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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

Who Should We Console and Care for?

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Our haftara ends with the pasuk: "For Hashem has consoled Zion (nicham Zion), consoled all of her ruins, and He made her deserts to Eden and its dry places like the garden of Hashem; rejoicing and happiness will be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of song" (Yeshayahu 51:3). We find similar language of nichum that Hashem does "for His nation, and on His poor He will have mercy" in the pasuk that precedes our haftara (ibid. 49:13). The haftara of Shoftim also prophesies: "Hashem consoled His nation, He liberated Jerusalem" (ibid. 52:9).

Let us try to figure out how we are able to strengthen the phenomenon of Hashem’s consolation for us? The p’sukim we have mentioned tell how, at the time of the final redemption, Eretz Yisrael will be re-inhabited by her sons – Am Yisrael. Ibn Ezra explains that Zion is consoled "when the multitude of her sons are upon her." In addition to agricultural bounty, the nation will be happy with the Land and will thank Hashem for returning to it.

There is great spiritual flourishing and significantly increased opportunities to learn Torah in Israel in our days. This can definitely be included in what Hashem promises, "when Hashem returns to Zion." We pray and yearn for the return of the Divine Presence in its fullest sense, but how can we help realize this?

On the pasuk (above) "for Hashem will console His nation, and on His poor He will have mercy," the midrash (Shemot Rabba 31:13) speaks at length about the connection between consolation and concern for the poor. The midrash attacks the practice of taking interest on loans to the poor and points out that Hashem is different from people, in that He is proud of His association with the poor, while many rich people are embarrassed by it. This is parallel to Hashem’s loving our nation despite and because we are a small nation. The midrash says that when Hashem will want to console Zion, He will start with the poor, based on our pasuk. It warns that a potential creditor should not see a poor person and lend him money so that he can seize his house and fields as payment for the interest accrued. That is part of the rationale for the Torah’s view of a usurer as being like one who violated the whole Torah and is due to collapse (see Yechezkel 18:13).

The conclusion from the midrash is clear: we believe that we will see Hashem’s return to Zion when we keep all of the mitzvot and we especially take the plight of the poor to heart and mind. It is important for us to not take interest, including with the use of heter iska. We need to encourage giving loans for free in the fullest sense and enable those who want to break out of poverty the opportunity to do it by, for example, starting a business that requires an infusion of money. That will help return the Divine Presence.

Our generation has seen Eretz Yisrael blossom, as we have seen the ingathering of exiles and the economy boom. During those times, it was crucial for the rich to feel the connection to the poor. At a time with severe financial challenges, it is all the more important to be concerned about the plight of the many people in need. May this encourage Hashem to console us in the most beautiful way!
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