Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Walk Article



Rabbi David Walk


            Unfortunately, as a rabbi I encounter many cases of mourning.  I probably receive more questions about mourning that any other area of Jewish law.  Most of these questions revolve around the ritual observances of mourning.   Rarely do I hear the essential question, namely:  How do I attain a state of comfort or consolation after this irrevocable tragedy?  Part of me is relieved, because often I don't have a good answer.  Sometimes, the deceased has lived a long and productive life, and it's relatively easy to point out the accomplishments and the survivors, and say that we are comforted by the memories and the heirs to the legacy.  But what can one say to relatives (especially parents) when one has died early in the game and has left few or no footprints in the sands of time?  Usually, like the friends of Job, silence is judged the best response.  The easiest comfort is the sense of replacement and continuity.  Let's take that idea and apply it to the mourning of Tisha B'av, which we've just experienced.  Every year we celebrate the Shabbat of Comfort after the Ninth of Av, but can there be comfort without a replacement Temple?  I believe that we must answer yes, but it's not easy to see how.

            To begin we must start with the famous Haftorah chanted this week, which bestows the name of this Shabbat.  The first two words, Nachamu Nachamu, set the tone and mean that you, the reader, should be comforted.  This term is repeated to teach that we must be comforted in two ways.  That part is easy, but what are the two instances of comfort?  Many opine that there will be comfort for both destructions.  Some suggest that the answer is hinted at in the second verse which states that the Jews have sinned doubly, and, therefore, require a double dose of consolation.  That just displaced the question.   Now we can ask, what was the double sin?  Perhaps it means against God and humanity, or maybe it was reckoned a double sin because so much is expected of the Chosen People.  The Ba'al Shem Tov explained that sins are wrong for everyone, but when a Jew sins it's much worse, because we are like princes, children of the King.  When we sin it's a double transgression because we can't claim that we didn't realize that there is a Monarch in charge.  One might put forward the proposition that one consolation is the end of painful punishment, while the second will be replacement of the Temple.  And one could even think that the first comfort was immediate, because unlike other ancient civilizations we weren't totally wiped out.  The surviving remnant could be construed as a consolation.

            Maybe we can claim that there are two stages to the comfort process.  Perhaps we can suggest that the ultimate consolation goal is to get back to where we once belonged (Thank you, Beatles.).  But before the situation has totally returned to 'as in days gone by, as in former years (Thank you, Malachi 3:4),' there will be interim steps when we notice the movement towards a restoration of the relationship with God.  It's very possible that the re-establishment doesn't have to be complete for us to get great comfort.

            On Yom Ha'atzmaut in 1956 Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik gave a very famous speech which has been printed both in Hebrew and English as Kol Dodi Dofek.  The Rav talked about the advantages that the Jewish community has already garnered through the establishment of the State of Israel.  Although all six of his ideas could be counted as consolation, I want to suggest just one of them.

The Rav said:  Many Jews were perplexed during the Holocaust era.  In those days I traveled between Boston and New York by train, and people (in other sources he specified Christian clergy) used to sit next to me and ask questions, many of which were influenced by missionary literature.  Most of those questions have been answered by the establishment of the State of Israel, and the confusion has subsided.  The emergence of the State was a hashgacha, an act of Divine Providence.

Christian Replacement Theology (also called Supersessionism) has long claimed that the Jewish covenant with God was replaced with a new covenant with the adherents of Christianity.  The Christian parts of the Bible are called the New Covenant in Hebrew.  Frankly, it must have been hard to deny that the Jews had been rejected by God during the many centuries of our wanderings and persecutions at the hands of the victorious Christians.  But, we're back with a vengeance since 1948.

This consolation is very powerful, and could be more formidable than even the building of the Temple.  The Midrash teaches that in God's mercy, the destruction was focused on wood and stone, and not the more valued Jewish lives.  The Rav said that Jewish blood is more precious than any stones.  So, the Jewish return to Israel and the swift population growth in the State could be construed as an amazing bestowal of comfort on our weary people.

The Chassidic commentary Ginzei Yosef (R. Yosef Block, written 1792) offers the idea that one of the two comforts is already contained in the verse.  When God says be comforted My people, the Deity is already giving comfort by overturning the chastisement of the prophet Hosea (1:9), who proclaimed that the Jews are no longer God's nation.  I like that interpretation.  In other words there are two comforts.  One is the eventual replacement of the Temple, and the other or interim consolation is to feel like the holy nation and kingdom of priests again.

We read this beautiful Haftorah every year, but I'm not sure that we have the right attitude.  Our generation has so much to be appreciative for that we should read this material with gladness and thanksgiving.  It's not just that we should see the cup as half full, we should sense that the glass is filling before our very eyes.                           

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