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לימוד תורה

The Eternal Nation grows out of crises.

Parasha and its implementation - for Parsha Vaetchanan - Nahamu 5783

Rabbi Eliezer Haim Shenvald

The eternal existence of the Jewish Nation throughout thousands of years of history is a miracle that has no rational explanation. Thinkers and historians from nations around the world faced this with astonishment. Although its history was full of disasters, persecutions, bodily injuries and extermination attempts, the nation of Israel survived all of these. At the same time, in those very years, other great and powerful nations that ruled the world disappeared as if they were not there. Mark Twain wrote:

"The Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, and have vanished.

The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities, of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind.  All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains.  What is the secret of his immortality? " (Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad. London: 1881)

The number of disasters, crises, and destruction that the nation of Israel has gone through in its history is indescribable. We have paid heavy prices. However, this eternal nation, has miraculous 'genes' of recovery and restoration, tremendous life forces of growth, thanks to which it survived all the crises, and from some of them, contrary to all logic, even became stronger than before. This sturdy tree, even if it is cut down, its strong and sturdy roots grow stronger and regrow.

Tisha B'Av is the most difficult national day of mourning on the Jewish calendar, as we mourn and commemorate the severe disasters and destruction in our history, which threatened to destroy us. The mourning is the same as for someone who lost a first-degree relative. However, even on this difficult day, from noon on, the mourning is different. There are communities where they begin to practice redemption customs after noon.

The Shabbat after the 9th of Av is called 'Shabbat Nahamu', named after the Haftara that is read:

נַחֲמ֥וּ נַחֲמ֖וּ עַמִּ֑י יֹאמַ֖ר אֱלֹקיכֶֽם׃ דַּבְּר֞וּ עַל־לֵ֤ב יְרֽוּשָׁלִַ֙ם֙ וְקִרְא֣וּ אֵלֶ֔יהָ כִּ֤י מָֽלְאָה֙ צְבָאָ֔הּ כִּ֥י נִרְצָ֖ה עֲוֺנָ֑הּ כִּ֤י לָקְחָה֙ מִיַּ֣ד ה' כִּפְלַ֖יִם בְּכָל־חַטֹּאתֶֽיהָ׃

"Comfort, oh comfort My people, Says your G-d. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and declare to her that her term of service is over, that her iniquity is expiated; for she has received at Hashem's hand double for all her sins." (Isaiah 40:1-2). 

The 'consolation' is not only a cure for the mental breakdown after disaster and loss but also an expression of the miraculous growth and restoration that followed.

The fifteenth of Av following the week of the ninth of Av is one of Israel's most ancient days for rejoicing. It is said:

לֹא הָיוּ יָמִים טוֹבִים לְיִשְׂרָאֵל כַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר בְּאָב וּכְיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים, שֶׁבָּהֶן בְּנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלַיִם יוֹצְאוֹת בִּכְלֵי לָבָן שְׁאוּלִין... וּבְנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלַיִם יוֹצְאוֹת וְחוֹלוֹת בַּכְּרָמִים.

"There were no days as joyous for the Jewish people as the fifteenth of Av and as Yom Kippur, as on them the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in white clothes, which each woman borrowed from another... And the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards." (Mishnah Ta'anit 4:8)

A day of matchmaking and building of new homes in Israel. One of the reasons this day is so joyous is: 

יוֹם שֶׁכָּלוּ בּוֹ מֵתֵי מִדְבָּר

"The fifteenth of Av was the day on which those designated to perish in the wilderness stopped dying" (Bava Batra 121a:9).

That is to say that on this day the tragic death of every person from the 'sin of the spies'' generation was over. On this day, a circle of tragedy and destruction was closed and instead comfort and growth for the future began. On this day, new homes are built in Israel and a basis for continuity is created as is the recovery from the tragedy of the 'sin of the spies'.

This week's Parasha opens with Moshe Rabbeinu's plea for the right to enter the Land of Israel, to continue the venture he started by bringing Israel out of Egypt. To complete rehabilitating them after the 'sin of the spies', dealing with the denial and the duty of inheriting the land and its construction. However, his request was rejected by G-d:

גַּם־בִּי֙ הִתְאַנַּ֣ף ה' בִּגְלַלְכֶ֖ם לֵאמֹ֑ר גַּם־אַתָּ֖ה לֹא־תָבֹ֥א שָֽׁם׃ יְהוֹשֻׁ֤עַ בִּן נוּן֙ הָעֹמֵ֣ד לְפָנֶ֔יךָ ה֖וּא יָ֣בֹא שָׁ֑מָּה אֹת֣וֹ חַזֵּ֔ק כִּי־ה֖וּא יַנְחִלֶ֥נָּה אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

"Because of you Hashem was incensed with me too, saying: You shall not enter it either. Yehoshua son of Nun, who attends you, he shall enter it. Imbue him with strength, for he shall allot it to Israel". (Devarim 1:37-38)

However, even when his request was denied, it was accompanied by a constructive side: Yehoshua son of Nun, his disciple and successor, is the one who will lead the people of Israel in the inheritance of the land, in the renewed growth and building the Nation of Israel in the Land of Israel, after the crisis. The leadership of the exemplary people in the nation of Israel, in normal times and in times of crisis, shares the divine wonder of Israel's eternity and its survival.

The phenomenon of the eternal people's growth out of the crises is related to another of its genes, that of faith and optimism, which is invincible even in difficult times.

These days we are experiencing internal tension, a crisis, of crossing red lines that could unravel and damage the cohesion of the people of Israel and the resilience of the IDF. Days of anxiety about the future. We need to remember and remind ourselves of ourselves; we need to show optimism, hope, and strength to get together and heal, to produce growth that will bring us to a better place than we were before.

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