In many circles Shabbos Nachamu spells vacation. The great summer breather. The three weeks and the nine days are behind us and the High Holidays are not yet here. So, it’s party time. Concerts, barbecues, hiking and a lot of junk food in the Mountains. The Catskills have the feel of a Jewish Woodstock. It is a break between crisis and repentance. A time to breathe. I am actually all for it and I wish I were there. I would like to get however a proper perspective on the season.
It has been said that the role of religion is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.
We have just completed “the three weeks”. It has been a rough three weeks especially if you used it to commemorate all the puranios, pain, tragedy, and catastrophe that has afflicted us for generations. As Jews we have had more than our share of puranios. We concentrate their commemoration into three weeks.
Today we start a new season. Today we begin “the Seven Weeks of comfort”. We read Haftorahs about the return of the Jews to Jerusalem, the return of G-d to His people and the time when there will be war no more. When these seven weeks end, we will come back home and enter into the “the two weeks” of Teshuva. So, we have 3 weeks of crisis, seven weeks of comfort and two weeks of Teshuva. This is the structure of the Jewish calendar for 3 months of the year.
The order is a bit strange. The three weeks represent our violation of our relationship with Hashem. We have had to live through some unspeakable tragedy because we have violated the Torah. Logically, the natural follow-up for punishment should be Teshuva. Teshuva would indicate that we got the message and we understand what we must do. Teshuva would be a mending of the break that stands between us and Avinu SheBashamyim. Then, after that, if G-d has accepted our Teshuva, He should comfort us. He should show us that He has accepted our repentance, and that our relationship has stabilized. Then, we should eat pizza in Woodmere. How does it make sense to have the comfort follow the pain and only then the repentance?
The most piercing answer can be derived from a commentary of the Vilna Gaon on Mishlei. The Vilna Gaon says that there is a very big difference between a punishment that comes from a loving father and a punishment that comes from a disciplining stranger. The stranger hits and than adds insult to injury by humiliating his subject. The father, says the Gaon, punishes his child but than he hugs the child. He tells the child that he loves him and that together they will get through this. He punishes and than he comforts. When the child receives this comfort he realizes that the pain too, was part of the fathers love. The pain of the affliction is still there, but his affliction is felt from a whole new perspective. He feels hope. Finally, after the words of comfort the child makes a turn around, but not just to stop the pain but to restore the relationship and bask in the love of his father.
We find this concept in Halacha. If one, G-d forbid, loses a close relative, he or she sits Shiva. When one is afflicted one should introspect and figure out what it is that G-d is telling him. But when we go to visit that person we mustn’t point a finger. It is not the time to try to figure out why the pain, we must comfort. We tell the mourner that he will have Nachas. We tell him or her that Hashem will somehow fill the void in his life. Hamokom Yenachem Oscha! After affliction comes comfort. Only than can there be a proper repentance.
This is Shabbos Nachamu. Not a relief from our tragedy but a perspective on it. An understanding that Hashem wants His relationship with us. A hug of support that comes after a few rough weeks.
It’s hug time. When Elul comes we will not only be mending our relationship with G-d but we will seek and grant forgiveness from people. Certainly over the year we have encountered some rough roads with our friends and our families. We have been punished and have inflicted. We were right and we were wrong. Right now there is a special energy flowing from the heavens. It is not a time to ask or to answer but an eis lenachem, a time to comfort. It’s hug time.
I have a serious recommendation for this glorious time of year. Find someone, anyone, anywhere and give him or her hope. Find someone who has lost their health, or their parnossa or a loved one or their self esteem and give them hope. If Halachicaly proper give them a hug. Together we should experience the ultimate comfort ki nicham Hashem Es Zion.