A new series on Parsha, Rabbi Silber shares some of the basic highlights from the weekly torah portion.
As I write these words, the tears of Tisha B’Av are not yet dry. We spent this past Motzai Shabbos and Sunday mourning two thousand years of collective loss. We mourned the 2,500,000 Jews murdered during the destruction of the second Temple, the 6,000,000 who perished in the Holocaust, every man, woman and child we have lost throughout the years. But then something amazing occurs – we find comfort. This Shabbos is called, Shabbos Nachamu (the Shabbos of consolation). This name is taken from the opening words of the Haftorah, ‘Nachamu Nachamu Ami, (be consoled, be consoled my nation),’ uttered by the prophet, Isaiah. We transition from profound mourning to a feeling of comforting consolation in just a matter of days. Yet, we must ask, what has changed? Has the final redemption occurred? Have the fundamental challenges of suffering and difficulty been alleviated? Where is the nechama (consolation) of Shabbos Nachamu?
Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik zt’l (1903-1993) explains this dynamic in a profound way. After two thousand years of suffering and constant challenges one would have assumed that the Jewish people would have ceased to exist. After enduring the crusades, pogroms, the Holocaust, wars and terror attacks one would have assumed that even if we managed to survive, our will to forge forward as a nation would have simply disappeared. But herein lies the awesome nature of the Jewish people: despite so much tragedy and adversity, we are still here. And we do not simply exist. We thrive. Every time our enemies knock us down and try to trample our soul, we get back up and answer their derisive taunts and barbaric brutality with unbreakable resolve. On Tisha B’Av we cry because we are truly broken-hearted over what has been lost. On Tisha B’Av when reflecting on the scope of our personal and national tragedies, we don’t know how we can go on. On Shabbos Nachamu we rejoice because we have.
The first time we see the word necham” (consolation) in the Torah is at the end of Bereishis (Genesis) after man had experienced a spiritual and moral decline and God contemplated the destruction of mankind. “And the Lord regretted (va’yinachem) that He had made man upon the earth, and He became grieved in His heart.” (Genesis 6:6) Rashi explains that the word va’yinachem means “nehepcha machshavto” God experienced “a change of heart.”
God had high hopes, dreams and aspirations for man. But then, va’yinachem, God has a change of heart, a change of perspective. God still loves man, man is still the crown jewel of creation, but God must adjust his perspective and expectations. He must accept the frailties of His creations. God must accept man’s failures and shortcomings. God still knows what man can be, but He must accept that man will often not actualize that potential.
Thus, explains the Rav, nechama does not mean consolation; it means to experience a change in perspective. There are circumstances both national and personal that we would give anything to change, but we can’t. There are tragic realities which we cannot change no matter how hard we try. There are challenges that seem so overwhelming that we fear we will be swallowed up and enveloped by them. We do not get to choose our life circumstances, but we do have the great privilege to choose our life perspective. We can do things to find meaning and fulfillment even in compromised circumstances. When we encounter difficulty, we begin to realize that it is not the end of the road, there will be a tomorrow; we can make it. We can give up in the face of adversity or find the strength to move forward and accomplish. We can let the tzaros conquer us or find a way to conquer them. This is nechama. True nechama is not a result of everything being wonderful and perfect. This is not the reality of the human condition. True nechama is the result of a paradigm shift. In the midst of our pain, we thought we could not go on, but we did. True nechama occurs when we realize that the sun will rise no matter how dark the night before was. True nechama is actualized when we realize that we have the tools to rebuild no matter the scale and scope of the damage and destruction. True nechama is experienced when we realize that we can get up, dust ourselves off and continue to do great things.
This is Shabbos Nachamu. What has changed since Tisha B’Av? We have. We have gone from feeling helpless, despondent and broken to realizing that although life is far from perfect, we control our reactions and spiritual dispositions. We are not victims. We are the masters of our destinies. We have suffered much and may still suffer more, but we choose to see ourselves as a individuals with much to accomplish. We can live meaningful lives, contribute to our people, and sanctify the name of God through our actions. We create the nechama of Shabbos Nachamu.
We hope and pray that we will experience the true nechama of complete redemption speedily in our days. But until that great day, we will continue to find personal and national nechama through maintaining positive perspective in all that life brings our way.
Each and every Shabbos is a special, meaningful and holy experience. But some Shabbasos seem to distinguish themselves from the rest. Shabbos Bereishis fills us with excitement and hope for bright future. Shabbos HaGadol (the Shabbos before Pesach) reminds us that redemption is in the air. And it is with this excitement that we approach this coming Shabbos, Shabbos Nachamu, the Shabbos of consolation. The name of this Shabbos comes from the opening words of the Haftorah where the prophet Yeshayahu says, “Nachamu Nachamu Ami, Be consoled, be consoled my people (Isaiah 40:1).” We began to feel this consolation after the fast of Tisha B’Av. When the fast ends we feel euphoric, excited and optimistic. But why? What has changed? The Temple has not yet been rebuilt, anti-Semitism still exists and there is still in-fighting within our people. Why is this Shabbos a Shabbos of Consolation when nothing has seemingly changed?
Rav Ephraim Oshry (1914-2003) provides an amazing insight. Rav Oshry was the Rav of the Kovno Ghetto and answered many questions of halacha (Jewish law) throughout the war. He compiled these heartbreaking, yet inspiring responsa in a work titled, Responsa from the Depths. In his introduction to the third volume he raises an interesting question. The Torah states:
“You shall remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you went out of Egypt, How he happened upon you on the way and cut off all the stragglers at your rear, when you were faint and weary … Therefore, it will be, when the Lord your God grants you respite from all your enemies around [you] in the land which the Lord, your God, gives to you as an inheritance to possess, that you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. You shall not forget! (Devorim 25:17-19).”
“Why must the Torah tell us to “remember” and “don’t forget”? Is this not redundant? Rav Oshry explained: “God knew we would remember what Amalek (a reference to the Nazis) did to us. How can we not remember? The fire still burns, the pain is still acute. How can we not remember Auschwitz, the Ninth Fort, and Bergen Belsen ……? But the Torah explains, ‘when the Lord your God, grants you respite from all your enemies …. In the land which the Lord your God, gives you as an inheritance to possess;” God knows that we will rebuild. We will rebuild our families, we will rebuild our wealth, we will rebuild our people, and we will rebuild ourselves. And we will begin to think, why should we hold on to the pain of the past? Let the past be the past. What good does it do to hold on the pain when all it does is hold me back and anchor me in my heartbroken circumstances? God knew that when life became good we would want to try to forget our pain. Therefore, God commands, “You shall not forget.” Even when life is beautiful – never forget your pain.”
But why not? After all, doesn’t there come a point in time when I have to let go of the past in order to build a future? Doesn’t there come a point when I should unshackle myself from the heartbreak in order to feel joy? The Torah is teaching us an important lesson. The Jew never forgets or buries his pain – the Jew owns his pain. I look at my pain and I ask myself what can I learn about myself, my life and my world from this difficult situation. I own my pain and use it as a catalyst for growth. I own my pain and use its lessons as the fuel for my engine of life productivity and meaning. “You Shall Remember,” is the natural reaction to pain – when the wound is open – the pain is clearly felt. But lest we think that at some point we need to forget to move on – God reminds us “You shall not forget.” Don’t try to bury, conceal or hide your pain – own it through learning and growing from it.
Perhaps, this is the consolation, the nechama of Shabbos Nachamu. It is on Tisha B’Av that we allow ourselves to experience the crushing burden of 2,000 years of collective and individual pain. At times throughout the day we feel as if our soul will burst from the sadness and despair. But then something amazing happens. We begin the process of owning our pain. We begin to learn from the tragedies. From our tears and tragedies we have learned the need for compassion, empathy and unconditional love. From our heartbreak, we have learned tolerance and respect. From our adversity, we have learned that there is no greater force in nature than the Jewish soul. And so we take these lessons and we inculcate within ourselves these powerful traits. We own our pain and we recognize that nothing and no one can stop me from accomplishing my spiritual goals and aspirations. The moment I learn from my pain and realize that my pain is the ultimate catalyst for my growth is the moment I begin to feel a wave of comfort. Those who own their pain are comforted by their pain.
I wish each of you a Shabbos of introspective consolation. May we merit the ultimate consolation with the arrival of the Moshiach, speedily in our days, amen.
After Moshe petitions the Ribono Shel Olam for an opportunity to enter Eretz Yisroel, his request is ultimately denied. He will no longer plead his case and will ultimately die with only having caught but a glimpse of the Promised Land. Chazal see a tefillah paradigm in this exchange. But how, Moshe’s tefillos were not ultimately answered, G-d slams the door on him so-to-speak?