Shabbos Nachamu – Comfort Through Unity
This was supposed to be the week of nechama, of comfort and consolation. We just got up off the ground where we were mourning the tragedies and atrocities of the last 2,000 years and reflecting on the root cause of our suffering, specifically baseless hatred. In the very week in which we were to learn the results and consequences of infighting, intolerance, and conflict among our people, a Jew in the holy city of Jerusalem stabbed six fellow Jews simply because he objects to their lifestyle. Compounding the severity of the chillul Hashem caused by his actions is the fact that the individual identifies as Orthodox and as Torah observant.
The Orthodox community does not deserve to be measured or judged by the repulsive, abhorrent, and detestable actions of a sick and crazy man. We do, however, deserve to be measured and judged by how loudly and clearly we proclaim how intolerable and repugnant such behavior is.
Loyalty and devotion to Torah values and laws are absolutely never license for aggression, abuse, harassment, or violence. Truly observant Jews don’t raise their voice, their pen or their fists aggressively against those with whom they disagree. Authentically observant Jews must pursue God’s path of deracheha darchei noam, inspiring, motivating, and persuading others to embrace Torah values with pleasantness and peacefulness. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and all traumatized by this horrific event.
How can we in fact find comfort on the Shabbos of comfort in the wake of this latest horrific incident?
“Nachamu nachamu ami, yomar Elokeichem.” This Shabbos we read the first of the seven haftorahs of comfort and consolation that bring us to Rosh Hashana. Yeshayahu seeks to ease our pain by relaying Hashem’s promise of comfort. The question begs itself: What is different this coming Shabbos from this past one? Just one week ago on Shabbos Chazon and continuing into Tisha B’av we cried and lamented the horrific slaughter of our people throughout the ages. We relived the Crusades, the Inquisition, the burning of our Talmud, the Holocaust and the threats Israel faces yet today. Nothing has changed and nothing is any different now, one week later. So where is this comfort the prophet promises?
Perhaps the answer can be found in an ancient and mysterious text called Perek Shira. Many believe that it was written by Dovid HaMelech after he completed the book of Tehillim. Perek Shira is referred to by many of our greatest sages including the Ramban. It lists 84 elements of the natural world including the sky, the earth and all kinds of animals and shows how the natural world sings God’s praises by attributing a Biblical verse to each one. The message of this magnificent work is that the whole world is a symphony and we can learn from what each aspect of the world contributes to God’s song.
Perek Shira states: “Retzifi omeir: nachamu nachamu ami, yomar Elokeichem.” The Retzifi is a certain type of bird and through its life we learn about nachamu nachamu ami. What does this cryptic statement mean? What does the Retzifi do and what did Dovid HaMelech mean to suggest about what we can learn from it?
The Knaf Renanim, written by the great 17th-century Moroccan Kabbalist Rabbi Avraham Azulai, explains that this bird lives in the North and does not like the cold. Other species of birds fly south for the summer, but the Retzifi stays behind because he does not want to miss the beginning of the spring. So how does this species of bird survive the cold and harsh winter? Rav Azulai explains that they descend into a bottom of a ditch and they form a tight circle there. Each bird puts its head under the feathers of the one next to it. The Retzifi survives the winter and stays warm only by connecting with his fellow birds. Remarkably coordinated, these birds take care of themselves by finding cover and simultaneously provide cover for the one next to them under their wing. It is from this behavior that we learn the meaning of Nachamu Nachamu Ami.
According to this interpretation, Dovid HaMelech was suggesting that if we want to know how to weather the cold, survive the darkness, and endure through the harsh exile we must follow the model of the Retzifi. Survival and comfort are all about practicing achdus – unity and togetherness. If we confront our challenges with empathy, kindness and a desire to draw closer together, we will not only survive, but we will thrive.
True, nothing is different one week later than it was on Tisha B’av. Nothing has changed about our circumstances or our standing in the world. And yet, there is one thing different. Through sitting on the floor together, through crying on one another’s shoulder and through feeling each other’s pain we have become closer, more cohesive and more of a people. That is the comfort that Yeshayahu promised. Nachamu, nachamu ami…if you feel a sense of ami, my united people, if this hardship brings you closer instead of driving you farther apart, then indeed, nachamu nachamu you have found comfort despite the difficulty.
Nachamu nachamu ami. When we come together as a people with a sense of togetherness and unity, when we feel the pain of one another and genuinely empathize with our brothers and sisters no matter what differences we may have, we find nechama. We cannot necessarily control the harshness of the exile, but we can make sure that it never drives a wedge between us.
There are legitimate issues that divide us from one another. We must remain steadfast in our commitment to uphold and defend our immutable Torah and its timeless values. But we must never confuse our efforts to inspire and teach ideas and principles with a justification or excuse to be harsh or cruel to people.
Rav Aryeh Levin, the great tzadik of Yerushalayim, was once walking when he sensed that a boy from his neighborhood was trying to avoid him. Rav Aryeh caught up with the boy and asked about his wellbeing. The boy admitted that he was avoiding the Rabbi because though he was raised religious he had taken off his kippa and was no longer observant. He was embarrassed and afraid to be engaged by the Rabbi so he tried to avoid him. When he heard this, Rav Aryeh turned to the boy and said, you know, I am a short man. I cannot see what is on your head. I can only see what is in your heart.
Iran’s leaders have consistently called for the destruction of Israel and the genocide of the Jews. Like so many of our past enemies, they have never distinguished between religious and secular, between orientation, political affiliation, or denomination. In their desire to bring about our extermination, all Jews are equal and the same. They see us as one, it is time for us to see ourselves as one, united and undivided.
The Talmud states, “ilmalei meshamrim yisroel shtei shabbasos mi’yad hayu nigalin. If only the Jewish people would observe two Shabbosos they would immediately be redeemed.” Why only two Shabbosos and why does Shabbos specifically have the power to reverse the lot of the Jewish people and usher in the era of redemption?
I once saw a beautiful explanation. The Gemara doesn’t mean just any two Shabbosos. Rather, it means if the Jewish people would observe Shabbos Chazon the week before Tisha B’av and Shabbos Nachamu the week after it, Moshiach would come. If we used the week of Chazon to feel the pain, mourn the loss, and acknowledge our shortcomings, and we then observe Shabbos Nachamu to repair ourselves by uniting together as one, redemption would finally arrive.
In the merit of a speedy recovery for the stabbing victims and all of those who are ill, let us all be more cautious and vigilant with our rhetoric towards one another. We don’t have to agree with one another, but we must be kind, respectful and pleasant towards one another if we are to find the strength to endure until Moshiach arrives.
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