Wednesday, August 06, 2014

from "batzar lecha" to "nachamu"

Batzar lecha u’metzau’cha kol hadevarim ha’eilah b'acharis hayamim v’shavta ad Hashem Elokecha…”  (4:30) The simple pshat in the pasuk is that when things get bad, that will motivate us to do teshuvah and return to G-d.  We’ve had enough of a taste of that over the past few weeks.  Chasam Sofer, however, understands the pasuk a little differently (link).  After all, it's unfortunately not only "u'metza'ucha b'acharis hayamim" that we discover persecution -- it's been with us for a long time.  Explains the Chasam Sofer, the pasuk is not talking about the suffering of the present, but about appreciating the past -- having a historical consciousness.  If "b'acharis hayamim" we haven't forgotten what churban habayis means, what being in galus -- even a pleasant galus -- means,  and we yearn for redemption, that appreciation and yearing itself is a return to G-d. 

The Midrash writes that when Bnei Yisrael heard Yeshayahu haNavi say “Nachamu nachamu ami,” they had a hava mina that this prophecy was for their generation alone.  Not so, says the Midrash.  The Navi uses the word “yomar Elokeichem,” future tense, not “amar.”  This is a prophecy for all future generations. 

Why did Bnei Yisrael think that “nachamu” was meant for their generation alone?  Ksav Sofer answers that when people are devastated, they will grasp at any small measure of relief and be satisfied.  Klal Yisrael thought that the nechama promised by Yeshayahu would be enough for their generation which experienced the total destruction of the churban, but what meaning would it have for our generation, where people live in galus surrounded by 8 kosher pizza stores and a daf yomi on the LIRR train?  The Navi reassures us that the nechama promised will be so great that no matter how comfortable our life in galus, we will be thankful for the consolation of redemption.

I would like to suggest a different answer.  The generation that experienced the churban had seen what a Jewish nation living in its homeland with a beis hamikdash was all about.  Nachamu nachamu ami,” be consoled my nation, were words they could relate to.  They wondered, however, if we could relate to those words.  Would galus turn us into a bunch of splintered communities, each with its own minhagim, each with its own particular dialect of tefilah, foods, dress, language, ideas and ideologies?  What would become of that sense of ami, that we were one people, one nation, with a common destiny?

These past few weeks have proven that hava amina incorrect – that sense of “ami” that the Navi speaks to is alive and well.  No matter if you live in the most tranquil community where there is never a whiff of anti-semitism – these have been painful weeks.  Is there a shul out there that has not been saying tehillim and davening extra?  Is there anyone in our community who still does not get the fact that the media, the world at large, treats us differently than other groups?  Is there anyone in our community who does not yearn not just for a cease-fire of who knows how long, but for a real nechama that will wipe away these sorrows? 

 I don’t know if it’s still the slogan, but the rage among certain movements used to be the term “Jewish identity.”  From our perspective it makes no sense – how do you create a Jewish identity without Torah and mitzvos?  But the truth is, maybe there is something to it.  My wife noticed yesterday that the speakers in the 9 Av program we attended, who were by and large from the yeshiva world, not flag waving tzionim, referred to “our soldiers,” attacks on “our people.”  One of the speakers mentioned that last week he was in Eretz Yisrael and he had to get out of his car because there was a siren that went off.  He found himself lying alongside the highway with a “traditional” Jew next to him on one side and a chiloni on the other side -- but he felt one with them.  Yair Lapid’s views on many issues may clash with ours, but Yair Lapid knew where to find a sefer Tehillim when those kidnapped Jewish teens needed G-d’s help.  That’s Jewish identity.  What defines the unaffiliated Jew as unaffiliated is not his lack of shemiras hamitzvos or lack of belief in this or that of the ikkarei emunah.  What makes him unaffiliated is his not shedding a tear or uttering a prayer these past few weeks. 

Maybe that’s the pshat in the pasuk we started with.  The road out of galus starts with “batzar lecha,” when each one of us is bothered by “kol hadevarim ha’eileh,” all Jewish pain and suffering -- not just the suffering is c”v in our home or family or community.  Whether it’s a Jew in France that can’t go outside wearing a kipah or a Jew in Sderot who has to run to a shelter to escape a rocket, we suffer along with them.  Why it takes suffering to bring out this feeling is something I can't explain.  But at least now that we’re in this boat, let’s not lose that sense of shared purpose and destiney, and hopefully instead of suffering as  nation will will soon see “nachamu nachami ami” consolation and rejoicing as a nation as well.

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