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Torah Attitude: Parashas Shoftim: From days of mourning to days of joy Part 1
The three weeks of mourning are followed by seven weeks of comfort. Throughout the year we are obligated to observe some customs of mourning commemorating the destruction of the Temples. We must make an effort to accept the words of comfort of the prophets that we read throughout these seven weeks. Death is a transition as the soul ascends and continues to live in the upper world. The Klausenberger Rebbe went out of his way to give encouragement to the thousands of Holocaust survivors, broken in body and spirit, in the displaced persons’ camps. Just as Moses and the Jewish people sang at the time that they crossed the Red Sea, there will be a time in the future when they will come and sing again. As we go through the seven weeks of comfort, we also strengthen ourselves in our belief of the Coming of Mashiach and the resurrection of the dead.
Three weeks followed by seven weeks
In last week’s Torah Attitude we discussed the three weeks of mourning followed by the seven weeks of comfort. It appears that while it only takes three weeks to enter a state of mourning we need seven weeks of comfort. During the three weeks we intensify the customs of mourning that we observe in the last nine days, culminating with Tisha B’Av, a day that we totally dedicate to remember the destruction of the two Temples and all other calamities that have befallen the Jewish people during our long and bitter exile. Throughout the seven weeks that have been designated as weeks of comfort, we read on Shabbos in the Haftorah the comforting words of the prophets as spoken to them by G’d. This is a classic example of how it is relatively easy to bring a person down, whereas it takes much longer to bring him back up again.
Mourn destruction of Temple throughout year
The truth is that throughout the year we are obligated to observe some customs of mourning commemorating the destruction of the Temples (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim Chapter 560). The Shulchan Aruch rules that when one builds a house one should leave a square amah (cubit) bare of paint opposite the entrance. This indicates that as long as the Temple, G’d’s dwelling on earth, has not been rebuilt, our private dwellings are also incomplete. When we celebrate a wedding, the Ashkenazi custom is to break a glass under the chuppah as a reminder that our joy is incomplete as long as we are still exiled and unable to perform the service in the Temple. When someone visits a shivah house the tradition is to comfort the mourner before one leaves and say, “May the Omnipresent comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” In this way, the visitors join in the mourning of the bereaved family and indicate that the mourners are not alone. For the whole Jewish people is in fact mourning the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem.
Accept words of comfort
The fact that we observe seven weeks of comfort is in itself a proof that we are still mourning. For had we stopped mourning after the three weeks there would be no need for comfort. And these weeks are of great significance. Just like when someone has lost a close family member and mourns his loss, family and friends must make an effort to comfort the mourner in order to ensure that he should not fall into despair and depression. In the same way, our sages instituted the seven weeks of comfort to help us not to fall into despair over the loss of the Temple. And when we read the words of comfort of the prophets it helps to lift our spirits and look ahead.
Death is a transition
When someone has lost a close family member we try to comfort the mourner by reminding him that death is not an end. Although death is the demise of the loved one’s body, for the soul it is only a transition. For the soul ascends and continues to live in the upper world. We further comfort the mourner when we express our belief that the day will come when G’d will bring resurrection to everyone and we will all be united again with our loved ones.
The Klausenberger Rebbe
I once heard an interesting insight in the name of Rabbi Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam, the Klausenberger Rebbe. The Rebbe, a Holocaust survivor who had lost his wife and eleven children, went out of his way to give encouragement to the thousands of Jews, broken in body and spirit, in the displaced persons’ camps.
We will sing
In one of his talks he mentioned the first verse of Oz Yashir that we say every morning at the end of Pesukei D’zimrah (Shemos 15:1): “And then Moses and the children of Israel will sing this song to G’d.” Rashi quotes the Talmud (Sanhedrin 91b) that points out that grammatically it should say that “Moses and the children of Israel sang” in the past tense, rather than they will sing in the future tense. The Talmud states that the Torah here alludes to the time of resurrection. Just like Moses and the Jewish people sang at the time that they crossed the Red Sea, there will be a time in the future when they will come and sing again. However, asked the Rebbe, why does the Torah allude to the resurrection at this particular event, rather than anywhere else in the Torah? He answered this with another quotation that Rashi brings from the Midrash at the beginning of Parashas Beshalach (Shemos 13:18). The Midrash relates that only twenty percent of the Jewish people merited to leave Egypt. The other eighty percent had not been interested in leaving and they all perished during the plague of darkness. The Rebbe pointed out that this means that there was hardly a member of the Jewish people who had not lost many of their close family and friends. No doubt, he said, despite the excitement of leaving Egypt, they had mixed emotions as they at the same time were mourning the loss of so many loved ones. Moses was well aware of this and when it was time to sing the praise of G’d, after they were saved at the Red Sea from their Egyptian pursuers, he was Divinely inspired to sing G’d’s praise in the future tense. In this way he encouraged and reminded them that the day will come when they will be reunited with their loved ones again.
Coming of Mashiach
As we go through the seven weeks of comfort, we must also strengthen our belief in the Coming of Mashiach and the building of the Temple in Jerusalem, as well as the resurrection of the dead. Then all who have suffered throughout our long and bitter exile will be truly rewarded and compensated for all they had to endure. This is our comfort, for we know that despite our losses over the generations, we still have a bright and beautiful future ahead of us when G’d will allow all of this to take place.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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