Yochanan Gordon

By Yochanan Gordon

We are all mourners on Tishah B’Av. The objective of the day is to reflect upon the incompleteness of life in the absence of the Beis HaMikdash and the Shechinah, which has wallowed in exile as long as we have as a people. We recite the Kinos while sitting close to or on the ground, facing the pain and misery of our people while longing for the day when we will be home again, in Jerusalem, with the Shechinah in our midst.

As such, the morose nature of the Three Weeks and Nine Days with its painful liturgy is like an albatross around our collective necks, which we get to shed with the arrival of Shabbos Nachamu when we chant those curative words, “Nachamu, nachamu ami.” I utilized the time on Tishah B’Av to do my own reflecting on the loss of the Beis HaMikdash, specifically the fact that we have been doing this, collectively, as a people, for over 1,900 years and we still haven’t been redeemed. There was something about that thought that defied conventions of mourning and consolation. The Chazal that kept replaying itself in my mind was a famous one: “Anyone who mourns over Jerusalem merits and sees its joy,” or, according to a variant version, “its consolation” in the present tense. It isn’t saying that as a reward for commiserating with the loss of Jerusalem and the Shechinah we will merit to see its consolation as a reward in the future; rather, the act of sitting in mourning over the absence of Jerusalem and the Shechinah is itself somehow a consolation.

How?

We normally understand mourning in the context of loss. When Yaakov Avinu learned of his son Yosef’s alleged demise, the Torah says that he refused to be consoled. It is there that Rashi teaches us a rule with regard to mourning: “G-d had decreed that someone mourning the loss of a close relative will, over time, experience closure from the loss of their loved one. In Rashi’s own words: “Ein adam mekabel tanchumin al ha’chai v’savur she’meis, sh’al ha’meis nigzerah gezeirah she’yishtakach min ha’lev, v’lo al ha’chai.” In light of this, it would seem unnatural and unhealthy for someone to mourn over the loss of a loved one for too long. What does it mean that it has been over 1,900 years and we continue, year in and year out, to mourn the absence of Jerusalem and the Shechinah? To me it means that in a certain sense they haven’t completely left us. If they had, we would have long gotten over it, as Rashi says, “Gezeirah al ha’meis shetishtakach min ha’lev.” The fact that it hasn’t left our hearts is an indication that it hasn’t died. Perhaps this explains the aforementioned Chazal: “Anyone who mourns upon Jerusalem merits and sees its consolation.” If we can still agonize over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash for 1,900 years, there is no greater indication that in a certain sense it still exists, despite the fact that there are witnesses to the fact that its edifice was engulfed in flames. 

This is reminiscent of the Gemara’s discussion of the passing of Yaakov Avinu. The Gemara famously asserts: “Our patriarch Jacob hasn’t passed on.” The Gemara retorts: “Is it for naught that he was eulogized, embalmed, and buried!” The Gemara then gives an explanation about Yaakov’s perpetual life through his children: “Mah zaro ba’chayim af hu ba’chayim.” 

As far as the Beis HaMikdash, which the hands of our enemies seemingly vanquished, Chazal tell us that Shlomo HaMelech foresaw that the Temple he built would not be permanent, and he constructed a subterranean Temple that remains intact. With regard to the Shechinah, our sages tell us that the Shechinah never departed from the Western Wall. It seems that the Shechinah and the Temple, though not functional yet, remain within our midst to some degree. The question that I have been pondering is: Has the continued existence of the Shechinah and Temple on some level led to our ability to mourn over it inconsolably?

That brings us to the therapeutic words of this week’s haftarah, and the name by which this Shabbos is known, Nachamu. I find it quite interesting that the prophet writes: “Nachamu, nachamu, ami, yomar Elokeichem—Be consoled, be consoled, My people, says your G-d”. It isn’t the first word in Tanach with the root word “nechamah” that is redundant. In just the second parashah it is written: “Eileh toldos Noach, Noach ish tzaddik.” The Zohar on that parashah comments that Noach represented a certain calming spirit, which Noach, in his righteousness, brought upon heaven and earth. At the end of Bereishis, Hashem says: “Ki nichamti… V’Noach matza chein b’einei Hashem.” The Midrash on the words “Nachamu, nachamu” says: “Nachamuha Elyonim, nachamuha tachtonim, nachamuha chaim, nachamuha meisim, nachamuha olam ha’zeh, nachamuha Olam HaBa, nachamuha al aseres ha’shevatim, nachamuha al shevat Yehuda u’Binyamin.” 

To accentuate this point even further, the famous Gemara that concludes tractate Makkos has Rebbi Akiva’s colleagues deferring to his perspective when they say, “Akiva nichamtanu, Akiva nichamtanu.”

What is the meaning of the redundancy of nechamah practically every place it is mentioned? We find another interesting detail, and that is despite the prophets’ repeated attempts to console the Jewish people, we, similar to our forefather Jacob, refuse to be appeased until G-d Himself offers His consolation when He says: “Anochi, Anochi Hu menachemchem.” 

There is an idea in Chassidus on the verse: “And every illness that I have placed upon Egypt I will not place upon you, for I am G-d your healer,” which differentiates between the first part of the verse that acknowledges the existence of illnesses and the need for a cure and the words “lo asim alecha ki ani Hashem rofecha,” which says that only G-d has the ability to heal a sickness in a manner that the one who was inflicted is restored to health as if he had not been ill to begin with.

Perhaps this is the depth in the debate whether or not we will remember our going out of Egypt in the future, in that our redemption will be so strong and complete that the fact that we had ever been enslaved in Egypt will be indiscernible. Along these lines I’d like to suggest that the redundancy in nachamu is saying that there is a level in nechamah that is so consoling that it brings the mourner to a state prior to his ever having to mourn in the first place. I agree that these are lofty and almost too ethereal to conceptualize, but it’s not as important that we grasp them intellectually than that we believe in them with every fiber of our being. We’ve had a long and arduous historical journey and we fervently hope that the end is in sight.

G-d willing, very soon we will merit to see these events occur and we will be doubly consoled. 

Yochanan Gordon can be reached at ygordon5t@gmail.com. Read more of Yochanan’s articles at 5TJT.com.

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