Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Ultimate Consolation

It's been a long three weeks. We sighed and we cried. We fasted and sat on the floor. So, as we lamented on Tishah B'Av, “how can we be consoled?” What exactly is it about this Shabbos and the six that follow that will pull us out of our mourning and prepare us for a good year, be'ezras Hashem? The Berditchever zt”l put it simply, but profoundly: “The very fact that it is Hashem Himself Who is consoling us is the greatest consolation of all” (Kedushas Levi, Shabbos Nachamu). Let us explore the deep meaning of these basic words.

What, indeed, is the message of the very specific order of the haftoros of the “Seven of Consolation”? Are they merely all comforting but don’t follow a particular pattern or is there some inner order of significance? The Abudraham (quoted halachically by the Levush 428:8 and Bais Yitzchok #43) explains as follows.

This week, the first of the seven, Hashem sends the prophet Yeshayahu to console us. The second week, Parshas Eikev, Klal Yisroel responds, surprisingly in the negative, “And Tzion said Hashem has abandoned me and forgotten me.” The third week, Parshas Re’eh, the novi dutifully relays the apparently disappointing news: “…She is not consoled.” Then, in the fourth week, Parshas Shoftim, Hashem responds, accepting the rejection: “I [personally] will console you.” The fifth week, Ki Seitzei, Klal Yisroel responds to the personal consolation with joy (“Roni akarahSing out O barren one… break into glad song and be jubilant”), followed by the sixth, Parshas Ki Savo, when Hashem assures His nation that they should “Arise! Shine! For your light has arrived.” Finally, in the seventh week, Parshas Nitzavim, Klal Yisroel proudly sings forth, “Sos asis baHashem – I will rejoice intensely with Hashem.”

What is the significance of this pattern? I would suggest that this “conversation” between Hashem and Klal Yisroel is one of the greatest expressions of mutual love outside of Shir Hashirim. The Rambam (introduction to commentary on Mishnayos and Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 10:4) teaches that in order to test the authenticity of a novi, there must be a statement he can make that can be irrefutably tested for absolute veracity. Such a statement cannot be a prediction of some form of punishment or retribution, because that can always be overridden by teshuvah. Therefore, a promise of good things to come on the part of the prophet cannot be countermanded by sin. However, the Rambam goes on to say, the words of Hashem spoken directly to a prophet for himself can later be vacated by sin. Therefore, Yaakov Avinu was afraid (Bereishis 32:8) that despite Hashem’s promises to him, he was vulnerable to losing the divine gifts due to his actions.

Now let us listen with a new ear to the exchange between Hashem and His people. Hashem sends us a message of hope and promise through the prophet. Surely this is the best news we can possibly receive, since it comes with a built-in guarantee. No matter what we do next, the nechamah of the prophet will be fulfilled, because only a negative prophesy can be abolished. Yet, despite what appears to be the greatest gift of all, Klal Yisroel is not satisfied: “Lo nuchamah! We are not consoled.” We reject even the best of consolations, for what we want is a direct relationship with Hashem. And, amazingly, we hear Hashem saying, “Yes, My children, anochi anochi hu menachemchem – I will console you personally.”

I am not wise enough to understand what it means to be consoled by Hashem as opposed to through a prophet. We haven’t even had a prophet for centuries, let alone a personal revelation to every Jew. But it seems clear that Hashem was pleased by our yearning for His Presence, even at the expense of a guarantee. Each haftorah after Shoftim speaks ever more eloquently about the intimate relationship between Hashem and His people, leading up to the ultimate return of Shuvah Yisroel all the way to Hashem Himself. This seems to be the inner meaning of the Berditchever’s holy words that “the very fact that it is Hashem Who is consoling us is the greatest consolation of all.”

After the petirah of Yaakov Avinu, the shevatim were afraid of Yosef’s retribution against them. The Torah testifies, “Vayenacheim osam He consoled them” (50:21). The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 100:9) adds: “We may derive a kal vachomer. If Yosef, who spoke softly to his brothers, was able to console them, all the more when Hashem will come to console Yerushalayim, as it says, ‘Nachamu, nachamu ami.’”

The brothers were estranged from Yosef for a long time. Yet, he was able to convince them later that it was all a part of Hashem’s plan, so there was a larger agenda, relating to all of Klal Yisroel’s future. Hashem consoles us as well with the words “do not fear, for you have nothing to be embarrassed about” (Yeshayah 54:4). Hakadosh Boruch Hu comforts us with the revelation that even when we were estranged, it was also so that our relationship would be eternal, after the reconciliation. Thus, there is nothing to be embarrassed about.

This would seem to be the deeper meaning of the Abudraham’s Medrash about the Seven Haftoros of Consolation. After our long history of exile and suffering, churban and Crusades, pogroms, expulsions and holocaust, Hashem consoles us. We are grateful, but we want more. We want Him. We want to hear that all of it, even the worst, was about His love. That can only come directly, not even through the novi. And so, Hashem relents and speaks to us as both Creator and husband: “ki boalayich osayich – for your Master is your Maker” (54:5).

What should we do now that we know all this? Rav Naftoli of Ropshitz zt”l (Zera Kodesh, Ki Seitzei) reveals the secret. We daven thrice daily, “May You rebuild [Yerushalayim] beyomeinu.” We know from Dovid Hamelech (Tehillim 147:2) that Hashem is always building Yerushalayim. What are His building bricks? The answer is “yomeinu – our days.” Every day that we grow closer to Hashem, bring Him into our lives, fulfill His commandments and learn His Torah, we give Him the materials to complete His ultimate task. The summer weeks herald the culmination of our return to Hashem, not despite separation, but because of it. Each of the seven weeks ahead is a distinct opportunity to accept His direct consolation and expression of love. Let us utilize every moment to use “our days” to joyously rebuild our unique relationship with Him.



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