Tuesday, Jun 18, 2024

The Double Song of Nechomah


We all know – or at least think that we do – what nechomah is. We try to console the bereaved and perform the great mitzvah of nichum aveilim. But, first of all, what does a double nechomah mean? Yet, that is what Shabbos Nachamu is all about and perhaps it even applies to all consolation for the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh. It therefore behooves us to look carefully at the meaning of “Nachamu nachamu ami – Comfort, comfort My people, says Hashem” (Yeshayah 40:1).

The second question, asked by the Maharsham, is: Why does the posuk use the name Elokim when speaking of Hashem here? Since this posuk begins the first haftarah after Tisha B’Av and we are at the stage of being consoled, shouldn’t Yeshaya have utilized the name of Hashem signifying rachamim (mercy), not the one that stands for din or justice?

Thirdly, Chazal (Yalkut, Yirmiyahu 312) point out that “just as the sin was doubled and the punishment, so will the consolation be doubled as well.” We therefore must determine the significance of each of these keifel (double) references.

I can vividly remember one of the first times I heard the unforgettable Rav Shalom Schwadron with the traditional maggidim niggun. Besides the impact of the words and stories, the song penetrated the heart and transcended time and space. It was actually the fourth week after Tisha B’Av and Rav Shalom was quoting from the upcoming haftarah,Anochi anochi – I, only I, am He Who comforts you” (Yeshayah 51:12, haftaras Shoftim). This, too, is part of the duplicates of nechomah, and then Rav Shalom sang a Medrash: “Rav Abba said in the name of Reish Lakish: [This posuk] may be understood in light of a parable. A king is angry at his consort and evicts her from the palace. Sometime later, he cools off, wishing to take her back. However, she stipulates that she wishes that her kesubah should first be doubled. So did Hashem say to Klal Yisroel, ‘My children, at Sinai I told you once that I am your G-d. But in Yerushalayim in the future, I will tell you twice that I, only I, am He Who comforts you.’”

Rav Shalom now quoted from the mashgiach, Rav Moshe Rosenstein, who in turn cited a well-known posuk: “Moshe Rabbeinu says, ‘Gladden us according to the days You have afflicted us, the years when we saw evil’” (Tehillim 90:15). While we are in exile, the mashgiach explained, it is possible that we will suffer greatly, but then things will improve. We may even experience tremendous joy, but the earlier travails will remain in our hearts. Tragedies are tragedies and simchos are happy, but they don’t cancel each other out. However, Hashem can bring about a situation where the tragedy itself turns into the salvation. It hasn’t happened yet, but that is one of the promises of the future world. When that will happen, there will be a double nechomah. First of all, everything will change and there will no longer be any suffering. But secondly, we will retroactively realize that the good came from the bad. In fact, it was never even bad at all.

How is this possible? Reb Shalom cites an incredible Ramban (commentary to the end of Sefer Iyov). The posuk there (42:10) relates that “Hashem returned Iyov’s captivity (what was stolen from him)…and added on to all that Iyov had had, until there was double.” The pesukim go on to enumerate that amongst Iyov’s most devastating losses were his seven sons and now there were fourteen. The Ramban asks: How does this cure the pain of Iyov’s loss? It is true that he now has 14 children, but the loss is still irrevocable. The Ramban stuns us with his answer. He revisits the pesukim (1:13-19) about Iyov’s losses, proving that it was never clear that these children had actually died. When Hashem relieves Iyov’s pain, He actually gives him back the children he thought had passed away and doubles their number as well.

Rav Schwadron reminds us of the famous posuk,Shir Hamaalos… When Hashem will return the captivity of Tzion, we will be like dreamers” (Tehillim 126:1). When someone has a bad dream and awakens to the fact that it was only a dream, everything is suddenly beautiful. No harm has been done, other than the sometimes important emotion that something terrible could have happened. We breathe a sigh of relief and gratitude that it was “only a dream.” That will be the emotion of the future world, when we realize that whatever happened to us was not only for the best, but it didn’t happen the way that we thought at all. This is the double consolation of the future, when we will understand and appreciate that not only have things changed going forward, but looking retrospectively, everything had changed for the better as well.

I must admit that I still didn’t understand. But Rav Shalom was never at a loss for a story, which came just when, at the very least, I needed it.

During the worst of the Communist ordeal in the old Soviet Union, a bochur was arrested on the usual flimsy charge. Brought into KGB headquarters, he was thrown into a frightening room for interrogation. Not accepting any of the bochur’s answers, the communist soldier drew his rifle and aimed it at the bochur’s head. For some reason, the bochur’s tormentor was unhappy with where the scared young man was standing. “Move!” he kept yelling at him, but the bochur was frozen to the spot. Finally, from a window above, a higher commissar intervened. “What’s going on?” the exasperated officer demanded. When the lower echelon rookie answered, “He won’t move,” the commissar sputtered, “Just get him out of here. He’s a pain in the neck.” All of a sudden, the bochur was freed. He later related that he felt the words of the Gemara (Brachos 10a) speaking directly to him: “Even if there is a sharp sword already upon a person’s neck, he should not give up hoping for rachamim.”

The bochur eventually reached Eretz Yisroel, heading for the yeshiva in Chevron to learn Torah. Unfortunately, he was there when the Arab pogrom happened and sixty holy souls were slaughtered al kiddush Hashem. This bochur and his chavrusa fell to the floor, petrified for their lives in the pool of their chaveirim’s blood. The shaking chavrusa whispered, “Maybe we should beg them to shoot us now rather than be tortured slowly later.” However, the bochur answered forcefully, “Be quiet. Play dead. Daven and trust in Hashem.” And so it was that these two were the survivors of the Chevron massacre.

Later, the bochur’s chavrusa asked him pointedly, “Where did you get the strength to order my silence and to daven and believe?”

The bochur’s response resounds throughout all of Jewish history: “I got my strength from the interrogation room in the KGB police station.”

What we have learned from Rav Shalom, Rav Moshe Rosenstein and the Ramban is that Hashem always draws light out of darkness and builds the yeshuah out of the building blocks of catastrophe. However, there is still more to the double consolation. We will give Rav Shalom the last word. He cited what seems to be a contradiction or even a disagreement between two of the greatest nevi’im. Yirmiyahu tells Klal Yisroel, “And I saw that despite the fact that I divorced wayward Yisroel…and gave her a bill of divorce” (Yirmiyahu 3:8), implying that Hashem has divorced His nation. However, Yeshaya (50:1) asks, “What is your mother’s bill of divorce by which I sent her away?” by which the novi implies that no get was given at all.

The Radak suggests that both are correct, because Yirmiyahu is speaking of the Aseres Hashevatim (Ten Tribes), who were indeed rejected forever, according some opinions. However, Rav Shalom concluded that according to the Ramban’s original approach to Iyov and by extension many other events, everyone would agree that it seemed to Klal Yisroel (and perhaps our enemies as well) that we had been rejected. The reality, however, is that Hashem never truly abandoned or disowned us.

If I may add to Rav Shalom’s eloquent words and threnody, Medrashim teach that the children who were ostensibly murdered by the Egyptians in the early part of the bondage returned later after having been taken care of by Hashem personally. Not only did they miraculously find and recognize their own parents, but they were the ones who declared, “This is my G-d,” at the splitting of the sea. This phenomenon evokes the words of the Ramban in Iyov, who reinterprets death as life and tragedy as miraculous techias hameisim. Now I know that after all this, I will be asked by survivors and their children, “How do you explain the gas chambers and crematoria?”

I cannot, and I have in fact just seen them recently when visiting Auschwitz and other concentration camps. Nevertheless, I truly believe that when Moshiach arrives, one of his first revelations will be how Hashem’s compassion and love for us happened through those dark days of hester ponim. It is then that we will truly understand and appreciate the magnitude of the double nechomah of nachamu nachamu ami. Even the name Elokim, which usually evokes din, will be shown to be a source of incredible rachamim and consolation.

May we soon see the nechomas Tzion v’Yerushalayim with the double nechomah for which we have been waiting so long.



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