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Shiv'a de-Nechemta: The Philosophy of Comfort and Redemption - 4

God's Punishment and Comfort are our Support

Even in the "slap" that Hashem gives us, there is a measure of his relationship with us. This is similar to a father who might hit his son who ran into the road, because he loves him and wants him to be safe.


Rabbi Hillel Maizels

Back in the "old days" when corporal punishment was the norm, there was a well-known statement parents allegedly made before hitting their kids: "This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you!" To most kids this probably sounded ridiculous, because they were the ones to feel the sting of pain, not their parents. Moreover if it really hurt the parents then why did they do it? As a parent, the answer is obvious: We do it because we care about you, because we want you to know what things are very wrong and out of bounds. Even without going so far as corporal punishment, it's always easier for a parent to reward than to punish, to "give in" and to allow things than to say "no" and have to endure a fight. So why do we do the unpleasant task of punishing our children? Because we love them and we want them to develop a sense of what's right and wrong and they have to learn that in life, actions have consequences. To the child it seems like the parent is mean, but in reality the punishment actually highlights the love and care of the parent.

This very principle is embodied by the prophet Yeshayahu in the Shiva de-Nechemta when speaking of the destruction: "…Jerusalem, who has drunk the cup of wrath from G-d's hand" (Is 51:17). The prophet alludes to the destruction as coming directly from Hashem. The destruction of the Temple and the subsequent exile and tribulations of the Jewish people were not the result of international politics or tactical warfare. They were directly applied by Hashem as a form of punishment for our actions. The Gemara elaborates on this theme when describing the advance of the Roman leader Nero who comes to the selfsame realization years later. Nero understands that he is not really the one initiating the destruction; it is Hashem who has decided to destroy the (second) Temple and he is merely the agent [upon which he abandons the attack and eventually converts to Judaism. Gittin 56a].

At first glance this seems terrible: Hashem is inflicting destruction and pain on His own people! Yet as explained above, He does this out of love and caring for us. The Midrash tells us (Eicha Rabba) that we can rejoice on Tisha Be-Av because Hashem took out his anger on wood and stones (i.e. destroyed the building), rather than on His people. So even in the "slap" that Hashem gives us, there is a measure of his relationship with us. This is similar again to the father who might hit his son who ran into the road, because he loves him and wants him to be safe, as opposed to the neighbor's son whom you might only tell off, since you care less for him.

The end result is one of comfort emanating from the destruction itself. We realize that there is Someone in charge who is orchestrating all events – and all for the ultimate good of Am Yisrael. It is Rabbi Akiva himself who encapsulates this when he laughs upon seeing a fox leaving the ruined temple while the other Rabbis cry (Makkot 24b). Upon being questioned by his companions he replies that he sees the Hand of G-d in the destruction and that strengthens his belief in the hand of G-d that will be active in the rebuilding.

A further allusion to this can be found in Tehillim Chapter 23: שבטך ומשענתך המה ינחמוני Your comfort for us stems from both your "mishenet", which is a walking stick used for support, as well as your "shevet" – a stick used for hitting. Even when we're getting "hit" we realize that it stems from Hashem's love for us.
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