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Home » Judaism » Parsha »

Parshas VaEschanan: ‘Wholeheartedly’

Harav Matisyahu Salomon, the Lakewood Mashgiach, once  related the following personal story:

“When I was a young man I was a student in the Gateshead Yeshiva. The yeshiva had a 125 students – not large quantitatively, but qualitatively tremendous. The building was fairly small and the tables were so narrow that the volumes of Gemara overlapped each other. If a student wanted to turn the page he had to ask everyone around him to lift their Gemaras first. Yet despite it all we studied with tremendous diligence.

“One day a Dayan from London came to visit the yeshiva. Adressing the student body he read to us a page from an American journal.

“The article was written by an obviously irreligious Jew, albeit who possessed an appreciation for Jewish history. The author explained that, along with a group of journalists, he was invited on a European tour. When they arrived in England one of the places they visited was a village in Northeast England called Wallsend.

“Wallsend is an ancient village that dates back almost two millennia. When the Romans invaded and conquered England they constructed a wall to serve as a barrier to keep the mighty Scottish Picks out of England. They named it Hadrian’s Wall after the Roman Emperor. The village where the wall ended was aptly called Wallsend. Today there is nothing left of the wall except for a few moss-covered stones in the village of Wallsend. It is nothing more than a tourist attraction.

“The day the journalist arrived at Wallsend he recalled that he had yahrtzeit for his mother and he wanted to recite kaddish in her memory. When he asked the tour guide if there were any Jewish Services in the area, the guide replied that there was a school in the village of Gateshead ten miles away.

“The journalist arrived at the yeshiva in the middle of the afternoon. He had never been in a yeshiva before and the sight that greeted him was extraordinary. There were tens of young men huddled together on small benches studying, debating, and arguing with passion and vibrancy. The journalist did not comprehend anything they were saying, but he stood and watched spellbound. But then he overheard something which caught his attention. One student called out to his friend, ‘But Rabi Akiva says…!’ Those words reverberated in his ears.

“Even after they destroyed the Bais Hamikdash, the Romans understood that their job was incomplete. In order to destroy the Jewish People, they had to stop the public study and teaching of Torah. Hadrian sentenced Rabi Akiva’s to death because he taught Torah publicly. Hadrian ordered him killed in a most barbaric and heinous fashion to serve as an example of the severe consequences for teaching Torah. Yet today, centuries later, Hadrian and the Roman Empire are long gone, relegated to the history books and symbolized by a few moss-covered stones. Rabi Akiva, on the other hand, is alive and well. His teachings and legacy are still being promulgated and studied today![1]

Rabbi Salomon concluded that the story gave him so much encouragement because it serves as a powerful representation of G-d’s Promise, “But despite all this, when they will be in the land of their enemies, I will not have been revolted by them nor will I have rejected them to obliterate them, to annul My covenant with them – for I am Hashem, their G-d[2].” Rashi explains that a Jew must never think that the atrocities of exile prove that G-d no longer loves us. His love for us is boundless, and even in exile the covenant remains in full force.

All of the empires and countries that have sought to vanquish and obliterate us are gone. Yet we remain. That is the greatest sign of His love for us.

 

The verses of Shema, recited thrice daily, form the cornerstone of our faith, responsibility, and devotion to G-d. A Jew is obligated to state with conviction, “You shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your “Me’od”

The Gemara[3] offers two explanations of the word me’od. The first explanation is “with all of your resources”; one must prioritize G-d over his money and physical resources. The second is that one must love G-d despite whatever “middah” (Character Trait/Divine Attribute) G-d utilizes towards him. At times G-d may act toward a person with the attribute of justice, at other times with compassion. But no matter which attribute it is one must realize that G-d does all for the good and He must love G-d for that.

A Jew must love G-d on Tisha B’av in the same way as on Simchas Torah. Even when events are inexplicable and painful, one must remind himself that G-d loves him and is always with him.

 

One night Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berdichiv was staying at an inn. At midnight he sat down on the floor to recite Tikkun Chatzos as he did every night.

The innkeeper awakened by the sounds of weeping came to see what was wrong. Reb Levi Yitzchok explained that he was reciting special prayers to mourn the destruction of the Temple and the elongated exile that we are subject to. The innkeeper replied that those tragic events transpired centuries earlier. Why cry over spilled milk? The Rebbe gently described to his host the grandeur and opulence that was Jerusalem. He described the Kohanim doing the service in the Bais Hamikdash and bringing the offerings on the altar, while the Levites sang harmoniously. He delineated the many miracles that took place and the feeling of closeness and connection that every Jew felt with his Creator.

When the innkeeper heard the Rebbe’s description he began to cry. In fact he cried so intensely that soon Reb Levi Yitzchok had to put his arm around the innkeeper to console him. “Despite what we have lost, we are actually quite fortunate. On Tisha B’av afternoon, after spending hours sitting on the floor and reciting lamentations, recounting all the tragedies that have befallen us as a people during the exile, we arise and don our Talis and Tefillin. During Mincha we recite the added prayer ‘Nachem’ which requests that G-d console us for our losses. How does this drastic transition occur? How can we begin to accept consolation when moments before we were in a state of inconsolable grief? Furthermore, most of the Bais Hamikdash burned during the afternoon of the ninth and the morning of the tenth of Av. Why are we rising from our most intense state of mourning during the time when the flames were ravaging the Sanctuary?

The Rebbe continued, “The truth is that we do not comprehend G-d’s kindness and love for us. Our Sages explain that the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed to save us. Had He allowed us to receive the retribution we justly deserved we would have been destroyed. But because He channeled His anger, as it were, towards the physical structure, we were able to survive the harrowing and traumatic ordeal. Therein lies our solace! The very fact that G-d destroyed the Bais Hamikdash demonstrates His love for us.

“That is why we are able to be consoled at the height of our grief. The very burning of the Bais Hamikdash symbolizes the reason why we are able to be consoled. For in that sense the burning Temple symbolizes G-d’s unyielding love for us.”

When Reb Levi Yitzchok concluded his narrative, the innkeeper stopped crying, and then he got up and began to dance. The Rebbe arose to join him and they sang and danced. One of the other guests at the inn was awakened by the noise and went to investigate. The sight that greeted him was astounding. He asked the innkeeper why he was dancing with the Rebbe in the middle of the night. The innkeeper smiled and replied, “Why do you think we are dancing? We are dancing because G-d destroyed the Bais Hamikdash!”[4]

 

The Shabbos following Tisha B’av is titled Shabbos Nachamu – the Shabbos of consolation. The opening words of the haftorah read, “Console! Console My People!” Despite all we have suffered and all of the difficulties and pains people suffer from, we take solace in the knowledge that G-d’s love for us is boundless and unconditional. In addition, we wear our tragedies as banners of pride knowing we are part of an eternal people who will ultimately prevail and persevere. No other nation can feel consolation in the tragedy itself, besides Klal Yisroel, for we know that we are part of a Master Plan.

We await the ultimate consolation when G-d will abolish tears and pain forever, and the whole world will recognize the undeniable truth, “On that day, G-d will be One, and His Name will be One.”



[1] Rabbi Salomon added that, in his opinion, “that is the only reason why there is a ridiculous place called Wallsend and why people still go to look at those stones. Because those stones are a testimony that Torah is Min Hashamayim (Divinely Ordained).”

[2] Vayikra 26:44

[3] Berachos 61b, 54b

[4] Heard from Rabbi Pinchos Idstein, Head Counselor of Camp Dora Golding, Tisha B’av 5770

About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead in Monsey NY. He is also Guidance Counselor/Rebbe in ASHAR and Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch. His website is www.stamtorah.info. He can be reached at stamtorah@gmail.com.


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