Va'etchanan: Time for Comfort

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

Life is so unfair. While we believe that ultimately (and ultimately can take an eternity!) justice must and will prevail—to believe otherwise would be to deny the essence of Judaism—it is clear that life is full of injustices. Moshe Rabbeinu was the greatest person who ever lived. Yet he was denied his one wish, to be able to walk in and breathe the air of the land of Israel. Moshe continued pleading his case until G-d "angrily" told him, enough already! Your request is denied.

Parshat Va’etchanan, which translates as “pleading”, is always read on the Shabbat after Tisha B'Av. This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of comfort, on which we affirm that—though we have suffered greatly throughout our history—ultimately, we will return to the land of Israel to set up a society based on "justice, justice you shall pursue (16:20)." The treatment of Moshe surely does not seem to offer any comfort. If his prayers are not answered, then what hope can we possibly have?

However, nechama, comfort, is a long, drawn-out process that we cannot fully comprehend. It is similar to the concept of emunah. Emunah is poorly translated as “faith”. It does not mean that we believe that our prayers, hopes, and aspirations will be answered to our liking; rather, it means that we trust that G-d hears what we have to say and responds according to a Divine plan, which we often do not understand and with which we may even disagree.

Judaism, though, sees comfort in tragedy. It offers an (unwanted) opportunity to learn from the mistakes that led up to the tragedy, and the possibility for personal and communal growth.

Not surprisingly, it is in Parshat Va’etchanan that we find the mitzvah to love G-d. It is at the moment when life seems to us unfair, as it surely must have to Moshe, that we must affirm our love of G-d. It is for this reason that a mourner says kaddish, which has no mention of death; rather, it praises G-d and expresses our yearning for the day when the majesty of G-d will be recognized by all. It is during our moments of despair that it is most important to publicly declare our belief in a perfect G-d.

How does one come to love G-d? In order to love someone, you must get to know that person. G-d revealed himself to us at Sinai, and His essence is described to us in the Torah. When the Torah tells us to be merciful, kind, caring, and—at times—strict and punitive, this is because G-d is merciful, kind, caring, and—at times—strict and punitive. By observing the mitzvot of the Torah, we fulfill Imatio Dei, helping to bring the divine to earth. When we study the Torah, we can begin to understand G-d on an intellectual level; and by observing Torah, we put that knowledge to practical use. And, of course, observing what G-d demands of us shows our love toward G-d.

Love presupposes caring. When the Sages teach us that the Temple was destroyed because of sinnat chinam, causeless hatred, it does not necessarily mean that Jews actively hated one another (though we are told there was much of that!), but rather, that they did not take an interest in each other. There was indifference, apathy, and of course plenty of minding our own business. Converting sinnat chinam to ahavat chinam, love for no reason, requires us to be proactive in helping others.

Man was created in the image of G-d. Caring for and ultimately loving our fellow human beings is the ultimate expression of our love of G-d. We must work hard to implement the mitzvah to love one another, and thereby, we will express our love of G-d. For a fractured Jewish people, there can be no greater nechama. Shabbat Shalom!