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Parshas Vaeschanan - Vol. 10, Issue 41
Compiled by Oizer Alport
The well-known Haftorah which is read on Parshas Vaeschanan begins Nachamu nachamu ami - Comfort, comfort My people. Why is the word "nachamu" repeated? The Medrash explains (Eichah Rabbah 1:57) that because the Jewish people sinned doubly, as indicated by the double expression (Eichah 1:8) "Cheit chat'ah Yerushalayim" - Jerusalem has greatly sinned - they were doubly punished, as Yeshaya continues to say (40:2) "Ki lakcha miyad Hashem kiflayim b'chol chatoseha" - the Jews received double from Hashem's hand (as punishment) for all of their sins. As a result, when they repent their sins, they will be doubly comforted, as indicated by the double expression "Nachamu nachamu ami" in our verse.
What is difficult to understand is the Medrash's statement that the Jews doubly sinned. How is this to be understood? It can't mean that they did a lot of sins, because then the verse would simply say that they did many sins. What does it mean that each of their sins was doubled, and what is the connection between this and a double consolation?
The Darkei Mussar explains that Hashem gave us the Torah to be a light unto the nations, meaning that the Torah is not only for us, but for all of the nations of the world. If we behave the way that Hashem commanded us, the non-Jews will see our conduct and be so impressed by it that they will want to imitate us and they will become elevated as well. For this reason, the Torah was given in 70 languages, corresponding to the 70 nations of the world. Unfortunately, when we don't behave properly, not only do we go down spiritually, but the non-Jews for whom we're supposed to be role models go down as well. He writes that in his times, people complained that the non-Jews around them acted like lowly animals. He suggests that instead of focusing on them and blaming them for acting so inappropriately and immodestly, we should focus on ourselves and realize that if we behave in the way that we are supposed to, we will elevate not only ourselves but them as well, so the fact that they are acting in this manner is on some level our fault and responsibility. In light of this, he explains that the Medrash says that the Jews sinned doubly because not only did they sin, but their actions had a negative impact on everybody around them, and they were held accountable for this as well. As a result, we were doubly punished, not only for our sins but also for theirs. However, the Medrash adds that the time will ultimately come when we will properly fulfill our mission and purpose, and not only will we be elevated, but the entire world will be elevated with us, and we will be doubly comforted for all of our pain and suffering, may it be speedily in our days.
The 15th day of the month of Av is commonly referred to as Tu B'Av, and it traditionally falls close to Shabbos Parshas Vaeschanan, as it does this year on Friday. Our Sages teach (Taanis 4:8) that it is one of the two most festive days in the Jewish calendar (the other being Yom Kippur). The Gemora (Taanis 30b) questions what is so unique about this date, and proceeds to enumerate six different joyous episodes in Jewish history which all occurred on this day.
First, although women who inherited land in Israel from their fathers because they had no brothers were initially forbidden to marry men from other tribes (see Bamidbar 36:8-9) in order to prevent their tribal land from being transferred to another tribe, after a period of time, the Sages derived on Tu B'Av that the prohibition was no longer in effect, and they were once again permitted to intermarry with other tribes. Second, as a result of a tragic episode involving a concubine from the town of Givah, all of the other tribes swore that they would not allow their daughters to marry men from the tribe of Binyomin (See Shoftim 19-21). On Tu B'Av, the Sages ruled that the prohibition was only applicable to those living in the generation when it was made, but not to future generations, who were once again permitted to intermarry with the tribe of Binyomin.
Third, after the Jewish people were sentenced to wander in the wilderness for forty years as result of the sin of the spies, each year on Tisha B'Av they would dig graves and sleep in them. Every year, more than 15,000 Jews would die on that night. In the final year, all of those who went to sleep in their graves were shocked to discover in the morning that not one of them had died. They assumed that they had been in error about the date, so each successive night they again slept in their graves. On the 15th day of the month, when they saw the full moon, they understood that Tisha B'Av had clearly passed, and the fact that they were all still alive was a sign that they had been forgiven for the sin of the spies, which was a cause for celebration.
Fourth, the wicked king Yeravam ben Navat placed sentries along the road to prevent people from ascending to the Temple and to encourage them to instead worship his idols (See Melochim 1:12). On Tu B'Av, these sentries were removed by king Hoshea ben Elah. Fifth, many years after the horrific destruction of the city of Beitar, the Romans finally permitted those who had been slaughtered there to be buried, and miraculously, despite the passage of time, none of the bodies had decomposed. Finally, the wood for the Altar in the Temple was collected during the summer when the sun was strong enough to dry it out and prevent it from becoming infested with worms. As the sun's strength begins to wane on Tu B'Av, this was the last day to perform this mitzvah, and its completion was a cause for rejoicing.
Rav Yitzchok Breitowitz points out that when counting from Tisha B'Av, the 15th day of Av is the seventh day, which symbolically represents the fact that we have now completed the traditional 7-day mourning period, and we are now picking ourselves up and moving on with life. In this light, he brilliantly suggests that the aforementioned six causes of joy on Tu B'Av parallel the five tragedies that our Sages teach (Taanis 4:6) occurred on Tisha B'Av. The first calamity was the decree that those who accepted the negative report of the spies about the land of Israel would die in the wilderness. This decree was overturned in the final year when all of the Jews who dug graves and slept in them were spared and emerged alive. The second tragedy was the destruction of the first Temple, which was destroyed for the sins of idolatry, murder, and forbidden relationships (Yoma 9b). Their rejection of Hashem and pursuit of foreign gods was rectified by the removal of Yeravam's idol-associated sentries by Hoshea ben Elah.
The third tragedy that took place on Tisha B'Av was the destruction of the second Temple due to the sin of baseless hatred (Yoma 9b). The interpersonal conflicts were rectified on Tu B'Av, when permission was given for women who had inherited land to marry whomever they wanted, even men from other tribes, and for all of the tribes to once again intermarry with the tribe of Binyomin The fourth calamity that occurred on Tisha B'Av was the horrific massacre of the Jews in Beitar, which was nullified when they were able to be buried on Tu B'Av, and it was discovered that none of their bodies had rotted. The fifth and final tragedy that occurred on Tisha B'Av was the fact that Yerushalayim was plowed over after the destruction of the Temple, which left it completely barren and infertile. The fact that they were able to obtain wood for the offerings that were burned on the Altar demonstrated that Hashem had not forsaken them and was providing them with their needs.
Tisha B'Av is the emotional climax of a 3-week period during which we mourn devastation and destruction. On Tu B'Av, we figuratively "get up" from shiva, as we focus on moving on and rebuilding, just as our Gedolim taught us by example after the Holocaust. In fact, our Sages teach that prior to creating the world in which we live, Hashem first created many other worlds and destroyed them all, which teaches that the proper response to destruction - even the destruction of an entire world - is to channel our energy and efforts into rebuilding anew. As we now begin the seven-week period of comfort, we should strengthen ourselves through the recognition that no matter what challenges and tragedies we may be dealt in life, Hashem will never forsake us, and we always have the opportunity to follow in His footsteps by continuing to grow and rebuild.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Moshe's petitions to enter the land of Israel were denied (3:26). Why didn't he at least merit having his bones buried in the land of Israel so that he could enter it posthumously, as did Yaakov and his 12 sons? (Rabbeinu Bechaye)
2) The Mishnah Berurah (61:2) writes that all of the 10 Commandments are hinted to in the three paragraphs of Shema, and a person should think of them when saying the relevant verses which allude to each of them. How many of them can you find throughout Shema?
3) When would a person be obligated to repeat all three paragraphs of Shema at night, even though he said all of them as part of the evening prayers, did not specifically intend not to fulfill his obligation, and prayed after nightfall and without any immodest sight or foul odor in his presence or vicinity? (Biur Halacha 60 d.h. v'chein halacha)
4) If a person removes a mezuzah from his doorpost in order to have it checked by a sofer, should he leave the empty cover on the doorpost in its absence? (Shu"t Shevus Yaakov 3:48)
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