Ashkenazi Jews have a custom of reciting the following when visiting a shiva: Hamakom yenahem etkhem betokh she’ar aveilei Tzion ViYerushalayim. May the Omnipresent comfort you amongst all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. Until recently, I’ve been bothered by that line. Most people I know may mourn for Jerusalem once or twice a year, and it’s not like they are overwhelmed with emotion that needs to be soothed.
But let’s take a step back and imagine the generation which experienced the great destructions of the First or Second Jewish Commonwealths. They lost their mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and communities. They lost their homes, their businesses, and their country. They were stateless, anchorless and adrift, penniless, and vulnerable to an extent that we can only imagine. They lost their political center and the Temple, the epicenter of their entire religious world. They felt that their private and national lives had ended.
Within less than a generation, however, they began to rebuild. Like Job, they remarried and built new families. They established new businesses and trades, banded together to build new communities, and even reimagined Jewish life without a Temple. They never forgot their pain and their loss – it suffused their rituals and practices, it haunted them in their weddings and funerals, it was seared into their calendar, and they even built themselves memorials in their homes. Their loss became an inseparable part of their identity, but they did not let it stop them from moving forward, strengthened and being more determined than ever.
That, I believe, is the meaning of the words of comfort. They rebuilt, with all the pain. They carried on, with all the anguish. We do not forget the evils which befell us; they are part of our personal and national DNA, but we will not let those memories freeze us in our sorrow and our past.
We are the living proof of the comfort of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. The people who have survived and rebuilt. The nation which seems to get stronger with every iteration. Our very existence, today, and in this precious land, is their comfort – and should serve as the prototype for ours.
Thousands of families in Israel are just getting up from their heart-rending shiva. As a nation, we are just getting past the initial shock of the enormity of the trauma of Simhat Torah. The pain of that tragedy may ebb, but its memory is now embedded in our DNA as well. And while we may not yet know how, we will continue to build and thrive and emerge stronger, wiser, and more resilient.