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לימוד תורה

Faith, comfort and hope in times of crisis

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald

The Parasha in the everyday life – Parashat Va’etchanan – 5780 - "Shabbat Nachamu"

(Shabbat of Consolation- This optimistic Haftarah is read following the fast of Tisha B'Av, to bring comfort after Tisha B'Av's sadness.)

We are in the midst of the corona crisis, a medical and economic crisis and an intensifying crisis between the different parts of the Israeli society. Many seek to strengthen their faith and look forward to a guiding direction. We too seek inspiration and faith empowerment from our Parasha and the Haftarah of consolation that we will read on Shabbat.

וָאֶתְחַנַּ֖ן אֶל ה' בָּעֵ֥ת הַהִ֖וא לֵאמֹֽר... כהאֶעְבְּרָה־נָּ֗א וְאֶרְאֶה֙ אֶת־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַטּוֹבָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּעֵ֣בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן ... "נתאוה משה רבינו ליכנס לא"י"

דָּבָר אַחֵר, בָּעֵת הַהִוא לֵאמֹר, מַהוּ לֵאמֹר, אָמַר רַבִּי עֲזַרְיָה לֵאמֹר לַדּוֹרוֹת שֶׁיִּהְיוּ מִתְפַּלְּלִין בִּשְׁעַת הַצָּרָה, שֶׁהֲרֵי משֶׁה אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר לוֹ (דברים ג, כז): לֹא תַעֲבֹר אֶת הַיַּרְדֵּן הַזֶּה, הִתְחִיל מִתְחַנֵּן.

“I pleaded with Hashem at that time, saying…. Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan…” Devarim 3:23-25)

For what reason did Moshe our teacher greatly desire to enter Eretz Yisrael?(Sotah 14a)

And so, he prays 515 prayers to annul the decree. “The Sages saw in his prayers a "basis" for prayer in times of trouble and crisis: "I Pleaded with Hashem at that time saying" - what is "saying"? Rabbi Azariah said: Saying to the future generations. So, there will be worshipers in times of trouble, for Moshe, even though he was told, 'You shall not cross this Jordan,' began to beg" (Devarim Rabbah Va’etchanan 2).

But His prayer was not accepted:

וַיִּתְעַבֵּ֨ר ה' בִּי֙ לְמַ֣עַנְכֶ֔ם וְלֹ֥א שָׁמַ֖ע אֵלָ֑י וַיֹּ֨אמֶר ה' אֵלַי֙ רַב־לָ֔ךְ אַל־תּ֗וֹסֶף דַּבֵּ֥ר אֵלַ֛י ע֖וֹד בַּדָּבָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה׃

“But Hashem was wrathful with me on your account and would not listen to me. Hashem said to me, “Enough! Never speak to Me of this matter again!” (Devarim 3:26)

ד"א רב לך - די לך אל תרבה בבקשה  Apparently, Hashem’s answer of "רַב־לָ֔ךְ" is a decree that shuts down: " רַב־לָ֔ךְ – you have had enough! Do not repeat please!" (Rashi on Sotah 13b).

רב לך. שֶׁלֹּא יֹאמְרוּ הָרַב כַּמָּה קָשֶׁה וְהַתַּלְמִיד כַּמָּה סַרְבָן וּמַפְצִיר

רב לך Let it suffice thee (i.e. pray no more), so that people should not say, “How harsh is the Master, and how obstinate and importunate is the disciple" (Rashi ibid).

It ostensibly implies that this is a total decree from which there is no return. Its severity is incomprehensible to human reasoning; for what did Hashem see so aggravating in Moshe Rabbeinu’s acts. And even the severity of the sin for which it was derived is not clear:

והאמת כי הענין סוד גדול מסתרי התורה

"And the truth is that the matter is a big secret from among the secrets of the Torah". (Ramban Bamidbar 20:8)

Human opinion will be short of pretending to understand the ways of Divine Providence מֵאֵ֣ת ה' הָ֣יְתָה זֹּ֑את הִ֖יא נִפְלָ֣את בְּעֵינֵֽינוּ׃ “This is Hashem’s doing; it is marvelous in our sight”. (Psalms 118:23)

The other side of the same coin. Precisely from the saying ַ רַב־לָ֔ךְimplies that in Moshe Rabbeinu’s inner layer there is a greater purpose and promise:

רב לך, הַרְבֵּה מִזֶּה שָׁמוּר לְךָ, רַב טוּב הַצָּפוּן לְך

lit., there is much for you— more than this is reserved for you; much is the goodness that is stored up for thee” (Rashi Devarim 3:26)

רב טוב הצפון לך. ר"ל טוב הצפון בעולם הבא יותר משתכנס אתה לארץ:

Great is the goodness that is hidden away for you. I.e., the goodness that is hidden away for you in the World to Come is greater than [the goodness] you would have from entering the Land”. (Siftei Chakhamim Devarim 3:26)

From this we can learn that even when the divine leadership is seen as a decree of justice, and is incomprehensible to a human being, it has a hidden blessing and the benefit of mercy. Sometimes you can see it immediately, sometimes it will be seen in the future and sometimes it will only be in the world to come.

In the Haftarah we will read Yishayahu’s prophecy of comfort נַחֲמ֥וּ נַחֲמ֖וּ עַמִּ֑י

“Comfort, oh comfort My people” (Yishayahu 40:1).

Last Shabbat ‘Shabbat Chazon’ we read Yishayahu’s prophecy about the calamity of the destruction and exile. The first prophet (after Moshe Rabbeinu) who warned of destruction more than a century before it occurred.

'Destruction and exile' and 'consolation' are two opposites and yet there is an affinity between them: The sin by pairs:

חֵ֤טְא חָֽטְאָה֙ יְר֣וּשָׁלִַ֔ם “Jerusalem has greatly sinned”, (Lamentations 1) and suffered in doubles  כִּ֤י לָקְחָה֙ מִיַּ֣ד ה' כִּפְלַ֖יִם בְּכָל־חַטֹּאתֶֽיהָ “For she has received at the hand of Hashem Double for all her sins”. (Yishayahu 40:2) and are comforted in doubles “Comfort, oh comfort My people” (Yalkut Shimoni Yeshayahu).

There is a direct relationship between the intensity of the crisis and the grief of the destruction, and the magnitude of the comfort and redemption that will grow from it. From וְלָקוּ בְּכִפְלַיִם,'derived in doubles' comes וּמִתְנַחֲמִים בְּכִפְלַיִם  ‘comfort in doubles'. These are the two sides of the same coin. The basis of the process of redemption, repair, rebuilding and consolation lies in the catastrophe of the crisis of destruction. The prophet Yishayahu who prophesies about the crisis of destruction is the one who inspires optimism and hope from which new construction and comfort will grow in the future.

The corona crisis is affecting the entire world. A microscopic-sized virus dictates the whole world how to conduct itself, knocks down many victims and harms the world economy. Human reasoning cannot answer the question of how and why it suddenly appeared. As believers, it is clear to us that a phenomenon of this magnitude is not accidental but from Hashem. Nor do we pretend to be 'supreme knowers' to understand why.

We recognize the limitations of human reasoning in understanding the Divine leadership, and are compelled to humbly admit that “This is Hashem’s doing; it is marvelous in our sight”.

The "Chazon Ish" explained in his book "Faith and Trust" that "faith" does not necessarily mean that humanity has an insurance certificate that will not be harmed in the immediate term. It is supposed to give the believer the sense that his destiny is not just a coincidence. That Hashem runs the world, and what happens is the best thing that could happen, and his destiny is in the best possible hands.

This belief fills us with confidence, optimism and hope even in difficult times of crisis.

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