By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Last week, Mrs. Shoshana Ovitz celebrated her 104th birthday at the Kosel. She asked that all her offspring join her there and they would jointly recite Nishmas. The picture of the gathering melted Jewish hearts around the world. Hundreds of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren of a woman who faced down the evil Eichmann in Auschwitz gathered in her honor. She survived some of the worst torture known to man and with faith and trust, she married and moved to Haifa.
Obviously, this woman was jealous of none. Happy and believing she has lived a full life of nechamah, her emunah and bitachon rewarded many times over. Mrs. Ovitz and people such as her set examples for the rest of us. To them, the words “Nachamu, nachamu” are real, true, and a way of life.
Nachamu, nachamu, don’t be broken. Nachamu, nachamu, persevere. Nachamu, nachamu, with proper faith you can rebound from anything and lead a productive, happy life.
The past three weeks, we pondered the churban and the tragedies that have befallen our people ever since the destruction of the Botei Mikdosh. We refrained from music, clean clothing, shaving, haircutting, and beard trimming. Every time we looked in the mirror, we were reminded that we are homeless, far from home. The year-round comfort gave way to a three week break of reality.
We mourned martyrs of the past and present; during the Nine Days we mourned the murder of Dvir Sorek, a 19-year-old yeshiva student, at the hands of bloodthirsty Arabs. A boy with holiness in his soul and cheerfulness in his heart, was snuffed out by animals who value nothing but the sword and the knife and the death they bring about. Returning from Yerushalayim to the shadow of Chevron, he met the fate of his martyred grandfather and too many others, and was found 100 yards from his yeshiva. Yet another manifestation of the churban.
The yearning for a rebuilt Eretz Yisroel, with Yerushalayim at its center, the Bais Hamikdosh in its heart giving meaning to our lives and raising us to the heights of holiness, happiness and fulfillment, pulsated within us for three weeks, coming to a head on Tisha B’Av, when we sat on the floor, reciting sad liturgical poems depicting the blood-letting, destruction, emptiness and hardship that have befallen our people.
We sat on the floor pondering our fate, thinking about the important things in life as we ignored many creature comforts. We wondered what we can do to get ourselves back home. We prayed for better days and resolved to do away with sinas chinom and its causes.
Golus can be understood by viewing people who nebach lo aleinu suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Though from the outside they seem fine and vivacious and by looking at them you could never tell that there is anything wrong with them. The superficial exterior is perfect. However, tragically, inside there is emptiness, their brains have been corroded and there is little cranial activity.
When you take a superficial look at the Jewish people in the exile, they seem as if they are a growing, flourishing people. But when you examine beneath the surface, you detect that their spirituality is lacking, in the place of holiness there is emptiness. That which made them great and connected them to the Creator has corroded and the connection is shaky, tentative and weak.
During The Three Weeks, we recognize our vacuity and pine for relief. However, when Tisha B’Av ends, we revert once again to our normal golus stance, reinforced with the faith that the redemption will soon come and the golus will end.
In effect, mourning and appreciating our condition give rise to hopes of salvation. When we forget how far we are from where we should be, we begin admiring the exile, reveling in its physical attractions, sights and sounds. We become outwardly gleeful, but increasingly empty on the inside.
Once we remember that we are in golus, the consolation can begin. Last week, we read Parshas Devorim and heard the plaintive wail of Eicha. This week we read Parshas Vo’eschanan and identify with Moshe Rabbeinu’s desperate desire to behold the Land, to touch its soil and to fulfill its special mitzvos. And then the pleasant chords of Nachamu tug at our souls, as we echo Moshe Rabbeinu’s prayer with much eagerness.
Moshe Rabbeinu davened 515 (the gematria of the word vo’eschanan) separate tefillos that he merit entry into Eretz Yisroel. We wonder: If Moshe’s requests were denied, how can we possibly have a chance?
By examining Hashem’s response to Moshe, we can gain an understanding of our abilities to achieve a positive result.
The posuk (Devorim 3:26) states that Hakadosh Boruch Hu instructed Moshe to stop davening, saying, “Rav loch, al tosef daber eilai od badovor hazeh.” The Vilna Gaon (Chumash HaGra, ibid.) explains that Hashem commanded Moshe to stop praying for entry to Eretz Yisroel, because it had been decreed on high that he would never merit crossing the border in The Promised Land.
The Gaon explains that Hashem empowered tefillah into teva, nature, giving prayer the power to effect change in the world. Tefillos that are heard by Hashem have the natural ability to bring about change and erase decrees. Hashem seeks to maintain the laws of nature and therefore asked Moshe to stop davening.
How comforting it is to know that our tefillos have the ability to change and correct the course of our lives.
Thus, not only is the haftorah comforting, but Parshas Vo’eschanan is as well. It is a parsha of nechomah. The first word, “Vo’eschanan,” is translated as an expression of tefillah, but Rashi indicates that since the word “chinom” is at its root, it has an underlying explanation as the ability to make requests of Hashem even though we may not be worthy of receiving what we are asking for. We all have the ability to daven, as Moshe did, and be answered, even if we are not worthy.
We know that the second Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because of sinas chinom, commonly translated as baseless hatred. Let us examine the Gemara that discusses why the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed to gain an understanding of sinas chinom, so that we can rectify the sin that causes our exile to continue.
The Gemara in Maseches Yoma (9b) states: “The first Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because the Jewish people engaged in the sins of avodah zora, giluy arayos, and shefichas domim. However, during the period of the second Bais Hamikdosh, when the Jewish people busied themselves with Torah, mitzvos and gemillus chassodim, the churban was caused by sinas chinom. From here you see that sinas chinom is equivalent to the three cardinal sins that caused the first churban.”
The Netziv (Haamek Dovor, Devorim 4:14) cites the Yerushalmi (4b), which adds some explanation for the churban of the second Bais Hamikdosh: “We know that at the time of Bayis Sheini, they delved into Torah study and were very scrupulous in their mitzvah observance and maaser…but they loved money and hated each other for no apparent reason.” Therefore, the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed.
The Netziv explains that the Yerushalmi is indicating that at the root of sinas chinom lies a love of money. In other words, sinas chinom is brought on by being jealous of people who have more than you.
The cause of this jealousy is a lack of emunah. It demonstrates a fundamental distrust in the notion that Hashem decides who gets more and who gets less.
If we would yearn for Hashem’s Presence, there would be no room in our hearts for divisive feelings and hate, because we would recognize that to feel that way is to contradict belief in the Creator’s dominion.
One who appreciates that Hashem rules over the world is happy with what he has. He recognizes that all that he has is from Him. Those who cause him pain are Heavenly messengers. The challenges he is confronted with are presented by Hashem. Knowing that helps him get through difficult situations and overcome impulses of hatred and anger.
The Vilna Gaon establishes this in Even Sheleimah (3:1-3), where he writes that “bitachon and being satisfied with what we have is at the root of all middos tovos. These attributes are the marked opposites of wants and desires,” which consume man. The main attribute that a man can strive for is bitachon… All sins arise from wanton desire, the Aseres Hadibros and the Torah are summed up in the dibbur of ‘Lo Sachmod.’
“The middah of histapkus, being satisfied with what you have, is at the root of the whole Torah, representing the complete belief of not worrying today about tomorrow.”
He says that, “a person who has proper bitachon but transgresses the most severe sins is better than someone who is lacking in bitachon, for the latter will come to jealousy and hatred, and even if he delves into Torah and performs good acts, he only does so to create a nice reputation.”
This explains the Bavli and Yerushalmi in Yoma. The Jews at the time of the second Bais Hamikdosh were engrossed in learning Torah and performing mitzvos. They were even engaged in performing charitable acts. But their core was rotten. They were driven by selfish desire for more money and more possessions. They didn’t do good deeds because they cared what Hashem would say about them, but because they wanted people to praise them.
They hated each other, because each saw in the other things he didn’t have. The other guy had a bigger house, a bigger wagon, and more money. Their bitachon was lacking. They didn’t believe that what they had was apportioned by Hashem, and thus their root was crooked and corrupt.
Yeshayahu Hanovi (Yeshayahu 1:1) expressed the words of Hashem: “What do I need your korbanos for, says Hashem… I don’t want them.” Hashem wants the sacrifices of those who believe in Him and follow His word because of that belief. He is not interested in the offerings of hateful unbelievers. (See also Devorim 23:19, which states, “Lo sovi esnan zonah umechir kelev bais Hashem Elokecha…ki so’avas Hashem gam shneihem.”) Therefore, the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed and waits for us to rectify what lies at the root of that negative trait in order for it to return.
A mother who feeds her children is offended when they squabble over who received a larger or smaller portion. She loves them all and provides for them everything they require. When they suggest otherwise, it is an indication that they don’t appreciate her love and all she does for them. The Master of the World gives us what we need. Believers have no reason to hate. The Bais Hamikdosh, the place of the Shechinah in this world, was destroyed because the hatred among the Jewish people indicated that the nation negated the significance of the Divine home amongst them.
The person with bitachon can rise above pettiness and extend kindness to everyone. He can judge others favorably and really love every Jew. He is not challenged when others succeed financially, and he doesn’t. He does not go nuts when someone insults him, even in public. Competition doesn’t eat away at his soul. He isn’t driven by an insatiable need for attention, honor or control.
People of faith know that Hashem provides for them, as He does for everyone else, and their obligation is to satisfy Him and find favor in His eyes. They know that all that exists and all that transpires is because the One who created the world willed it so.
This lies at the root of the segulah of Rav Chaim Volozhiner to concentrate on “Ein od milvado” in times of danger. Acknowledging that what will happen is from Hashem is to throw yourself upon Him. Bitachon is the segulah for a yeshuah, because it emboldens us to daven with conviction and confidence. We turn to Hashem in tefillah for what we need and are satisfied with the response.
The fact that tefillos help is a rule of nature.
Thus, Vo’eschanan and Nachamu are bound together. Faith and prayer bring consolation. Emunah and bitachon bring nechomah.
Yeshayahu Hanovi proclaims, “Nachamu, nachamu ami, take comfort My nation, yomar Elokeichem, your G-d says. You are My people. You are My nation. Recognize that and you will be comforted, for I shall comfort you.”
As we finish reciting the Kinnos, after a morning spent sitting alone on the floor, reading the sad words written throughout the ages, we unite in song. We proclaim the words, “Eli Tziyon v’oreha. Zion wails as a woman about to give birth.” We state that we have learned our lesson. We recognize where we have gone wrong. With hearts united, we say together: No more hate, no more jealousy, no more lack of bitachon. From our pain, we will give birth to a renewed people finally redeemed. From our pain, the Bais Hamikdosh will rise in the heart of Zion.
Let us rid our hearts of hatred, pettiness, jealousy and machlokes. Let us appreciate what we have and stop looking at what other people have. Let us find satisfaction with what Hashem has blessed us. Let us increase our love, satisfaction and faith. Let us do all we can to eradicate sinas chinom in all its guises from among us.
Nachamu, a way of life. A future soon to unfold.