By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
For three weeks, we have been reminded daily of Jewish suffering throughout the ages. We have mourned the loss of the Botei Mikdosh and millions of Jews who have been tortured and killed throughout the centuries. For nine days, we acted as aveilim, full of sorrow and longing.
On Tisha B’Av, we dimmed the lights, shut out the world, and concentrated on sadness for twenty-four hours. We hummed along the sorrowful tune of Eicha, as we read the lamentations of Yirmiyohu, the way Jews have been doing for thousands of years. We read the Kinnos, dirges recounting so many Jewish tragedies.
And then it all ends. We make Havdolah, break the fast, and it’s back to doing laundry and being happy once again. Before we know it, the music is playing, the barbecues are grilling, and sitting on the floor recedes as a distant memory.
We don’t wallow in sadness. We don’t remain in a state of mourning. Our faith reminds us that Hashem is compassionate and all that happens to us is for a greater reason. The posuk (Vayikra 19:28) states, “Veseret lonefesh lo sitnu bivsorchem.” We are not to etch memorials into our skin for those who have passed.
There is a time period allotted for mourning, and when that is over, we must gather ourselves and realize that nothing occurs by happenstance. The Creator runs the world and everything that happens is for a purpose. Though often times the reasoning eludes us, we maintain our belief that all that transpires is for the good. Thus, when the mourning period is over, we return to living life.
That is how Jews went on living after the churban, the Inquisition, pogroms and the Holocaust, as well as following crushing personal losses. People who had lost all they had in the Holocaust were able to remarry, rebuild, and give birth to the bustling Jewish world we now know. As much as they had suffered, they were able to overcome depression and lead productive lives. They could have been forgiven had they been overwhelmed by grief, but that is not the Jewish way and it does not bode well for a healthy and fruitful life.
Hashem cares for us, even in the darkest of days and most trying circumstances, He is there holding the hands of the faithful.
This Shabbos, known as Shabbos Nachamu for the two words at the beginning of the haftorah, ushers in seven weeks of nechomah, when Hashem offers consolation. Many discuss the double incantation of the word nachamu, as prophesized by the novi Yeshayahu in his immortal statements that gladden the Jewish heart: “Nachamu nachamu ami yomar Elokeichem.”
Perhaps we can explain why the word nachamu is repeated by noting that nechomah, the Hebrew word for comfort, also means to reconsider, as seen in the posuk of “Vayinochem Hashem” (Bereishis 6:6), which describes Hashem reconsidering creating the world.
We enter the season of nechomah intent on attaining both definitions of nechomah, comfort, brought on through proper perspective and the ability to reconsider. We accomplish this dual, unifying mission through the prism of the parshas hashovua.
We achieve consolation, nechomah, by perfecting our perspective, nechomah. Hashem promises to assist us in achieving both definitions: nachamu, nachamu.
Once again, we 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 in their capitals for our deaths.
They hate us all. We can learn a lesson of ahavas Yisroel from observing the broad paintbrush they use to paint us all one color.
Many survivors would comment that Hitler ym”sh taught them how to look at a Jew. Just as that wicked one and many such as he hated every Jew, without differentiating between external differences, the ones who survived their hell learned to love each Jew. When you love a person, you make time and place for him, and that is how we should treat each other. Regardless of how they dress or daven, and even if they are not exactly the same as we are, we must love them and make time and room for them. Achdus is not just about lip service and Tisha B’Av videos and speeches. Real achdus needs to be our way of life.
Throughout our history, we have encountered animosity. Although there have been times when the hatred was delicately covered up, currently it is becoming more in vogue and acceptable to bash Jews and Israel. With the ascendancy of the American leftists, it has once again become acceptable for celebrities, icons and politicians to express their open hatred. While they couch their rhetoric in words of sympathy for the poor Palestinians, the truth emanates. They hate Jews. Once again, Jews in Europe cower and seek escape routes, a chilling reminder of seventy-five years ago.
Some 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 they now don’t feel at home.
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 poisoning the drinking water, spreading the plague, or drinking human blood, as in the days of old, or cloaked in humanitarian vestments as today, hate is hate. Today in Europe, a continent soaked with Jewish blood, it is once again in vogue to bash Jews and demonstrate against them.
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 Washington, where FDR turned a blind eye to pleas to save Jews and ordered ships full of refugees to return to the inferno from which they escaped.
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 day after day 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 upon 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.”
We hear those words and wonder if, as next week’s haftorah states, “Vatomer Tzion azovani Hashem vaHashem shecheichoni – Hashem has forgotten about me.”
How do we find answers to our questions? By learning this week’s parsha. We read the pesukim of Parshas Va’eschanon and see the answers spelled out for us repeatedly.
The pesukim of this week’s parsha form a retrospective reminding us of the very 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 – 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, a little more intensity in tefillah, and 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 krovim 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 comprise the bedrock of our faith. We go to sleep to those words, wake up to them and recite them in Shacharis, Arvis and Krias Shema Al Hamitah. They form the last physical action by souls ascending to heaven and are the enduring final message of martyrs throughout the generations.
In posuk 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 listening but 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 undeniably 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 can expect to experience tragedy.
We merit nechomah when we recognize that we are kachomer beyad hayotzeir, dependent upon Hashem’s mercy for our very existence. The posuk in Koheles (9:11) states, “Lo lachachomim lechem – The wise man can’t make a living.” The Kotzker Rebbe explained that if a person thinks that he is smart and has acquired his possessions because of his wisdom, Hashem says to him, “If you are so smart and don’t require My assistance, let us see how you can do on your own.” And the person begins to stumble.
Parshas Va’eschanon and the Aseres Hadibros are always lained on Shabbos Nachamu. This is to remind us that our nechomah arrives when we follow the Aseres Hadibros and the Torah. It is only through fidelity to Torah and Hashem’s word that we merit living peacefully, in Eretz Yisroel and everywhere else.
May we prove ourselves worthy of Hashem’s protection in a turbulent, unfriendly world.
After studying this week’s pesukim and the promises they contain, how can we feel anything else but “Nachamu, nachamu Ami”? How can we not experience consolation?
I am blessed with the zechus of having helped rescue Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin from the awful place he was in. Since his release, he has dedicated his life to speaking about emunah and bitachon and the role they play in our lives. Wherever he goes, Jews surround him and gather to hear his inspirational words.
We speak often about various things. Once, Sholom Mordechai was talking about the day he received his final denial from the court. It was a statement from the justice system that his 27-year sentence would be served and no more appeals would be heard.
Sholom Mordechai received the answer to his final appeal in the mail and said, “Gam zu letovah.” Somebody who doesn’t understand Hebrew was there and asked him to translate. He exclaimed with a smile on his face, “It is the best it can be!”
It was a declaration that he would have to spend the next 18-19 years in jail, but to him, it was the best that it could be, because Hashem willed it so.
We often translate “Gam zu letovah” to mean that this is also good, but to a person of faith, facing a dismal future, is not also good, it is great. In fact, it is the best it can be.
And in his case, as with all that transpires to us, it was the best that can be, because the very next day, he was miraculously let free by President Donald Trump.
“Gam zu letovah.” Whatever experiences life throws at us, we are armed with the Torah’s enduring message of where we are going and how to get there.
“Ohr chodosh al tzion to’ir.” Soon, a new light will shine over Zion and we will understand all that we have gone through. At that time, it will be evident that everything that happened was the very best.
Nachamu, nachamu. Then and now. For the past and into the future. Forever and ever. It’s all the best that can be.