Friday, Jul 19, 2024

Where We Are

Think about it. Last week was Shabbos Chazon and the signs of mourning were everywhere.

This week is Shabbos Nachamu and you can feel the happy energy. Celebration is everywhere.

What has changed between last week and this one? Last week, we mourned the absence of a Bais Hamikdosh. This week, it still lies in ruins. The shu’olim still run rampant over the Har Habayis. We are sorely lacking so much. Why are we suddenly happy?

Yeshayahu, the novi of nechomah, speaks to us seven weeks in a row. This week we read the first of those seven haftoros. What is nechomah anyway? What does the word mean?

The posuk in Bereishis (6:6) states after Adam and Chava sinned, “Vayinochem Hashem,” indicating that Hashem, kevayachol, “regretted” what He had done. Rashi explains that the word nechomah also refers to stepping back, re-evaluating a situation and shifting perspective.

Apparently, this is a facet of comfort, the general use of the word nechomah.

In the haftorah of this Shabbos, Yeshayahu repeats the comforting words of his hopeful prophecy. He says, “Nachamu, nachamu ami,” telling Klal Yisroel twice to be comforted. Clearly, there is significance to the nechomah bekiflayim, the double measure of solace.

At the end of Maseches Makkos, when Rabi Akiva sees the chaos and impurity on the Har Habayis as a harbinger of better times, his friends proclaimed, “Akiva, nichamtonu. Akiva, nichamtonu.” They repeated the comment, following the lead of the novi who had doubled his words.

Perhaps we can explain that nechomah, comfort, has two stages. There is the actual comfort, the words that form a healing balm on our souls as we are reassured that all will be well. There is also the comfort that is brought about when we are no longer myopic and step back to look again and see a bigger picture.

This Shabbos, we are promised that Hakadosh Boruch Hu will assist us in achieving both definitions: nachamu, nachamu.

Once again, the Jewish people approach Shabbos Nachamu in an all-too-familiar place. The nations of the world are aligned against us as we attempt to live decent, honorable, peaceful lives. As we are forced to fight against evil, they chant for our deaths.

They hate us.

Once again, the Har Habayis has been overtaken by shuolim.

Throughout our history, we have encountered this animosity. Although there have been times when the hatred was delicately concealed, it is currently becoming more in vogue and acceptable to bash Jews. It has become acceptable for celebrities and icons to express their open hatred. While they couch their rhetoric in words of sympathy for the poor Palestinians, the truth emanates. They couldn’t care less about the Palestinians. They just hate Jews. Once again, Jews in Europe cower and seek escape routes, a chilling reminder of seventy years ago.

Arabs kill Jews and then demonstrate throughout Israel and in European capitals against Jewish people. Lovers of Israel are unwelcome in American universities, which drive campaigns against Israel. The Left battles Israel at every opportunity, offering nonsensical, hypocritical excuses for their anti-Semitism.

Much of the modern anti-Semitism is depicted as anti-Zionism, though the folly is obvious. Jews fight for their safety and are condemned. Millions of Jews were driven to their deaths from those very countries in which anti-Semites currently flex their muscles.

Anti-Semitism morphs to fit with the times. The age-old hatred for the Jewish nation adopts different slogans and chants, but at the heart of it all is the same old hatred for Yitzchok by Yishmoel, and Yaakov by Eisov and Lavan.

Whether it’s under the guise of blaming the Jews for spreading the plague, or drinking human blood, as in the days of old, or cloaked in humanitarian vestments, hate is hate. In Europe, a continent soaked with Jewish blood, it is in vogue to bash Jews, demonstrate against them, accuse them of the vilest crimes, and create an atmosphere reminiscent of the darkest days of Jewry that many believed we would never return to.

The eis tzorah is palpable in England, where Jews were burned alive; in Paris, where the Talmud was lit up and destroyed; in Germany, home of Kristallnacht and the Holocaust; Poland, home of the crematoria; Austria, birthplace of Hitler; and many other places.

We wonder how it will end. When will justice triumph? When will care and concern about the good and the kind be paramount?

We recognize that we suffer persecution and discrimination because we are Jews. The world’s hatred of the Jew is not derived from their concern about human rights violations or political decisions.

We are reminded regularly that sinah yordah l’olam, hatred for the Jewish people descended to the world as we gathered at Har Sinai to accept the Torah. Since that time, we have been cast apart from other nations, despised, reviled, stomped on and murdered. Miraculously, we endure.

This Shabbos, we will go to shul and listen as the haftorah proclaims that Hashem calls out to us and says, “Nachamu, nachamu Ami. Be comforted, be comforted My nation.”

Where do we find answers to our questions?

In the Torah. These parshiyos give us the depth we need to see clearer, the second type of nechomah.

A young man boarded a bus to Bayit Vegan and saw one of its most distinguished residents, Rav Moshe Shapiro, sitting there. He approached the rov and asked, “How are we to understand what happened during World War II?”

Rav Moshe looked at him and nodded. “Shalom,” he said, effectively ending the conversation. He didn’t say another word.

Later, someone asked why he hadn’t answered the questioner. Rav Moshe explained, “He knows where I live in Bayit Vegan, and he knows how much time he had until the bus reached my stop. He asked a question whose answer is much longer and more complex than the few minutes of the bus ride, so clearly he didn’t want the real answer, but a conversation, and I don’t have time for small talk.”

To understand the events of Jewish history, we must peer beyond the curtain, studying and scrutinizing the happenings of our people and the pesukim of the Torah. Small talk and pedestrian thoughts will not lead to understanding what has befallen our people throughout the millennia.

The pesukim of this week’s parsha form a retrospective review, reminding us of the beginnings of our nation and our first footsteps as the Chosen People.

We feel along with Moshe Rabbeinu as he pleads for mercy. “Asher mi Keil kamocha – Who else is like You, Hashem?” he wonders (Devorim 3:24). Rashi explains that a king of flesh and blood is surrounded by advisors who question his merciful decisions, whereas Hashem can extend mercy without listening to others.

There is a spark of nechomah.

We read about the essence of life, “V’atem hadveikim baHashem Elokeichem chaim kulchem hayom,” and we feel a surge of hope. Life means connecting to Hashem, displaying more intensity in tefillah, and demonstrating more concentration when we sit by a Gemara (Devorim 4:3).

We continue by listening closely to Moshe Rabbeinu’s reminder: “Mi goy gadol asher lo Elokim kerovim eilov? Who else has this gift and ability that Hashem listens every time we cry out to Him?” (Devorim 4:7).

Has Hashem performed such miracles for any other nation? Has He gone to war for them and inspired awe and terror like He has done for us? (Devorim 4:34).

We study the Aseres Hadibros, which form the building blocks of our lives as Torah Jews. We recognize that they set us apart from the rest of the world, and by following their precepts, we are placed on a higher, blessed plane.

We study the words of “Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echod,” which are the bedrock of our faith. We wake up to those words and go to sleep to them. They form the last physical action by souls ascending to heaven and have been the enduring final message of martyrs through the generations.

In 6:18, we are taught how to live as ehrliche Yidden: “You should act honorably and be truthful; then Hashem will be good to you and will bring us into the land He swore to our forefathers and will drive away our enemies from confronting us.”

If we seek Hashem’s protection and aid in battle, we must affirm our commitment to honesty and to battling corruption. Not just by listening, but by acting. If we tolerate men of ill-will and sometimes even promote them, how can we expect Hashem to fight for us?

We read about how He will lead us into the Promised Land, where we will find homes filled with good. It is an attainable goal, assured to us by He who is “ne’eman leshaleim s’char.” If we follow the word of Hashem, as laid out in the pesukim of this week’s parsha, we know that we will merit salvation, prosperity and peace.

The founding of Israel and the Six Day War were turning points in our history, but people became enamored with the power of man and seemed to overlook the Hand of Hashem. We are sent regular reminders that if we forget the Divine role and Hand in our existence, we are doomed to experience tragedy.

We merit nechomah when we recognize that we are kachomer beyad hayotzeir, wholly dependent upon Hashem’s mercy for our very existence.

Parshas Va’eschanon and the Aseres Hadibros are always lained on Shabbos Nachamu to remind us that our nechomah arrives when we follow the Aseres Hadibros and the Torah. It is through fidelity to Torah and Hashem’s word that we merit living peacefully, in Eretz Yisroel and everywhere else.

A young bochur davened in the bais medrash of the Bluzhever Rebbe. On Chanukah, the crowd would file by the rebbe after hadlokas neiros to receive his good wishes. The boy asked his friend to take a picture of him as the rebbe spoke to him.

The Bluzhever Rebbe noticed. When the bochur reached him, the rebbe took the boy’s hand and held it. “Bochur’l,” he said, “you probably want a picture with me because I am a relic of a vanished world. And while it’s important to remember what was, it is also important that you understand that within you and your generation lie the koach, the ability, to guarantee its survival.”

We study what was because it gives us a charge for the future and a path forward.

That is why we rejoice now, comforted and secure in what we have learned over the past nine days. Over this time, we got in touch with our source, origin and destiny, and recognize our marching orders for the future. We even draw comfort from the fact that we mourned and that we have never forgotten, despite so many years and so much suffering.

After studying the messages of Eicha and Chazon, how can we feel anything else but “Nachamu, nachamu Ami?” We understand where we were and where we are and how we got here. We are thus able to experience consolation.

Armed with the Torah’s enduring message of where we are going and how to get there, we reach the state of consolation, nechomah.

Nachamu, nachamu. Forever and ever. Amein.


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