“After Destruction and Desolation, comes Hope and Consolation”
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
This Shabbat, which falls after the commemoration of Tisha B’Av, a day when we remember the destructions of the Temples in Jerusalem, among other tragedies in the history of the Jewish people, is called Shabbat Nachamu because the special Haftarah that is read on this Shabbat begins with the words: “Nachamu, Nachamu ami”…, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people…” (Isaiah 40:1).
There is a period of seven weeks between this Shabbat and the Shabbat prior to Rosh Hashanah, during which a prophecy by the prophet Isaiah is read on each Shabbat. This cycle of Haftarot is called Shiva denechamata, “the seven haftarot of consolation,” those that speak about the comfort that God will gradually provide to the people of Israel.
Parashat Vaetchanan is always read on this Shabbat Nachamu, which begins: “And I besought the Lord at that time…” (Deut. 3:23). Moses begged the Lord to have mercy on the people of Israel.
The complex question that emerges on this Shabbat Nachamu is how to find comfort after experiencing moments of distress and pain.
There is a story in the Talmud (Masechet Makot 24a), which tries to answer this question in some way: “Rabbi Akiva, together with a small group of other important rabbinic luminaries – Rabbi Gamliel, Rabbi Eleazar, and Rabbi Yehoshua – traveled to Jerusalem to gaze upon the ruins following the Roman conquest of the Holy City.
As the Rabbis began to gaze out over Mount Scopus, they collectively ripped their garments to mourn the destruction they now witnessed first-hand. When they continued on to look at the Temple Mount, they saw a fox wandering in the area that once was the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the Holy Temple. When the sages began to cry, Rabbi Akiva started to laugh.
“Why are you laughing?” – The other sages asked, dumbfounded.
“Why are you crying?”
“For the desecration of the Sanctuary, where foxes wander about.”
“That is why I am laughing. In the prophetic books it is written: “Zion for your sake (shall) be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps” (Micah 3:12). The prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction has been fulfilled. Our prophets also said: “There shall yet old men and old women sit in the broad places of Jerusalem” (Zechariah 8:4). Now that I have seen with my own eyes the destruction prophesized by Uriah, I know for a fact that Zechariah’s vision will one day come true as well…”
“Akiva, you have comforted us, Akiva you have comforted us…” (Talmud Masechet Makot 24a).
The fact that four sages were in the same place and had such different reactions is very interesting. Three of them ripped their garments as a sign of mourning, while the other rejoiced. Three clung to the sad reality of the times, while the other could raise his eyes to see beyond the horizon. Rabbi Akiva was able to see, after so much pain, that a time of consolation, of nechama, would come.
In this time of the Covid Pandemic in which we are living; with so many people suffering and full of uncertainty, it is difficult to laugh as Rabbi Akiva did. However, he teaches us the importance of having hope and know that this sad reality would change in the near future. Hope is what keeps us alive and motivated despite the adversities.
The tradition believes that the Messiah would be born one afternoon of Tisha B’av. After destruction and desolations, comes hope and redemption.
In addition, it is interesting to point out that tradition establishes three weeks of mourning, from 17 of Tamuz to 9 of Av, and seven of consolation. The pain is strong and intense, but the consolation can be more lasting and comforting.
With faith and strength in our hearts, we may be able to follow Rabbi Akiva’s attitude: to see rebuilding and rebirth even among the ruins.
May God grant us the ability to find Nechama, consolation, after suffering, pain, and sadness. May we be able to find relief and inner peace.