For three weeks, we pondered the churban. For three weeks, we concentrated on all the tragedies that have befallen our people since the destruction of the Botei Mikdosh and the forced exiles which followed, rendered us homeless. We refrained from music, clean clothing, shaving, haircutting, and beard trimming. Every time we looked in the mirror, we were reminded that we are still living out of shopping carts in a place far from home.
The yearning for a rebuilt Eretz Yisroel, with Yerushalayim at its heart, the Bais Hamikdosh in its center, giving meaning to our lives and raising us to the heights of holiness, happiness and fulfillment, pulsated within us for three weeks, coming to a head on Tisha B’Av, when we sat on the floor, reciting sad liturgical poems depicting the blood-letting, destruction, emptiness and hardship that have befallen our people.
As the homeless do, we sat on the floor pondering our fate, thinking about the important things in life as we ignored many creature comforts. We wondered what we can do to get ourselves back home. We prayed for better days and resolved to do away with sinas chinom and its causes.
When Tisha B’Av ends, we begin to live normally once again. We are reinforced with the faith that the redemption will soon come and the golus will end. In effect, mourning and appreciating our condition give rise to hopes of salvation. When we forget how far we are from where we should be, we begin admiring the exile, reveling in its physical attractions, sights and sounds. We become outwardly gleeful, but increasingly empty on the inside.
Once we remember that we are in golus, the consolation can begin. Last week, we read Parshas Devorim and heard the plaintive wail of Eichah. We lain Parshas Va’eschanan and identify with Moshe Rabbeinu’s desperate desire to behold the Land, to touch its soil and to fulfill its special mitzvos. And then the pleasant chords of Nachamu tug at our souls, as we echo Moshe Rabbeinu’s prayer with much eagerness.
We want it so badly, and we wonder how to get there.
Moshe Rabbeinu davened 515 (the gematria of the word va’eschanan) separate tefillos that he merit entry into Eretz Yisroel. We wonder: If Moshe’s requests were denied, how can we possibly have a chance?
By examining Hashem’s response to Moshe, we can gain an understanding of our abilities to achieve a positive result.
The posuk (Devorim 3:26) states that Hakadosh Boruch Hu instructed Moshe to stop davening, saying, “Rav loch, al tosef daber eilai od badovor hazeh.” The Vilna Gaon (Chumash HaGra, ibid.) explains that Hashem commanded Moshe to stop praying for entry, because he was not to enter the Land.
The Gaon opens a window into the power of tefillah; explaining that tefillah was empowered by Hashem into teva, the nature of the world, to be listened to by Him. Tefillos that are heard have the natural ability to bring about change and erase decrees. Because Hashem did not want to change nature, he asked Moshe to stop davening.
How comforting it is to know that our tefillos have the ability to effect change and correct the course of our lives.
Thus, not only is the haftorah comforting, but Parshas Va’eschanan is as well. It is a parsha of nechomah. The first word, “Va’eschanan,” is translated as an expression of tefillah, but Rashi indicates that since the word “chinom” is at its root, it has an underlying explanation as the ability to make requests of Hashem even though we may not be worthy of receiving what we are asking for. We all have the ability to daven, as Moshe did, and be answered, even if we are not worthy.
You just gotta believe.
We know that the second Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because of sinas chinom, commonly translated as baseless hatred. Let us examine the Gemara that discusses why the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed to gain an understanding of sinas chinom, so that we can rectify the sin that causes our exile to continue.
The Gemara in Maseches Yoma (9b) states: “The first Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because the Jewish people engaged in the sins of avodah zora, giluy arayos, and shefichas domim. However, during the period of the second Bais Hamikdosh, when the Jewish people busied themselves with Torah, mitzvos and gemillus chassodim, the churban was caused by sinas chinom. From here you see that sinas chinom is equivalent to the three cardinal sins that caused the first churban.”
The Netziv (Hemek Dovor, Devorim 4:14) cites the Yerushalmi (4b), which adds some explanation for the churban of the Bayis Sheini: “We know that at the time of the Bayis Sheini, they delved into Torah study and were very scrupulous in their mitzvah observance and maser…but they loved money and hated each other for no apparent reason.” Therefore, the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed.
The Netziv explains that the Yerushalmi is indicating that at the root of sinas chinom lies a love of money. In other words, the hatred described as sinas chinom is brought on by jealousy of those who have more money.
This jealousy is essentially a lack of emunah. It belies a fundamental distrust in the notion that Hashem gives everything and apportions the lot of every being. He alone decides who gets more and who gets less.
If we would yearn for Hashem’s Presence, there would be no room in our hearts for divisive feelings and hate, because we would recognize that to feel that way is to contradict belief in the Creator’s dominion. One who appreciates Hashem’s master plan rejoices in his lot. He recognizes that all that he has is from Him. Those who cause him pain are Heavenly messengers. The challenges he is confronted with are presented by Hashem. Knowing that helps him get through difficult situations and overcome impulses of hatred and anger.
The Vilna Gaon establishes this in Even Sheleimah (3:1-3), where he writes that “bitachon and being satisfied with what we have are at the root of all middos tovos. These attributes are the marked opposites of wants and desires,” which consume man. The main attribute that a man can strive for is bitachon… All sins arise from wanton desire, as they say that all ten of the Aseres Hadibros and the entire Torah are summed up in the dibbur of ‘Lo Sachmod.’ The middah of histapkus, being satisfied with what you have, is the opposite, and is at the root of the whole Torah, representing the complete belief of not worrying today about tomorrow.
“A person who has proper bitachon but transgresses the most severe sins is better than someone who is lacking in bitachon, for the latter will come to jealousy and hatred, and even if he delves into Torah and performs good acts, he only does so to create a nice reputation.”
This explains the Bavli and Yerushalmi in Yoma. The Jews at the time of the second Bais Hamikdosh were engrossed in learning Torah and performing mitzvos. They were even engaged in performing charitable acts. But their core was rotten. They were driven by selfish desire for more money and more possessions. They didn’t do good deeds because they cared what Hashem would say about them, but because they wanted people to praise them.
They hated each other, because each one saw in the other person blessings he didn’t have. The other guy had a bigger house, bigger wagon, and more money. Their bitachon was lacking. They didn’t believe that what they had was apportioned by Hashem, and thus their root was crooked and corrupt.
Yeshayahu Hanovi (Yeshayahu 1:1) expressed the words of Hashem: “What do I need your korbanos for, says Hashem… I don’t want them.” Hashem desires the sacrifices of those who believe in Him and follow His word because of that belief. He is not interested in the offerings of hateful unbelievers. (See also Devorim 23:19, which states, “Lo sovi esnan zonah umechir kelev bais Hashem Elokecha…ki so’avas Hashem gam shneihem.”) Therefore, the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed and waits for us to rectify what lies at the root of that negative trait, in order for it to return.
A mother who dishes out supper to her children is offended when they squabble over who received a larger or smaller portion. She loves them all and provides for them everything they require. When they suggest otherwise, it is an indication that they don’t appreciate her love and all she does for them. The Master of the World gives us all what we need. Believers have no reason to hate. The Bais Hamikdosh, the place of the Shechinah in this world, was destroyed because the hatred among the Jewish people indicated that the nation negated the significance of the Divine home amongst them.
The person with bitachon can rise above pettiness and extend kindness to everyone. He can judge others favorably and really love every Jew. He is not challenged when others succeed financially and he doesn’t. He is not overcome with grief when insulted or hurt. Competition doesn’t eat away at his soul. He isn’t driven by an insatiable need for attention, honor or control. People of faith know that Hashem provides for them, as He does for everyone else, and their obligation is to satisfy Him and find favor in His eyes. They know that all that exists and all that transpires is because the One who created the world willed it so.
This lies at the root of the segulah of Rav Chaim Volozhiner to concentrate on “Ein od milvado” in times of danger. Acknowledging that what will happen is from Hashem is to throw yourself upon Him. Bitachon is the segulah for a yeshuah, because it emboldens us to daven with conviction and confidence. We turn to Hashem in tefillah for what we need and are satisfied with the response.
The fact that tefillos help is included in the world’s very nature.
Thus, Va’eschanan and Nachamu are bound together. There is nothing more comforting than a worn Tehillim or an old siddur. We turn to that old sefer with crumpled pages over and over again, for it reminds us of who we are and where we turn, not only in times of need.
There was an old, broken man who lived in the Bais Yisroel neighborhood of Yerushalayim. Life was rough, but he had an illustrious neighbor, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim. Every so often, the man would go to the rosh yeshiva’s home and share his woes, unburdening himself.
Once, Rav Nosson Tzvi asked him, “Tell me, I hear so many problems and I feel for you, but do you ever experience the kindness of Heaven? Do you ever feel rachamei Shomayim?”
“Yes,” the fellow conceded, “I have things in my life that bring me pleasure.”
The rosh yeshiva looked at him. “I’d like you to try something. Here’s a notebook. I want you to write down whatever goes right. Whenever you feel Hashem’s love, make a notation. Write the things that make you happy. Then, when things are tough and you feel down, take this notebook and open it. Tell me how it goes.”
Within a few weeks, the neighbor returned with the happy news that the notebook had changed his life. His focus had shifted.
He recognized that “nisecha shebechol yom imanu” is not merely something you utter without much thought while saying Birkas Hamazon, but an immutable fact. With that perception, he, like true baalei bitachon, gained a new outlook on life that brought him much happiness.
Emunah and bitachon bring nechomah. They lead to proper tefillah, satisfaction and love.
Renowned Holocaust survivor Reb Yossel Friedenson would often tell of the time he and a friend were working alongside each other in a concentration camp. The friend heard a thin, pale girl shout out from the women’s camp on other side of the fence that she desperately needed a sweater. The friend told Reb Yossel what he had heard. He suggested that perhaps they could get their hands on a sweater and sneak it across the fence to Mrs. Freidenson to give to the girl.
A few days later, they came across a sweater as they were sorting clothing confiscated from inmates and victims of the gas chambers. They concealed it for the freezing young woman. Reb Yossel, who was permitted to meet with his wife, slipped her the sweater.
The next day, a message came back. That emaciated inmate wasn’t asking for a sweater. She was screaming across the fence for a siddur! Skin and bones, shivering and worn out, she didn’t need a sweater for warmth. She needed a siddur to warm her soul and body.
She knew the sod of tefillah. She knew that to survive in that unnatural, awful place, she had to turn to tefillah, the natural key to salvation.
Tefillah provides the ultimate nechomah.
Yeshayahu Hanovi proclaims, “Nachamu, nachamu ami, take comfort My nation, yomar Elokeichem, your G-d says. You are My people. You are My nation. Recognize that and you will be comforted, for I shall comfort you.”
As we finish reciting the Kinnos, after a morning spent lonely on the floor, reading the sad words written throughout the ages, we unite in song. We proclaim the words, “Eli Tziyon v’oreha. Zion wails as a woman about to give birth.” We state that we have learned our lesson. We recognize where we have gone wrong. With hearts united, we say together: No more hate, no more jealousy, no more lack of bitachon. From our pain, we will give birth to a renewed people finally redeemed. From our pain, the Bais Hamikdosh will rise in the heart of Zion.
Let us rid our hearts of hatred, pettiness, jealousy and machlokes. Let us appreciate what we have and stop looking at what other people have. Let us abandon our love of money and drive for increasing affluence. Let us increase our love, satisfaction and faith. Let us do all we can to eradicate sinas chinom in all its guises from among us.
Achakeh lo bechol yom sheyavo.