as well.


We wrote previously of a shmuess delivered by Rav Simcha Zissel Broide zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chevron, in which he quoted his predecessor, Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein zt”l.


Imagine, he said, living at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. As the Spaniards were brutally chasing the Jews from their country, the Jewish people were no doubt waiting to see Divine retribution exacted upon their wicked former hosts.


Instead, to their great amazement, not only was the kingdom not punished, but it was rewarded. In 1492, the same year the Jews were expelled from Spain, Christopher Columbus discovered America and opened up avenues of wealth and commerce for the countries that the Jews thought were about to be punished. No doubt, for generations after that, they sat in puzzled wonderment, unable to comprehend why Hashem had rewarded the very people they thought be penalized.


It was only centuries later that the questions were answered. America became a place of refuge for Jews, and defeated the Third Reich, which sought our destruction. In fact, it was the Spaniards themselves who were laying the groundwork for the salvation of the Jews through their discovery and settlement of the American continent. It was all part of the Divine plan. Before fading off into oblivion, the very monarchy that had so tortured the Jews established the land that would welcome and save them many years later.


Rav Broide would repeat this idea and compare it to the awful Holocaust that engulfed our nation in the last century, claiming so many millions of innocent lives. He said that Hashem is preparing the world for the ultimate redemption. Sometimes, within a few generations, the Divine intention becomes apparent, while in other instances it can take centuries to comprehend the ways of Hashem. For many of the tragedies that have befallen klal Yisroel, we will have to wait until the coming of Moshiach to understand how all that transpired was part of a plan to bring the world to its ultimate purpose.


In this world, when anger and despair seem to be the only response, we must internalize the fact that Hashem runs the world and that everything He does is for our benefit. With that awareness, we can rise above our trying circumstances.


In olam hazeh, we are aware that there is a plan. We know that one day it will be revealed. For now, we allow ourselves a moment of joy as we hear the prophecy of “Nachamu nachamu ami” heralding a time when all will be clear.


On this special Shabbos, olam hazeh and Olam Haba merge as the words “Nachamu nachamuring out. For a moment, we taste the sweetness of what will be. Armed with the awareness that soon all tragedy will be explained as chassodim, we march forward, waiting for the day of that revelation. The knowledge makes life more bearable and gives us the strength to endure the challenges we face.


This feeling is explained with a parable of a person lost at night in a forest during a blinding rainstorm. All around him it is dark, his path obscured by trees, stones and fallen branches. He cannot move without tripping and falling. Suddenly, there is a flash of lightning and for a moment the forest is illuminated.


In that moment, he sees a clear path leading out of the woods, but before he can move, it is dark again. He can’t proceed. But as the man stumbles and gropes in the darkness, he does so with the knowledge that there is a cleared path leading out of the forest. He continues his search with hope and optimism, because he knows there is an exit. After seeing the goal, the quest becomes attainable.


On Shabbos Nachamu, we see that flash.


There is so much sadness in our community. So many people are sick and so many are barely holding on. Every week brings news of yet another accident, yet another korban. We read the news emanating from Eretz Yisroel and we fear what will come next. There are too many people who are still single, desperately seeking to find their mate. There are too many abused individuals seeking a menacheim.


Since the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, we have known incessant tragedy. Yes, there was a comfortable break here and there. Through the ages, there have been stations that were more hospitable than others.


Tisha B’Av is the repository of 1,900 years of Jewish pain and suffering. It is the day on which we mourn for all that once was and is no longer, for the hopes and dreams that turned to ashes, for all that our people have lost in the Diaspora.


When we sit on the floor saying Kinnos, the list of tragedies for which we mourn seems endless. The churban of the first Bais Hamikdosh and the second Bais Hamikdosh. The Harugei Beitar. The calamities that befell the Jewish communities of Europe one thousand years later during the First Crusade. We remember the Jews who were ripped apart during the Inquisition, the gezeiros of Tach Vetat, and the expulsion from Spain in 1492.


We remember the 24 cartloads of handwritten seforim that were set aflame in the streets of Paris in 1242, and the subsequent expulsions from France, England, Germany and other regions.


We sit on the floor thinking of the Jews who were shipped across the world throughout the ages. Just when they achieved a measure of comfort in a country, they were expelled. All too often throughout our history, we were lonely refugees, seeking shelter in yet another strange, unwelcoming land.


On Tisha B’Av, we mourn the millions of Jews who were killed and maimed during the previous harrowing century. We bemoan the sadness that surrounds us and those we love.


As we read kinnah after kinnah recording so much sorrow, the amount of suffering our people endured becomes unfathomable.


Finally, we rise together and sing in unison the last kinnah, the kinnah of Eli Tzion, which speaks of the anguish of Zion and compares it to the pain of a woman in childbirth. Birth pangs are the most intense pain a person can suffer. But the pain is made somewhat bearable because the woman knows that it will lead to the birth of a child. The pain is an indication that a new life is entering the world. We mourn the churban, but we show that we believe that the desolation is part of the process that leads to the ultimate and final redemption of the Jewish people.


And so it will be when the prophecy of the novi Yeshayahu is realized. We will then perceive that all the pain we endured personally and throughout the centuries was a process leading to the final redemption.


The novi cries out, “Nachamu, be comforted. The torture will soon end. Nachamu, the golus is almost over. Nachamu, be consoled over the calamities of the past. Nachamu, a bright new day is dawning. Nachamu, you will soon understand the reasons for all the pain you have endured. Nachamu, be comforted, knowing that Tisha B’Av will soon be a Yom Tov and not anymore a day of sadness.”


All those who throughout the ages have suffered for being Jewish, who were burned at the stake, whose blood flowed at Beitar, and who were sent into exile by the Romans, the English, the French and the Spanish will finally see justice.


All those who were tortured and killed, who were physically and mentally battered by the Germans; all those young people who were murdered in their prime; all the old people who died as good, ehrliche Jews; all of them, together, will gather in Yerushalayim.


Soonwe will all be in Yerushalayim, singing and dancing. The sick will be healed and suffering will end. There will be no more sadness and no more pain. The enemies who wreaked havoc will be gone, their memories obliterated.


Not only will swords be beaten into plowshares, but tears will be twisted into smiles, and pained features will be transformed into happy ones. Sadness will turn into festivity and mourning will be replaced by joy and ecstasy.


Nachamu nachamu ami. Bemeheirah beyomeinu. Amein.




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