VOLUME 72 NUMBER 2
August 8, 2014
12 Av, 5774
This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of Rob and Vickie Trachten-Schwartz’s new granddaughter. Mazel tov!
A Shabbos of Consolation
by Rabbi Raphael Leban
As I sit and type my thoughts before Shabbos this week, I can only guess what state of war and peace we’ll be in when I finally hit send. Will the ceasefire last? Perhaps the next one? The Hebrew term I heard today for ceasefire, hafsakat aish, derives from a word which means brief interruption, as in brief intermission. Not as in final solution.
After weeks of war, filled with tragedy, terror and loss, we are no closer to a lasting sense of peace in our homeland than we were before it all started. We would happily seek out any opportunity to stop sending our precious young soldiers into the deadly haven of our despicable enemies. Let us not make another single funeral.
However, none of us would be so foolish as to suggest that we have achieved the ultimate resolution, that the ceasefire is the final conclusion, and that the proverbial wolf is ready to lie down with the lamb.
This week we observed the Fast of Tisha B’av, and the haunting words of the Kinnos, lamenting tragedies of centuries past, rang all too familiar in our ears. The terrifying stories of pogroms and crusades and holocausts intermingled with the equally terrifying news reports of anti-Semitic riots in Paris last week. It seems as though nothing has changed.
This Shabbos, however, is Shabbos Nachamu. In the haftorah, we read the loving words of the prophet Yeshaya, who comes to comfort and console us. It’s the first of 7 consecutive haftorahs, each of which carries with it the message of nechama, of comfort after catastrophe.
How does one find comfort?
For the tens and hundreds of thousands of Jews who attended the funerals of the casualties of Operation Protective Edge, how do they offer comfort? What can one say? What can possibly ease the pain?
The prophet’s words of consolation contain the answer. Despite what we’ve gone through, despite the loss, despite the pain, Hashem’s promise to us remains. He will never let us go, He will never let us disappear. The day will come when He shall gather His beloved Jewish People from the clutches of our enemies to safety, to blessing and to peace. The road is long, but the end is clear. And every painful step we trod takes us closer to the ultimate moment of triumphant conclusion.
The Talmud recounts how Rabbi Akiva was walking with his students in Jerusalem just after the Romans destroyed the city and massacred the populace. As they stared at the Temple in ruins before them, a fox walked across the place where the Holy of Holies had been. Rabbi Akiva’s students cried. Rabbi Akiva laughed.
The student’s asked him, “Rebbi, how can you laugh at such tragedy? Like the foreboding words of the prophet, the Temple lies in destruction and disgrace.”
Rabbi Akiva answered them, “Just as the words of the prophet came true that the Temple would be destroyed, so shall the words of the prophet come true that it will be rebuilt.”
And they replied, “You have comforted us.”
Let the words of the haftorah comfort and console us, and let these be the final footsteps necessary to take us to the end of the road, to the ultimate peace, and to the achievement of Hashem’s Divine plan for His beloved nation.
The Torah recounts when Hashem descended upon Mt. Sinai and all the events included. The Torah was given amidst much splendor and pomp. Additionally, Hashem’s voice was resounding and thunderous. Furthermore, it did not wane, but remained commanding and robust. Rashi comments that since His voice did not fade away, therefore it remained consistent.
Nachmonides questions this because the Torah states earlier in sefer Shmos that the voice of the ram’s horn was increasingly blaring. This seems to contradict Rashi’s premise that the voice heard at Mt. Sinai was consistently the same. He resolves this explaining that although the sound of the horn was progressively piercing, nonetheless Hashem’s ‘voice’ remained constant and unchanging. Certainly this was not random but rather specifically occurred to convey an essential message.
We may suggest that the ongoing horn blasts indicate the ever present inspiration that surrounds us. Whether it is the symphony of the creation which overwhelms us with a clarion call that there is Hashem who directs, monitors and, on occasion, intercedes in order to guide the world to its ultimate perfected state when Moshiach will arrive. Or perhaps it is the gathering that one attends which serves to enthuse and arouse the motivation to amend those actions which can enhance one’s lifestyle. Whatever the origin of the impetus, it must be potent and provoking in order to stir the heart from its slumber of complacency and apathy. However, the goal that one intends to realize is one of steadiness and control. When one’s ascension is not stable but rather wobbly and vacillating, then he cannot proceed in his service to Hashem because his foundation wavers and cannot support his continuing passion to advance. Perhaps this was the merger that took place at Mt. Sinai between the nation, the shofar and Hashem.
Nachmonides understands this in a different fashion. He comments that Hashem’s continuous generous outpouring of His Torah did not conclude until everyone present at Mt. Sinai perceived with total clarity, each according to his level, the transmission of Torah. This is a powerful demonstration of Hashem’s vast compassion for us. It is insufficient that the Torah is available to each and every individual. Rather, we must strive to implant the totality of Torah into our children and disciples so that they can in turn be a profound linkage in its expansive dissemination. This concept is exhibited in the famous incident in the Talmud where Reb Praida attempted 400 times to explain a lesson to one of his students. Of course, the obvious question is that after much endeavor if he was unsuccessful, why did he continue? The commentaries explain that he tried in 400 different ways to convey the lesson to this particular student. We must pursue varying approaches to reach each Jew at his comfort zone. But one must realize that we can and must make Torah accessible to all.
Rashbam adds that the intensity of the voice of Hashem that took place at Mt. Sinai never recurred. It was an unusual experience which left an indelible mark upon the nation for all generations hence. It is with this in mind that we have genuine esteem and reverence for those who have preceded us for they are one step closer to that otherworldly revelation and bond that allows us a singular rapport with Hashem.
The Torah continues to detail that although the nation had this opportunity to draw nigh to Hashem, nonetheless they did not utilize this appropriately and refused to afford themselves of this. They refused to accept this invitation and relied rather on Moshe to represent them and convey the Torah to them. Moshe was upset at their attitude and expressed this to the people stating “Would it not have been better to have imbibed the Torah straight from the source and not have had Moshe as an intermediary”?
He is further distressed and weakened by their stance and expresses that their lack of cooperation is due to their deficient love for Hashem. Perhaps one could have mistakenly assumed that their rejection was based upon their level of fear of Hashem which led them to shy away from encountering Hashem. However, Moshe was able to recognize that, on the contrary, their attitude belied an inadequacy in their relationship with Hashem. It’s imperative that one should carefully examine his motives in order to honestly assess what motivates his actions. Often, we are unwilling to identify a shortcoming but if we are frank and candid, this will serve us well and allow us the opportunity to amend our ways.
A BYTE FOR SHABBOS
Every Jew is commanded to love Hashem. The Sages understand this obligation to include that one must encourage others to love Hashem as well. Our actions speak louder than words and therefore if we conduct ourselves in a way that is pleasing to others, they will be drawn to emulate us.