Consoling Wishes by Yaakov Schiff


Shabbat Parashat VaEtchanan is known as Shabbat Nachamu. Fresh off of the mourning and grief of Tishah BeAv, we enter a seven-week period of consolation leading up to the Yamim Noraim. This Shabbat gets its special name from the Haftarah that we read, the first of the Shivah DeNechemtah, seven Haftarot of consolation, beginning with the enduring words of the prophet Yeshayahu: “Nachamu Nachamu Ami Yomar Elokaichem,” “‘Console, console, my nation!’ says your God.” “Dabru Al Leiv Yerushalyim VeKir’u Eilehah Ki Malah Tzevahah Ki Nirtzah Avonah Ki Lakcha Miyad Hashem Kiflyim BeChol Chatotehah!”—“Speak unto the heart of Jerusalem and call out to her, for she has become full from her host, for her iniquity has been appeased, for she has taken from the Hand of G-d double that which she deserves for all her sins!” (Yeshayahu 40:1-2).

Year after year, we are confronted every Shabbat Nachamu with the same problem: how are we to be consoled? Yeshayahu tells his fellow prophets to inform the people that their suffering has not been in vain, that God has been in command all along and is well aware of their distress, and that He has forgiven their sins and will soon be bringing about the final redemption —but for how many years can we stand to accept this consolation? How many times can we hear this Nechama over and over again, that God has seen the suffering of Am Yisrael and has accepted it as Kaparah for its sins? It’s been two thousand years! How much longer must we wait—how much longer can we wait?!

Every year, Parashat VaEtchanan is read the Shabbat immediately following Tishah BeAv. VaEtchanan is a very important Parasha, containing topics as central and important as the Aseret HaDibrot (the Ten Commandments) and the first paragraph of Shema. However, this Parashah primarily deals with all its sub-topics in the broader context of the issue of entering into the land of Israel. Keep in mind that at this point in the Torah, Moshe is about to die, and Bnei Yisrael are finally about to enter the land that God promised to their forefathers—the entire Sefer Devarim consists of Moshe’s final words to Bnei Yisrael, briefing them to prepare them for their long-awaited venture into Eretz Yisrael. Moshe opens this Parashah with a heartbreaking personal account of the conflict that he has with God over his own personal entry into the land. “VaEtchanan El Hashem BaEit HaHi, Leimor Hashem Elokim Atah Hachilota LeHar’ot Et Avdecha Et Gadlecha, VeEt Yadecha HaChazakah…Eheberah, Na VeEr’eh Et HaAretz HaTovah Asheir BeEiver HaYardein” “And I beseeched G-d at that time, saying, ‘Hashem Elokim, You have shown me Your Greatness and Your Mighty Hand…Please, let me cross over the Jordan River and see the good land which lies on the other side!’”  (Devarim 3:23-25). Remember, this is Moshe Rabbeinu speaking—the supreme servant of Hashem and the greatest of all prophets. At nearly one hundred and twenty years of age, after around forty years of constant service and devotion to God, all he wants is to witness the completion of his mission and lead Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael. And what does God answer Moshe? “Rav Lach Al Tosef Dabeir Eilai Od BeDavar HaZeh,” “Let it suffice. Don’t speak of this any more to me” (3:26). Can we even begin to imagine Moshe’s pain at hearing these words? Moshe’s entire life until this point has been dedicated to Hashem and to leading Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt, through Ma’amad Har Sinai and into the Promised Land!  How could G-d possibly deny him the one thing he most strongly desired? And yet He does. That is, He denies Moshe the better part of his request: Moshe is never permitted to enter the land, only to ascend to the top of a mountain and view Eretz Yisrael from afar.

Seforno comments that Moshe beseeches G-d to allow him to enter Eretz Yisrael so that Bnei Yisrael might never be exiled. Seforno hints at a larger idea: Had Moshe Rabbeinu entered the land with Bnei Yisrael, and conquered it, and helped set up infrastructure, and built a Beit HaMikdash, the impact would have been so fantastically powerful and enduring that there surely could never have been an exile. But this was not God’s plan for us, for the world. Rather, then, as now, HaKadosh Baruch had His own plans, worked in His own ways. And, despite the potentially glorious results, He simply could not allow Moshe to have his way. However, all this is not to say that Moshe’s request goes in vain—quite to the contrary! G-d is so harsh with Moshe precisely because of the strength and power of his prayer. For had Moshe gone further in his appeal, God would have been “compelled,” so to speak, to listen to his request out of Midat HaRachamim, the attribute of mercy. For this reason, God becomes angry, and responds on behalf of Bnei Yisrael: ‘Enough, Moshe—do not Daven to Me any more regarding this request.’ As the Sefer Tosefet Beracha notes, even then, Hashem still fulfills half of Moshe’s request, allowing him to view the land, albeit from afar. While this concession may at first seem small and inconsequential, it now becomes clear that it is in fact extremely noteworthy, considering the magnitude of the issues in play. 

Now, what is to be learned from all of this, and what can we take away that will help us be comforted and encouraged this Shabbat Nachamu? First of all, we learn from this episode the importance of trusting in and relying on Hashem’s judgment. God has a master plan for this world, and though we may think we have it all figured out, we don’t. G-d knows what is right and what is necessary, and God will stick, as ever, to His blueprint. At the same time, however, we are reminded of God’s Midat HaRachamim, as well as His tremendous regard for Tefillah. Hashem does care for us and feel for us, and, although we may not always recognize it, Hashem constantly intervenes on our behalf. Furthermore, while Moshe himself cannot receive his full request, to physically enter the land, God grants him the next best thing. This instance, explains the Tosefet Beracha, exemplifies the impact of Tefillah—that at such a time, God should withhold Moshe’s tremendous arsenal of personal Zechuyot, until the point when Moshe chooses to really cry out to God? That even at such a time where God is totally opposed to Moshe’s request, He should help him out? That shows the power contained in pure, heartfelt Tefillah.

With these messages in hand, let us be consoled. Let us proceed toward Chodesh Elul and the Yamim Noraim with our heads held high, knowing that, no matter what happens in life, God has our best interests at heart—and realizing that, no matter how bleak a situation may look, Tefillah is a powerful tool with potentially earth-shaking, life changing consequences.

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