The Nechama of Shabbat Nachamu

This coming Shabbat is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of comfort or the Shabbat of consolation. The Haftorah for this week’s Parsha is the comforting prophecy of Yeshayahu, “Nachamu nachamu ami – comfort My people.” But what is the comfort of Shabbat Nachamu?  Do we simply feel comforted that the dreaded Three Weeks, Nine Days and Tisha B’Av are over?  Are the comfort and the consolation that we know God still loves us, as evidenced by the fact that we are still here?

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that “nechama” can also mean “reconsideration.”  After all, at the end of Parshat Breishit, the Torah tells us how “vayinachem Hashem” – God, as it were, reconsidered having created mankind and He decided to destroy the world.  In Parshat Vaeychi, the Torah states with regard to Yosef “vayinachem otam” – Yosef reassured his brothers after Yaakov died that he harbored no feelings of resentment and as such, he caused them to reconsider and change their perspective and change how they felt about him up to that point.

Perhaps then, the nechama, the consolation, occurs when we reconsider and we change perspective and we learn how to deal with the loss of no Temple, of no unity, of widespread assimilation in a meaningful way.

During a lecture he delivered on Tisha B’av afternoon a number of years ago, Rabbi Fischel Schachter, a Rebbe at Mesivta Torah Vodaas, related a personal story that a woman had related to him:

“A number of years ago one of my children died and I was devastated. I became so depressed that I refused to leave my house. I was sure that I would never get over it and would never be able to get on with my life. Two months went by and things did not improve at all; in fact my misery and self-pity only deepened.  I was invited to a wedding but I told my husband that I wasn’t going. I simply couldn’t. My husband knew how badly I needed to get out and, when he saw that he could not reason with me, he literally pushed me out of the house and locked the door. I banged on the door but my husband would not allow me back in. He called out that my dress and makeup were at a neighbor’s house and that I had to go to the wedding.

Seeing that I had no choice, I begrudgingly got dressed and went to the wedding. When I saw everyone dancing happily I became very upset. I felt that they had no right to be so happy. With a complete feeling of dejection, I walked over to a phone booth and picked up the phone. Tears streaming down my face, I said, “G-d, I don’t want to be here. Please get me out of here!”  While I was standing there crying, one of the elderly women who was sitting at the door of the hall collecting charity noticed me and walked over to me. She placed her arms on my shoulder and gently asked me, “Mein kint, vos vaynst du-  my child why are you crying?” I shot back at her, “You never lost a child!” She gently replied, “Really? I lost ten children during the war! Why are you crying?” I looked at her in astonishment, “And you never cried?” “Oh, I cried! But I learned that there is no point of crying over the past. I learned to take advantage of my tears and to use them to cry for others. Whenever I cry I think about those who need salvation and I pray for them with my tears.”  Then she put her arms around me and said, “No one should tell you to stop crying. But use your tears and learn how to cry! Use your tears to pray for everyone you know who is suffering.” Then she walked away.  For a few moments, I just stood there lost in thought. Then I picked up the phone again and began to cry profusely. I thought about everyone I know who is going through a hard time and I cried for them. I thought about those who were in the hospital when I was there with my child and I cried for them. I cried for Klal Yisrael and I prayed for the future and for salvation and redemption. When I finished crying I never felt so happy in my life. I stepped into the center of the circle and I danced like I never danced in my life!”

Imagine if we transformed the tears that we felt for the Churban into tears to pray for others, to be there for others, to turn the sinat chinam of the Churban into ahavat chinam leading to redemption.  That is true reconsideration.  That is true consolation.  That is true nechama.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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