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Rabbi Doniel Staum on Parshas Vaeschanan 5769 - Shabbos Nachamu
"A Different Perspective"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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7/31/09

STAM TORAH

PARSHAS VAESCHANAN 5769

SHABBOS NACHAMU

“A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE”

During a lecture he delivered on Tisha B’av afternoon a number of years ago, Rabbi Fishel Shechter related a personal story that a woman had related to him:

“A number of years ago one of my children died and I was devastated. I became so depressed that I refused to leave my house. I was sure that I would never get over it and would never be able to get on with my life. Two months went by and things did not improve at all; in fact my misery and self-pity only deepened.

“I was invited to a wedding but I told my husband that I wasn’t going. I simply couldn’t. My husband knew how badly I needed to get out and, when he saw that he could not reason with me, he literally pushed me out of the house and locked the door. I banged on the door but my husband would not allow me back in. He called out that my dress and makeup were at a neighbor’s house and that I had to go to the wedding.

“Seeing that I had no choice, I begrudgingly got dressed and went to the wedding. When I saw everyone dancing happily I became very upset. I felt that they had no right to be so happy. With a complete feeling of dejection, I walked over to a phone booth and picked up the phone. Tears streaming down my face, I said, “G-d, I don’t want to be here. Please get me out of here!”

“While I was standing there crying, one of the elderly women who was sitting at the door of the hall collecting charity noticed me and walked over to me. She placed her arms on my shoulder and gently asked me, “Mein kint, vos vaynst du- My child why are you crying?”

I shot back at her, “You never lost a child!”

She gently replied, “Really? I lost ten children during the war! Why are you crying?”

I looked at her in astonishment, “And you never cried?”

“Oh, I cried! But I learned that there is no point of crying over the past. I learned to take advantage of my tears and to use them to cry for others. Whenever I cry I think about those who need salvation and I pray for them with my tears.”

Then she put her arms around me and said, “No one should tell you to stop crying. But use your tears and learn how to cry! Use your tears to pray for everyone you know who is suffering” Then she walked away.

For a few moments I just stood there lost in thought. Then I picked up the phone again and began to cry profusely. I thought about everyone I know who is going through a hard time and I cried for them. I thought about those who were in the hospital when I was there with my child and I cried for them. I cried for Klal Yisroel and I prayed for the future and for salvation and redemption.

“When I finished crying I never felt so happy in my life. I stepped into the center of the circle and I danced like I never danced in my life!”

“Nachamu nachamu ami . . . .– Comfort, comfort My people – says your G-d.”

The Shabbos following Tisha B’av derives its special name, “Shabbas Nachamu – the Shabbos of comfort” from the aforementioned opening words of the haftorah. After the arduous day of Tisha B’av has concluded and we have recited the numerous Lamentations recounting our myriad pain and suffering in exile, it is appropriate that the period that follows is one of consolation and solace[1].

What is the nature of this “national nechama”? How can we be consoled after all that we have spoken about on Tisha B’av?

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’l explains that nechama entails a shift in perspective and perception.

After the death of Yaakov Avinu in Egypt, his sons- Yosef’s brothers - feared that there would be reprisals for what they had done to Yosef. They were concerned that perhaps until now Yosef had restrained himself from avenging his honor because he did not want to cause their father any additional pain. But now that Yaakov was gone there would be nothing stopping Yosef from seeking retribution.

The righteous Yosef reassured his brothers that he had no feelings of malice or resentment towards them. The Torah[2] records that Yosef sought to assuage his brothers; “And he comforted them and spoke into their hearts.”

Rabbi Hirsch explains that Nachem can refer to both consolation and regret, in that they are both a complete change of feelings from the way one felt about something until this point. “Up until now one had considered something to be right and perhaps boasted about it, and then suddenly finds out that one has to be ashamed of it: regret, remorse. Similarly, real consolation is only such, that brings the conviction to one who has suffered pain and grief, that this too leads to ultimate good and everlasting happiness… which awakes the consciousness that if one were able to see through and over all the results and consequences as G-d can and does, one would not alter what has happened even if one could.

“Thus Yosef here tries to show his brothers just the opposite point of view of what happened in the past. He explained to his brothers that, “G-d used you as the instrument to bring about my own, and so many other people’s, good fortune”. And then “Yosef spoke into their hearts”. He did not merely speak “to their hearts” but “into their hearts”, i.e. his words prevailed over their feelings.

Nechama” is directed not so much to the heart as to the intelligence, and then (once one has presented a new intellectual perspective) he spoke into their hearts (it can effect a change in one’s heart and emotions as well).”

Rabbi Hirsch’s presupposition that nechama implies a change of attitude is apparent from other verses in the Torah as well.

When the Torah describes the decadence and immorality of the pre-flood generation of Noach, it writes, “G-d saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth… And G-d reconsidered - Va’yenochem Hashem having made Man on earth.” When G-d saw how deceitful and depraved man had become, He regretted His original decision to create Man, as it were. It was then that G-d decided to decimate the world with a flood and recommence creation. In order to express that ‘change of heart’ the Torah utilizes the word Nechama.

In addition, when the newly redeemed nation of Klal Yisroel marched forth from Egypt en route to Canaan, the most direct route would have been through the land of the Philistines. However, G-d purposely diverted the nation from that land in order to avoid the need for immediate war. The Torah explains[3], “Perhaps the nation will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt.” Here too the Torah utilizes the word Nechama to convey a shift of perspective and attitude, which effected a major decision and outcome.

When, G-d forbid, a person is in a state of mourning for a deceased relative, we seek to console him. The truth is, that it is impossible to fully console a person as that would only be accomplished by removing the loss completely, and we cannot change the past or resurrect the dead. The consolation we seek to offer is by helping the mourner see value and purpose in his loss. When he is able to find meaning in the tragedy he has suffered then he is able to reach a level of inner peace, the anguish and pain of his loss notwithstanding.

In the opening story about the woman who lost her child, nothing in her life changed when she went to that wedding. The only change that occurred was a shift in perspective, an internal transformation. She learned to find value in her suffering, despite the fact that her actual pain had not diminished. But that sense of value infused her with fortitude and inner peace to move on.

When a person loses a close relative there is an inevitable sense of loneliness and separation. When friends and loved ones come to comfort a mourner, they sit together empathizing and sharing the mourner’s pain. That itself helps alleviate some of the feelings of isolation and loneliness. The deceased is still gone but the mourner is able to see that he is not alone. That inner psychological metamorphosis is what we call nechama.

Tisha B’av is a day of national, often cataclysmic, tragedy. It is the anniversary of many harrowing and traumatic events in Jewish history, including the destruction of both Batei Mikdash, the expulsion of the Jews from England (1290) and Spain (1492), and Germany’s entry into World War I[4]. During World War II, the “Final Solution” was signed into law by Herman Goering on July 31, 1941 (the night of the eighth of Av), and was enacted a year later on Tisha B’av 1942 when the first deportees from the Warsaw Ghetto were gassed in Treblinka.

The kinnos recited on Tisha B’av depict a candid portrayal of the tribulations we have encountered. At times it is hard to even read the words. The novel barbaric ideas that our enemies utilized to terrorize us defy belief, and the magnitude of our suffering is mind-boggling. But there is a paradoxical underlying theme that emerges from our pain.

In a famous article in Harpers Magazine, Mark Twain noted that Jewish survival is nothing short of miraculous and challenges all laws of nature and ‘survival of the fittest’. He concludes by wondering, “What is the secret to his immortality?”

The horrors we recall on Tisha B’av help us realize that we are part of an immortal people who transcend natural order. That perspective which “emerges from the ashes” is an integral part of our national consolation. Tisha B’av helps us conceptualize our suffering as being analogous to a prince who is taunted and beaten. Although chagrined, bloody, and bruised, deep down the prince feels a sense of pride. He realizes that he is being targeted because he is noble and special. That realization and shift in perspective helps us find meaning in our inexplicable pain and suffering, and therein lies our comfort.

Every year when Tisha B’av arrives and we descend to the floors, there is a sense of national exasperation and failure; “Another Tisha B’av in exile; another year of dashed hopes.” Yet, at the same time, Tisha B’av helps us see the exile, as well as all the travails and vicissitudes of life, from a new perspective. Through the mask we are able to see the Hand of G-d guiding all the events that have befallen us, for good and for better. Thus, Tisha B’av itself segues into the period of consolation that follows. However, more than consolation for the national calamities we have suffered, Tisha B’av helps us realize that every moment of our lives is guided by the Divine Hand. In our suffering it becomes apparent that it is G-d who has orchestrated all that we have endured[5]. When one lives with that realization and belief he lives a life of meaning and fulfillment, even with the challenges life thrusts upon him.

“He comforted them and spoke into their hearts”

“Comfort, comfort My people – says your G-d”

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[1] In fact, the haftorah for the seven weeks following Tisha B’av are all dedicated to comforting and consoling the beleaguered and tormented Klal Yisroel.

[2] Bereishis 50:21

[3] Shemos 13:17

[4] World War I was a direct harbinger for World War II and the Holocaust.

[5] Much of our suffering may be inexplicable but the knowledge that our loving Father in heaven has decided it is a tremendous comfort.



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