This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
הַפְטָרָה שֶׁל פַּרָֺשַת וָאֶתְחַנַּן
א׳ משבע דנחמתא – שבת נחמו
With Tish’ahB’Av in our rear view mirror, we end the Haftarah series of the Telas D’Puranusa, the Tree of Affliction, and begin the series of the Sheva D’Nechamasa, the Seven of Consolation or Comfort. The first of these seven readings from Sefer Yishaiyah is the most famous of the series and the basis for Shabbos Nachamu, as the Navi declares “Nachamu Nachamu Ami”-“Be comforted, be comforted, My Nation” [Yishaiyah 40:1].
The basis for the selection of this Haftarah, and really the simple meaning of this Haftarah altogether, is that despite the fact that the nation currently lives in state of exile and destruction—which we nationally mourn on Tish’ah B’Av—says Hashem, “Nachamu,” be consoled or comforted, because the destruction is over, good tidings of the redemption are on their way, and soon, G-d’s glory will be revealed to the world.
Indeed, one of the themes on Tish’ah B’Av, as highlighted the recurring phrase in the first chapter of Megillas Eichah, “Ein Menacheim [מנחם]”-“there is no source of comfort” [Eichah 1:2, 9, 16, 17, 21], is that there is an aching lack of Nechamah [נחמה] as a result of the Churban Beis HaMikdash (Destruction of the Holy Temple) and the Galus (Exile) overall. Surely, after a discouraging and heart wrenching Tish’ah B’Av, the idea of having comfort certainly should be…comforting, to say the least. Anytime someone has lost something or someone they love, or whenever one has his dreams ruined before his very eyes, or in this case, when we have tirelessly yearned for the ultimate redemption but another Tish’ah B’av has gone by and we continue to live in exile, of course, there is a desire to gain that Nechamah, that sense of comfort.
The question is: How does one achieve this Nechamah? Right. Tish’ah B’Av is over, and we read the words of the prophet saying “Be comforted,” but what does that actually help? The facts are that the Beis HaMikdash is still destroyed, Israel still continues to suffer at the hands of its oppressors, and we’re all still living in Galus. There is still loss. The Geulah that we like to talk about and fantasize about has still not arrived. Moshiach hasn’t come. So, now what? Tish’ah B’Av is over? Okay, so, we’re allowed to eat and listen to music again, but what actually has changed? Nothing. So, why, or how, in this continued state of exile, should we suddenly be comforted by the words of the prophecy which still hasn’t come to be in our time? How can one achieve this Nechamah?
The Haftarah for Shabbos Nachamu would seem to be a great place to look to investigate this phenomenon of Nechamah; however, passed the first line, the Navi hardly talks about comfort and consolation. This Haftarah in its entirety [Yishaiyah 40:1-26] spends a lot of time differentiating between Hashem and the idols, how Hashem fashioned the world and everything in it while the idols sit idly (go figure). The question is what any of this has to do with Nechamah? Moreover, what new information is this Haftarah giving us? The fact that G-d is infinitely greater than idols is a theme of many passages of Navi, including the Telas D’Puranusa which preceded the “Destruction.” What is the Haftarah’s point in focusing on G-d’s greatness over all foreign deities here?
As far as finding comfort despite the travails of life, interestingly, if we look in this week’s Sidrah, Parshas Va’Es’chanan, we might notice that there is another individual who is really experiencing a similar kind of painful challenge relating to perpetual exile and the inability to “return” to the Holy Land.
Moshe Rabbeinu, continuing his discourse to the B’nei Yisrael, proceeds to talk about how he implored Hashem to allow him to enter the Promised Land, and how Hashem ultimately denied his request and withheld him from fulfilling that one dream he had [Devarim 3:23-26]. Yes, Moshe Rabbeinu had made a mistake by hitting the rock at Mei Meirvah instead of speaking to it to obtain water, and yes, Moshe, at that moment, failed to sanctify G-d’s Name by fulfilling G-d’s command, but of course, one cannot help but sympathize with Moshe. It’s an undeniably sad situation. Here, we have Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest man to ever live, who devoted his life to the service of Hashem and Hashem’s people, and the one thing he ever wanted for himself, Hashem has decreed that he will not get. Moshe doesn’t even care to continue leading the people. He has already appointed Yehoshua to do that. All he wants is to enter the Holy Land once before he dies. But, no—Hashem has forbidden him from doing so. Moshe would finish off his time in this world in the state of exile. He would not see the fruits of his mission. He would not witness the full Geulah in his times.
Certainly, this part of Moshe’s speech carries a lot of emotional weight, but a simple question one could ask here is why it was important for Moshe to mention these points—that he prayed to G-d to let him enter the land and that G-d said no? Is it our sympathy Moshe’s looking for? Is he just getting emotional as he prepares to die while the people enter the Promised Land without him? Maybe, mentioning these points is Moshe’s way of segueing into the topic of the B’nei Yisrael entering the land, as he’s about to teach them how they should act so that they could succeed in the land. Maybe. Perhaps he’s trying to show them how fortunate they are they will eventually enter the Promised Land, because he won’t be. Maybe—but bear in mind, they all know by now that a whole generation before them, their own parents, lost their rights to enter the land. They don’t need Moshe to tell them about his own unfortunate situation. And yet, when we get to the core of this issue as it is presented here, it really is Moshe’s personal problem. Yes, it’s a saddening problem with which we can identify today, but at that moment, it was Moshe’s own issue. Why really does Moshe feel the need to talk about his desperate and ultimately rejected prayer before G-d?
Before we can answer the original question, how we can attain Nechamah on Shabbos Nachamu despite continually living in exile, we have to first consider the basis of the question itself.
Correct, we’re still in that state of Churban, and while in that state, it’s hard to actually feel comforted. Apparently though, the Navi tells us, “Nachamu,” that somehow, we should feel Nechamah. Now, what we can’t wrap our heads around is how we can truly be comforted if we’re still suffering. Indeed, what would make really feel comforted would be if the suffering ended and Moshiach would come right now. But we want to know how it is possible to truly have comfort while we’re in Galus. If we assume that “Nechamah” purely means “comfort,” then it certainly is hard to feel “comfortable” in a state of brokenness. But, maybe Nechamah is not entirely what we think it is. If we’re expected to achieve Nechamah even while we’re in this state of suffering, maybe there’s more to Nechamah. With that in mind, what does it mean to achieve Nechamah?
Typically, Nechamah is translated to mean either comfort or consolation, and indeed, the first time the term ever appears in the Torah seems to be in a context of the hope for achieving comfort and respite, as Lemech names his son Noach hoping that: “Zeh Yinachameinu [ינחמנו] MiMa’aseinu U’Mei’Itzvon Yadeinu Min HaAdamah Asheir Eirira Hashem”-“This one will bring us comfort from our work and from the fatigue [lit., sadness] of our hands from the ground that Hashem has cursed” [Bereishis 5:29]. But shortly after, the root word is used once again in a seemingly different context seeming to have nothing to do with comfort. As G-d prepares to destroy the world because of the corruption in mankind, the Torah says [Bereishis 6:6], “Vayinachem [וינחם] Hashem Ki Asah Es HaAdam BaAretz Vayis’atzeiv El Libo,” which most feel forced to translate as, “And Hashem regretted that he made man on the earth and He was saddened toward His heart.” Indeed, it would not make sense, at least not in this context, to say that Hashem was comforted about the fact that He made man on earth and that He was comforted that mankind had become corrupted. Regret makes more sense here.
The obvious problem though is that comfort and regret are basically complete opposites of one another. Comfort is positive state where one is okay or relatively content with the current state. Regret is undoubtedly negative where one no longer approves of the situation and is unhappy about it. So, which one is it? How can Nechamah mean both comfort and regret? What does Nechamah actually mean?
So, if one thinks about it, there is a common denominator between comfort and regret, namely, the fact that they are both emotions of a second thought—reflecting and rethinking about an earlier perceived notion or feeling about a reality [See Rashi to Devarim 32:36]. When one regrets something, he looks back at a decision he once approved up in a new negative light. When one is comforted about something, he looks back on a reality he once bemoaned in a new positive light. Thus, the root of “Nechamah” accurately means and would be better translated as reconsideration.
Thus, Nechamah, as we can better understand, really has to do with our personal outlook of the situation. When I thought the situation was good, Nechamah, or reconsideration, can come along and make me regret the situation. And yet, when we’re in a state of Churban and Galus, when the situation looks utterly terrible and hopeless, Nechamah can come along and bring us comfort, letting us know that despite the situation, there is some hope and we can go on. We can move forward.
Indeed, the situation still has not changed. When someone loses a person, Nechamah does not mean that person is suddenly revived. When a person fulfills the Mitzvah (commandment) of Nichum Aveilim, comforting mourners, he does not bring the dead back to life—only G-d can do that. The idea is to help the mourner digest the reality of his situation, reflect on the situation and relate to it in a new way. Similarly here, there might still be exile and pain—that much hasn’t changed. But, Nechamah gives us a new and calmer way of relating to that pain so that we can keep going in life.
We asked before why we should be comforted after Tish’ah B’Av. Well, we could’ve really asked the question in the reverse way. Why should we even fast and mourn on Tish’ah B’Av at all? Because Tish’ah B’Av is a day of mourning. But, why is just this one day? Galus exists every day (of course until the Geulah comes). The Temple was not built the whole year prior to Tish’ah B’Av, and it’s still not built at this moment. Why don’t we continue mourning and fasting every single day? The answer is that really, we should! But we don’t, because, G-d knows we can’t do that. Of course, we could not survive fasting every single day, but more than that, we cannot live life by wallowing in sorrow, doing nothing but perpetually mourning and feeling hopeless every single day. We will never be able to accomplish anything that way. But, once a year, on Tish’ah B’Av, we can face the current reality that exile still exists and we can mourn—because, yes, it hurts, and yes, we should feel dejected and rejected about that reality. But, even with the reality of death, broken dreams and failure, we do not eternally lose hope. We need to reach Nechamah, to relate to the reality in a way that will allow us to roll up our sleeves and continue life.
But, what could we possibly do next if our dreams have been crushed, if our loved one has left us? How many people, generations yearn for redemption and pass on before they can get the chance to see it in their lifetime? How many die before they can ever get the chance to even enter the Holy Land of Israel? How many people die period? Life doesn’t seem to go on for them. And what if, G-d forbid, that reality is about to target us directly? What if I know that personally won’t be around to experience redemption as it unfolds? What if I know that my own dreams will never come true in my lifetime? How would I continue each day of my life? What goal could I possibly have left at that point? How do I develop Nechamah then?
Moshe Rabbeinu, as he stands before us in Va’Es’chanan, teaches the answer. He knew that he would never accomplish the one thing he desired. He knew without doubt that his personal conception of self-actualization—entering the Holy Land with the B’nei Yisrael—would not happen. He worked toward that goal; he prayed for it, he yearned for it. He wanted to see the redemption in his lifetime. But as it was for his siblings, death in the state of exile would become his reality. Moreover, he knew that for his purposes, that reality was unchanging. This much we know from Moshe’s story at the beginning of the Sidrah. What could Moshe possibly hope for?
And yet, what does the Torah tell us next? What would Moshe do for the rest of the duration of the Sidrah? He would proceed to remind the B’nei Yisrael, the next generation, of their responsibility in their service of Hashem. He reminds them that “Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad” [Devarim 6:4]—that Hashem is he One and Only Trustworthy G-d, that “Ein Od Milvado”-“there is none beside Him” [4:35], that they have love G-d with all their heart and all their soul no matter what happens to them [6:5], that they have to remember that it Hashem took them forth from their Exile once before and that Hashem will undoubtedly redeem them and bring them back to the Promised Land!
And if we think about it, this reaffirming of what is important at the end of each and every day is really the message of the Haftarah and its seemingly superfluous discussion about G-d versus idols. The Nechamah, comfort in the world, is derived from the recognition that there is only G-d and no other, pulling the strings behind the scenes. There is no new information here because Nechamah does not require new information, rather a better perspective on old information. If we appreciate that when all else fails, we still have Hashem, the One and Only, it should provide this Nechamah.
Coming back to the Parshah, Moshe Rabbeinu, more than anyone else, had the right to be upset and disheartened—his dreams wouldn’t be fulfilled, but he rolled up his sleeves and continued to the real job he was put here for—the same job each one of us were put here for—to serve G-d to the best of his abilities. Of course, we would love and we yearn for the Geulah to come as soon as possible! Of course, we pine to return to the Holy Land! Yes, it should come speedily in our days! But, our real goal should be the goal that is ever present before us, the one dream that we can fulfill each day no matter what, the goal of loving and serving G-d with our entire essence. Moshe Rabbeinu wanted all the same things, and even if his personal hopes were lost, he did not give up on Hashem. He allowed himself to continue to lead the B’nei Yisrael and teach them how to be Ovdei Hashem (servants of Hashem) until he could do so no longer.
Yes, even in Galus, in the state of Churban, even if all hope seems lost, we too can and must continue this mission. But, we can only do so when we give ourselves that Nechamah, the true sense of comfort, that reconsideration, which comes, not from everything magically becoming okay, but from knowing that no matter what happens, we still have that mission to complete as long as we’re still here, even if we’re going to die trying! Yes, we can achieve that true sense of comfort because we realize that G-d is charge and there is no one besides for Him! We have to know that because Hashem runs the show, that means that in the end, everything will be okay as long as we do our part, pick ourselves up and try our best moving forward.
May we all be Zocheh to achieve that true sense of Nechamah, realize that we still have to complete our mission of devoting our lives to Hashem and Klal Yisrael, complete that mission, and Hashem should reveal His glory to us and the world once again in the form of the ultimate Geulah, the rebuilding the Beis HaMikdash, and the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos Nachamu!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂