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REACH OUT AND TOUCH SOMEONE

by Michael Gros    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

During this Shabbat we stand at a crossroads. Behind us are the three weeks of mourning leading to Tishah B'Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar on which the two Temples were destroyed. In front of us lie the seven weeks of consolation, leading up to the joyous new year.

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During this Shabbat we stand at a crossroads. Behind us are the three weeks of mourning leading to Tishah B'Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar on which the two Temples were destroyed. In front of us lie the seven weeks of consolation, leading up to the joyous new year. In four days we will celebrate Tu B'Av, the 15th day of the month. This was traditionally one of the happiest days of the Jewish calendar, on which numerous positive events occurred.

This Shabbat is the bridge between these two extremes. This bridge is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of consolation, after the first words of the Haftorah. The Haftorah begins, "Nachamu, nachamu - Comfort, comfort my people, says G-d." After the incredible destruction that the Jews faced on Tishah B'Av, G-d's reassurance is well needed. Throughout history, and sadly, in nearly every generation, some great sadness has befallen our people on this day. These destructions often occurred due to sins of the Jews, as we distanced ourselves from G-d. Even in our darkest days, G-d reminds us that He still loves us and is ready to console us. How are we consoled by G-d?

The Chofetz Chaim, the saintly leader of Torah Jewry at the turn of the 20th century, and the foremost teacher of proper language, provides an answer. "Even though it is highly advisable to measure your words, it is a great mitzvah to speak at length with someone who is sad or depressed. Helping a person overcome his worries and sadness is very important." Normally one should measure his words carefully, to avoid unnecessary statements that could harm the listener or another. When one is angry, this is even more important, as one should limit his words to avoid saying things he will later regret. However, if someone else is sad or angry, it is our duty to use extra words in order to console the person during their time of pain.

This is how G-d teaches us to deal with sorrow. Upon seeing a destroyed Jerusalem, demoralized and saddened at all that has occurred to her, G-d comes down to reassure her, and to share in her pain. The Haftorah mentions the word twice - nachamu, nachamu - to symbolize extra consolation. Every word in the Torah has a purpose, and when a word is repeated, it teaches us that the word is emphasized. Thus G-d is giving us an extra dose of reassurance. The repetition of the word also teaches that there are two consolations - one for each Temple that was destroyed.

When G-d says the words "nachamu, nachamu," he is reaching out to the Jewish people. In synagogue when a Kohen is called to the Torah, the congregation responds with a line from this week's portion: "And you who cling to Hashem, your G-d, are all alive today" (Deuteronomy 4:4). G-d is teaching us the idea of tying ourselves to Him in love. If we bind ourselves to G-d, he will do the same. Just as each person must bind themselves to one's spouse with love, so too each person must bind themselves to G-d.

We see this dual idea of love, to our spouses and to G-d, appear once more this week. The Mishnah (Tractate Ta'anit) states "there were no greater days of celebration in Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur. [on the 15th of Av] the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards, and he who had no wife would go there." It was on this day of celebration that unmarried men and women would go to the fields to find their beloved. This is the day that men and women would reach out in love to each other, to join together.

The 15th of Av, known as Tu B'Av in Hebrew, is also a day of love between G-d and the Jewish people. The sages teach that a person's sins are traditionally forgiven three times - on Yom Kippur, on Tu B'Av, and on one's wedding day. It is on these three times that G-d reaches out to form a bond with the Jewish people, and out of his unbridled love for us, forgives us of all of our sins. It is significant that G-d forgives our sins on Tu B'Av, immediately following the day of destruction that we brought on ourselves through our sins. Even though we sin and cut ourselves off from G-d, He returns out of love to forgive us. G-d gives us another chance. On Tu B'Av, the Jews in the desert realized that the decree against them for the sin of the spies had been lifted. It was on this day that G-d once again spoke to Moses in reconciliation. On Yom Kippur when one's fate for the year is finalized, G-d forgives our sins, and grants us a new life. So too, a wedding day is considered a "mini-Yom Kippur," in which one's sins are forgiven, and one has the chance to start with a fresh, clean slate. On all these days G-d reassures us- nachamu, nachamu, our sins are forgiven. May G-d grant us this forgiveness, and may we be successful in leading our new life.

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Michael Gros, an alumnus of Emory University in Atlanta, is studying at Yeshivat Darche Noam/Shapells in Jerusalem. Tomorrow he experiences his own "mini-Yom Kippur," as he marries Shana Rashes of New York.

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