Rabbi Yakov Haber
Rabbi Yakov Haber

Comfort within the Destruction

I

Shabbos Nachamu and Tu B'Av follow soon after Tisha B'Av. The restrictions of the Three Weeks, increasingly intensifying through the Nine Days, the week of Tisha B'Av, and even continuing to some extent after Tisha B'Av until mid-day of the Tenth of Av, all come to a halt. We seemingly turn to a more joyous state of mind.

As a child, I remember how summer camps I attended would have a countdown until midday on the tenth of Av at which time music would blare from the loudspeakers. Another memory I have is of a very somber mural representing the churban which was displayed prominently during the Three Weeks. After Tisha B'Av, the mural was flipped to the other side, revealing a cheerful mural of Yerushalayim. I remember thinking, "Good, now the sad period is over. Now we can be happy!"

Is the mourning over? We still have no Beis HaMikdash, no revealed Divine Presence, no Korbanos, and many mitzvos are still lacking. The Jewish people are not united, rampant secularism, materialism and even hatred of Torah are pervasive, and our enemies surround us and threaten the destruction of Israel. Why do we move so suddenly from Tisha B'Av to Nachamu? Has anything changed?

"Kila Hashem chamaso ... vayatzes eish b'tzion - Hashem expended His fury ... and He kindled a fire in Tzion" (Eicha 4:11). The Midrash (Eicha Rabba 4:14) comments: kila chamaso 'al eitzim va'avanim - instead of destroying the Jewish people, Hashem poured out his wrath on sticks and stones. This teaching is difficult. A human being who is angry can "let off steam" by smashing objects and then calm down. The Ribono shel 'Olam clearly does not "get angry" and need to "let off steam". Rav Yosef Binyamin Pincus shlita explained[1] with an analogy of a husband who loves his wife but knows they must separate for a while in order to heal the strained relationship and demands that his wife leave for some time. The Beis HaMidkash was the house representing Hashem's love of the Jewish people. The intertwined keruvim symbolized this great love. When Hashem destroyed this house and sent the Jewish people into exile, he was expressing his love for them as well. The "marital home" had to be destroyed. K'nesses Yisrael, the beloved of HKB"H, had to wander in exile before being able to return to her Beloved. Thus, Hashem's destroying the Beis HaMikdash allowed for Klal Yisrael to survive.

The Gemara in Kiddushin (31b) records that Avimi once served a cup of water to his father, R. Avahu. Finding his father sleeping, Avimi stood there waiting from him to awaken. In the meantime, he was inspired to interpret the Psalm (79), "Mizmor L'Asaf ba'u goyim nachalasecha, samu es Y'rushalayim l'iyim - A song to Assaf: the nations have entered Your inheritance, they have turned Jerusalem into ruins!" Rashi explains that Avimi found the usage of the word, "mizmor", a song, difficult. When speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem, the word, "kina", a dirge, would have been more appropriate! He answered similarly to the aforementioned teaching that the song refers to the fact that Hashem took out his wrath on wood and stones and preserved the Jewish people.

Why did Avimi expound on this particular verse at this precise time? Rav Pincus explained that standing over his father, refusing to just place the cup on the table, Avimi realized how much love existed between father and son. He used this as a tool to understand the relationship between our Father in Heaven and B'nei Yisrael. Because of this great love, Avimi realized that clearly the destruction of the Mikdash was not an act of Divine punishment intending to banish the Jewish people forever. A father always loves his child. The destruction must be interpreted as a necessary separation to preserve, rather than destroy, the Jewish people.

Rav Pincus further explained that this love being implicit even at the very moment of churban is demonstrated by Klal Yisrael by lifting some of the customary restrictions of mourning after noon.[2] Then we may sit on regular seats and the paroches is returned. Women then have a custom to sweep the house and start preparing the post Tisha B'Av meal. The Beis HaMikdash was set aflame toward evening of the ninth of Av (Ta'anis 29a). At that very moment, we begin to lift some of the restrictions of mourning since this very destruction also demonstrated Divine love.

The same analysis can explain the timing of Shabbos Nachamu and the other six haftoros of consolation. We have experienced destruction, exile, misery, and distance. But we take comfort in the fact that G-d has not abandoned His beloved nation. Even the destruction itself implicitly demonstrated His great love for us.

II

We live in a unique era. Hashem, in his kindness, has orchestrated the physical rebuilding of Eretz Yisrael. He has caused Torah study to blossom in the Land of Israel so intensely such that "ki mitzion teitzei Torah ud'var Hashem MiY'rushalayim" has become a reality.[3] The Jewish population of Eretz Yisrael has skyrocketed from just a few thousand in the early part of the nineteenth century to over six million (!), kein yirbu. There have been Rabbinic figures, based on this new reality, never imagined to occur before the Redemption, who suggested changes in various prayers of Tisha B'Av. Rav Soloveitchik, together with all Gedolei Yisrael, vehemently opposed these proposed changes, for as long as there is no Mikdash, Yerushalayim is still in a state of Churban.[4] How can we comprehend this seemingly paradoxical state, one in which Klal Yisrael has once again become a sovereign nation in its land, has rebuilt the land spiritually and physically, but is still so far from the geula?

Perhaps the end of the Shemone Esrei provides a perspective on this problem. After the b'racha of Modim, we recite Sim Shalom. After thanking Hashem, we pray again for peace and a whole litany of additional requests. Klal Yisrael are in an eternal state of modeh 'al he'avar v'tzo'eik 'al he'asid (54a), thanking Hashem for the past and praying for the future.[5] We are in a constant state of receiving from our Heavenly Father. Hashem, in His wisdom, has bestowed upon us in the recent era unprecedented kindness that we have not received since the Churban Beis HaMikdash. For this, we must constantly thank HKB"H.

But we have not been granted the geula sheleima. So much is still lacking. The overwhelming majority of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael and chutz la'aretz are not shomrei Torah umitzvos. Many never even heard of many mitzvos. A frightening intermarriage rate prevails outside of Israel. The current pending legislation compelling a draft for Yeshiva students threatens to divide even further an already divided nation, pitting not only religious against secular Jews, but religious Jew against religious Jew with different viewpoints as to their role in the modern day State of Israel. The civil wars in Syria and Egypt, the nuclear threat from Iran, the missile threat from Lebanon, and the constant terror threat in Israel proper all serve to remind us how tenuous Klal Yisrael's survival is. Mah zeh 'asah Hashem lanu? He has shown us so much kindness, but so much is still so wrong! Perhaps we can humbly suggest that precisely in an era such as ours, when we have received so much Divine blessing including the return of so many millions to Eretz Yisrael, Hashem has to remind us that we have not reached geula yet. Being able to pray at the Kotel HaMa'aravi for the last 46 years sometimes makes us forget the enormity of this privilege, and, even more importantly, that we do not have the Mikdash that this wall was meant to surround![6] I have heard many speakers suggest that the current situation hovering over Yeshiva students is meant to awaken us not to take the gift of Torah study for granted and to increase its study ever more diligently. He sends us constant reminders to tell us: awaken, pray for the redemption! Titz'aku 'al he'asid! Do not think you already have been redeemed. There is still so much lacking!

But we take comfort, nachamu, nachamu ami. Hashem, even in periods of utter destruction, still loves us. He will redeem us totally and unqualifiedly. All these threats and troubles will disappear. In the meantime, though, we must redouble our efforts, in Torah study, in prayer, and in hasbara demonstrating to our not yet observant brethren the beauty of our Torah. In this merit, may we see the geula sheleima bim'heira.


[1] Heard in a shiur given on Tisha B'Av. Any errors in this presentation are my own.

[2] Only the ones practiced as customs not as halachos are lifted.

[3] This miraculous transplantation of Torah was expressed beautifully by the Chazon Ish to the Rosh Yeshiva of the Slonimer Yeshiva in Ramat Gan, with the following words: "For hundreds of years, the Babylonian Yeshivot wandered from place to place and tried to pave their way to the Holy Land from where they were exiled…. Their names have changed but not their souls…This is the Torah which was exiled ten exiles…This is the Torah which now returns from desolate plains back to the coveted Land…[the original name of the Yeshiva] reminds us of our great efforts and courage in preserving the Covenant of the Torah in exile after which we have brought it back to its final rest and heritage. Its glory and shining beauty have not been dulled even in the gloom of exile.” (quoted in Chazon Ish, a Biography of Rabbi Abraham Isaiah Karelitz, by Aharon Sorsasky).

[4] See B'Ikvei HaTzon (18:10) and Piskei Teshuvos (561:1) concerning the obligation of k'ri'a on Yerushalayim nowadays.

[5] I heard this idea from Rav Hershel Welcher shlita.

[6] Rav Menachem Nissel shlita suggested that perhaps this is one Divine message of the recent morning when Orthodox Jews were prevented from praying at the Kotel to allow the non-Orthodox Women of the Wall to hold their "services" there. We should never take the privilege of praying there for granted.

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