By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Shabbos Nachamu. On Shabbos, we read the haftorah from which Shabbos Nachamu derives its name and we are consoled. Hearing the baal kriah intone the words “Nachamu, nachamu ami” with the melodious trop is apparently enough to comfort us.
The novi calls out to us and proclaims, “Nachamu, the torture will soon end. Nachamu, the golus is almost over. Nachamu, consider yourselves consoled over what has transpired in the past. Nachamu, a bright new day is dawning.”
What is the consolation? What is there about this Shabbos that rings happiness throughout the Jewish world?
How do we derive comfort if the catalyst for our pain is still here? The Bais Hamikdosh is not yet rebuilt, so much of our world is in churban. There is so much healing that is required. Machlokes and problems beg for resolution. How do we experience nechomah in the absence of redemption?
Since the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed, we have experienced one tragedy after another. Tisha B’Av is the repository of over 1,900 years of Jewish pain and suffering. It is the day on which we mourn for all that was and now isn’t, for all that wasn’t and we wish was, for all that our people have lost in the Diaspora.
When we sit on the floor saying Kinnos, we mourn the churban of the first Bais Hamikdosh, the second Bais Hamikdosh, the Harugei Beitar, as well as the calamities that befell the Jewish communities of Europe one thousand years later during the First Crusade. We remember the Jews who were persecuted during the Inquisition, the expulsion from Spain in 1492 and the gezeiros of Tach V’Tat. We are reminded of the seforim that were burnt in Paris in 1242.
We sit and think of the Jews who were shipped all across the world throughout the ages. Just as they finally became comfortable in one country, they were sent away, homeless refugees, on a quest to begin living again in yet another strange, unwelcoming land.
We mourn on Tisha B’Av for the millions of Jews who were killed and maimed physically and mentally during the harrowing century that just ended.
And we do this all on Tisha B’Av, because all our problems emanate from this sorry day, the day of the churban.
As we sit on the floor, we cannot help but think of all the sadness that surrounds us and those we love.
And then, all of a sudden, nechomah is in the air. Shabbos Nachamu is coming. Everyone is happy and cheerful. The music blares, the grill is fired up, the clothing is clean, and life is back to normal. Tisha B’Av and all that it represents is but a distant memory.
How does it happen?
A friend shared an insight with me. Imagine that first Shabbos following the churban Bais Hamikdosh, after the structure that gave chiyus and meaning to life was destroyed. The beleaguered, beaten Yidden came to their shuls, unsure of how they would go on, unsure of how they would cope, unsure if it was still possible to connect with their Creator.
It was Parshas Va’eschanan and they heard the most timeless assurance of all: “Anochi Hashem Elokecha.” They heard the baal kriah reading the Aseres Hadibros and they derived from that laining a message from the Master of the Universe, a signal to His estranged children.
They were thinking, “The Torah is still here. The reason for life itself is still valid. The source of truth and goodness hasn’t been taken from you. It hasn’t been destroyed. We still have the Torah. Ein lonu shiur rak haTorah hazos.”
Just as hearing the Aseres Hadibros again was itself a nechomah, the words of the novi Yeshayahu, proclaiming, “Nachamu, nachamu ami,” serve the same purpose. Hashem proclaims to us that we are still His people despite everything that has transpired. Nachamu, comfort yourselves. Ami, you are My people.
After everything, after the bloodshed, heartbreak and loss, that hasn’t changed.
Our dear friend, Rav Yaakov Bender, always awake to the needs of the community, created a wonderful Tisha B’Av program in his yeshiva, Darchei Torah. Many who seek to connect with the words of the Kinnos fill the large bais medrash to hear words of inspiration from illustrious speakers.
A few years ago, Rav Moshe Tuvia Lieff addressed the event and shared a beautiful thought from his rebbi, Rav Shmuel Berenbaum zt”l.
Rav Shmuel was discussing the unique merits of our generation, surrounded as we are by strong temptations and unprecedented lures. The nisyonos are everywhere. They are large and small, out in the open, and unseen. It is often difficult to overcome them.
Yet, Yidden still gather, sit on the floor, and weep for a building they never saw.
The Mirrer rosh yeshiva expressed the opinion that our generation is one of greatness precisely because of those nisyonos and because we try to learn, daven and grow closer to Hashem. Rising above extraordinary challenges requires extraordinary strengths and, therefore, we are extraordinary people.
With this idea, Rav Shmuel explained a posuk in Sefer Bereishis. When Yaakov Avinu learned that his beloved son Yosef was still alive, he expressed his hope of seeing Yosef Hatzaddik prior to his death. “Avo ve’erenu beterem amus – Let me go see him before I die,” said Yaakov. Why did Yaakov have to add the words “beterem amus – before I die” to his request? Was that not obvious?
Rav Berenbaum related that his rebbi, the Baranovitcher rosh yeshiva, Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt”l, would encourage his talmidim to visit Radin and behold the countenance of his rebbi, the Chofetz Chaim. Rav Elchonon told his talmidim that in this world they have the opportunity of seeing the great tzaddik for the price of a train ticket. “In the next world, however, who knows if you’ll merit seeing him at all?” asked Rav Elchonon.
Rav Shmuel continued: “Yaakov Avinu, despite being on such an exalted level, felt that his own spiritual heights didn’t reach those of his son, who was forced to contend with the challenges of a foreign culture when he was a teenager, all alone. Yaakov felt that he had to see his son “beterem amus,“ before he died, because in the Next World, he might not merit seeing him.
That is the message of this Shabbos. Nachamu ami. The Aseres Hadibros remain unchanged and ever present even as the flames licked the holy makom haMikdosh. Nachamu ami. After all these years, even though the effects of churban have weakened, broken and dulled us, we still feel the comfort.
A friend who traveled to Eastern Europe shared something that he saw in a 15′ by 15′ storage room. Little is known about this small secret shul that was discovered in Terezin, because all of its members were taken to Auschwitz and presumably killed. The room was used for storage after the war, and was covered from floor to ceiling. No one noticed the writing on the wall.
Apparently, the Jews who were living their last days on this earth in the Terezin ghetto risked their lives to fashion this room into a shul and daven there. They painted the walls and ceiling and wrote some pesukim on the wall to provide inspiration and keep them going begai tzalmovess.
The room flooded a number of years ago and the walls were damaged. But what is remarkable is that a few of the pesukim still remain written there, a testament to the belief of the Jews locked in that Czech ghetto.
“Uvechol zos shimcha lo shochochnu,” reads the message on one wall. “Vesechezenah eineinu beshuvcha leTzion berachamim,” is still visible above the mold and ruin.
And now, seventy years later, those pesukim, which have carried Jews from one churban to another, still remain in that musty room where Jews gathered decades ago under the penalty of death.
Despite it all, we are still here, still believing. Uvechol zos shimcha lo shochochnu, we have not forgotten you. Vesechezena eineinu, our focus is on Tzion. Ami, we are your nation.
What greater comfort is there than to witness tens of thousands around the world gathering to celebrate the chayei olam nota besocheinu amidst a world overcome by hedonism and immorality, unprecedented nisyonos in kedushah, and incessant distractions? Is there a greater nechomah than to be able to hear masses cry out, “Hadran aloch Talmud Bavli, da’atoch alon, lo sishnishi minon Talmud Bavli, lo b’alma hodein velo b’alma d’osi“? We studied you. We forsook earthly pleasures to maintain our daily meetings with you. We don’t want to forget you. We don’t want you to forget us, not in this world and not in the next. We are yours and you are ours.
This is the epic cry of victory that Jews gathered all over the world this week proclaim their allegiance to Shas, in a world in which outside the stadiums which host the various siyumim, is an ocean of kefirah and hate that threatens to submerge and bury us. Is there a greater nechomah to a pained people evicted from their land than to witness the growth of yeshivas, where growing numbers spend their days and nights hunched over the tomes of Shas?
To paraphrase the Mirrer rosh yeshiva and Rav Elchonon Wasserman, the accomplishments of the many who succeeded despite being pulled by strong negative forces are humbling. We are fortunate to be allowed to celebrate along with them.
This week, we had the collective zechus to announce, loud and clear, that we are still here, despite everything. Uvechol zos shimcha lo shochochnu.
And perhaps that is the reason for the double lashon, the two Nachamus. The fact that we can still feel nechomah in our weakened, apathetic hearts is itself an additional source of comfort.
Nachamu, nachamu, indeed.