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By: Ms. Katie Matanky

So Mashiach didn’t come this week. Well, there’s always tomorrow.

It’s Shabbat Nachamu, the first Shabbat after the saddest, most mournful day in our calendar, and this is what we always read. We always read about Moshe’s pleas, about the experience at Har Sinai, our status as Am Segula, and several suggestions for how to live well with Hashem and in Eretz Yisrael; and every year we conclude with the haftara of comforting words from Yeshayahu:  ‘Nachamu Nachamu Ami’.                         

While the haftara is best known for its outright comfort, it seems as though the parsha itself lends almost as much comfort if not more - but in a different way.

On Tisha B’Av, some aspects of our mourning include sitting on the floor or low seats, fasting, not bathing, etc. And then chatzot comes around, we all daven mincha - and all of sudden we’re sitting on regular chairs, men are wearing tefillin, we can wash our hands fully if necessary, and other signs of lessened mourning. Why the change? And why now? As the day goes on and we go deeper and deeper into the day of mourning, shouldn’t our regulations become more restrictive as the Beit HaMikdash continues to burn? On the contrary, the restrictions ease up slightly as the day moves closer to afternoon and then to nightfall.

While many terrors and catastrophes have occupied the 9th of Av, this change can be explained with a little empathy and an attempt to understand the generation of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. Imagine standing in your home, or most likely on the street, watching as the flames catch and spread and the Beit HaMikdash begins to burn. Imagine the reality sinking in as you begin praying and crying, tearing your clothing and calling out to Hashem with every fiber of your being. You know this is because of you, your neighbors, your friends and family - Am Yisrael was the very cause of their own downfall. And so, on Tisha B’Av, as they watched the Holiest of Holies being destroyed, they begin to understand that their very lives are at stake.  But as the burning continues, they eventually realize Hashem will not destroy them; He will destroy the Beit HaMikdash, not the Am Kadosh. The reality of destruction has befallen, yet the nation remains. And so, as we commemorate this day every year and mourn the loss of Hashem’s physical resting place among us, we allow this reality to settle in on us as well. In the beautiful words of the Rav, “it became clear that God decided to take the collateral, the Beit HaMikdash, instead of pursuing the real debtor, the Jewish people.” We allow the mourning to slowly subside as the day goes on, as we come to understand that it is the building that burns and not the nation.

Comfort can be expressed and felt in so many ways; sometimes kind words, a hug, a call to action, or something else. Yeshayahu is full of comforting words, full of the verbal embrace we need in order to recover from a full collapse. But the Torah itself, before Yeshayahu and before the destruction, provides comfort in the form of action. The Torah does not coddle us here - the Torah gives us instructions. We have the Aseret HaDibrot and the Shema, most notably; we have the answers to hard questions of the future’s children; and we have advice for when we enter Eretz Yisrael, the newest chapter for that generation.

The parsha continues to pave a way for us, in 5774, to provide comfort to ourselves and those around us:

Ve’asita hayashar vehatov, b’einei Hashem—lemaan yitav lach, u’vata v’yarashta et ha’aretz hatova, asher nishba Hashem la’avotecha.”

The good things we do have to be in the eyes of Hashem - the proper things we do toward our fellow human beings, that is what will bring us fortune. The comfort is in knowing that this is in our control - we have the power to bring goodness to others and subsequently to ourselves.

In Birkat HaMazon we express a similar idea:“v’nimtza chen v’sechel tov b’einei Elokim v’adam”

No matter what we do, we shouldn’t be considering “I wonder what they’ll think of me,” but “I wonder what Hashem will think of me” - first Elokim, then adam. When we seek Hashem’s approval, we realize that it is because Hashem is a part of each of us. Tzelem Elokim can be understood like a broken mirror. Hashem “looks” into a mirror and breaks it into a billion little pieces. Each piece is slightly different and each has its own characteristics, but each reflects the same thing; so too with the inhabitants of this earth. We must see in each other’s eyes and souls the reflection of Hashem, the tzelem Elokim that simultaneously contains our differences and similarities. This message is underlying the entire concept of ahavat chinam, the loving thoughts and actions that will brick-by-brick rebuild our third and final Beit HaMikdash, b’ezrat Hashem bimheira b’yameinu.

Shabbat Shalom




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