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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays The Seven Weeks of Condolence

Israel's Comfort

Israel's redemption is dependent upon the anticipation of the redemption of all of humanity. It is tied to the vision of the end of days when "no nation will lift sword against another nation."
Dedicated to the memory of
R. Avraham ben-tziyon ben shabtai
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1. Introduction: Sources of Comfort
2. Perplexing Repetition
3. Apart From All the Nations
4. Far - Reaching Repercussions
5. The Importance of a Healthy Heart
6. The Significance of Repetition

Introduction: Sources of Comfort
The Talmud relates the following:
Said Rabbi Akiva to Rabbi Yehoshua, "Rabbi, allow me to state in your presence one of the things which you taught me."
"Speak." Said Rabbi Yehoshua.
"Behold, He (the Almighty) says 'you', 'you', 'you', three times. 'You,' even if you transgress unintentionally.
'You,' even if you transgress intentionally
'You,' even if you are mislead into transgression "
In this manner did Rabbi Yehoshua respond: "You have comforted me Akiva, you have comforted me."

Another source relates a slightly similar episode:
Once they (Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues) were going up to Jerusalem...and when they reached the Temple Mount they saw a fox come out of the Holy of Holies. They began to cry, yet Rabbi Akiva laughed..."Before witnessing the fulfillment of Oriah's prophecy," He said, "I was worried that Zechariah's prophecy would not be fulfilled. Now that Oriah's prophecy has been fulfilled, I am certain that Zechariah's prophecy will be fulfilled." In this manner did they respond: "You have comforted us Akiva, you have comforted us Akiva."

Finally, the Midrash on the book of Lamentations explains:
"They [Israel] transgressed repeatedly, as it is written...
"They were stricken repeatedly, as it is written...
"They must [therefore] be comforted repeatedly, as it is written: 'Nahamu Nahamu Ami' ('Comfort my people, comfort them')"

Perplexing Repetition
The expression employed by Rabbi Yehoshua - "you have comforted me" - in responding to Rabbi Akiva, is perplexing indeed. Especially noteworthy is its repetition, so reminiscent of the reply given to the same Rabbi Akiva on account of his consolation over the Destruction of the Temple. What's more, the Talmud's emphasizing "In this manner..." seems to imply intention, indicating that this is not a coincidental expression, but rather demands interpretation. True, the importance of repetition, when it comes to consolation, is emphasized in the last of our three sources - "They must be comforted repeatedly," yet this assertion is itself perplexing and concealed. What is all this business of "repetition" to which the sages lent such significance? Certainly they were aware of a deep concept enveloped in it.

Apart From All the Nations
In order to understand things better, let us turn to the words of the great Torah scholar and tzaddik , Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, may God avenge his blood. In his essay, "The Footsteps of the Messiah," he deals with the phenomenon of anti-Semitism which has broken out recently in the most brutal way. It is a phenomenon which is not rationally explicable, for in our times in particular many Jews have gone to great lengths in order to illuminate the religious boundaries separating us from the non-Jewish world. This, after all, it would appear, has been the constant aggravating element which has always caused the non Jews to hate us so much. If so, why should this, the largest outburst of anti-Semitism in history, be the fate of our generation?

The aforementioned genius gives the following explanation: With the choosing of Am Yisrael , the Nation of Israel, as a special nation, the absolute and eternal difference between the Jews and the rest of the nations was established. "And I," says God in the Torah, "will set you apart from all the other nations, that you be mine." So long as the Jews themselves enforce this separation through distancing themselves from the rest of the nations in their practice of Torah and mitzvoth, no further separation is needed. And so, when the Jews attempt to come close to the nations, the hatred of the nations is immediately and fiercely activated. This is done in order to enforce the necessary separation and differentiation.
These are the utterances of a truly holy individual. Their accuracy, to our great sorrow, has been proven by every scene in the period of blood and fire of the days of the Shoah .

Far - Reaching Repercussions
When we probe things, in search of the inner link between transgression and punishment, it is only fitting that we note the words of Rabbi Judah HaLevi, the great Jewish philosopher of the middle ages, author of "The Kuzari":
"Israel is to the nations of the world what the heart is to the body - the source of all health and illness in the body."

The significance of these words is as follows. The world is built in "circles", as it were, one circle inside of another. One center inside of another. From the inner circles there go out lines of influence to the wider and further out circles. If the inner circles are functioning properly, the farther out circles receive a proper influence, and they too function properly in accordance to their manner and purpose. If , though, there is a malfunction in the inner circles, the centers of influence, this expresses itself in the outer circles, in the form of deviations which amount to devastation and destruction.

In light of this we can understand better that which the Sages expounded:
" 'It is very tempestuous round about Him.' This comes to teach us that the Holy One Blessed be He scrutinizes the actions of his pious ones to the degree of a hairbreadth."

For, really, it is not clear why the attribute of strict justice should be meted out in the case of the pious? Should they lose out simply because of their righteousness? And even if fairness demands that they not receive special treatment, at any rate it is difficult to understand why their portion be inferior than that of all the rest of us? Yet, according to what we have learned, it is proper, for whatever is more in the capacity of "round about Him" is closer to the center of influence. In this position even the slightest deviation will undoubtedly find expression in the more distant circles, resulting - ultimately - in tragedy. (This concept might be compared to the rockets which today are sent to the far corners of space. If, in the launching, there is even the slightest deviation, it finds expression in the missing of the target by thousands of kilometers).

The Importance of a Healthy Heart
Now we can understand better the words of Rabbi Wasserman zt"l which we brought above. When the Jewish People observe the Torah, when the heart of the nations is healthy, he pumps blood even to the furthest organs of the body. Rays of light extend into the nations of the world, causing them to desire, at any rate, to keep their seven commandments . When this is the situation then theft is scorned and looked upon negatively by the nations of the world. Not, of course, with the same level of sensitivity as by the Jewish People, but enough to prevent the establishment of iniquitous laws, denying Jews completely of ownership rights. When the heart of the nations, the Jewish People, is healthy, murder too appears abnormal in the eyes of the nations. Even if they do make a pogrom from time to time and riot against the Jews, the establishment at least attempts to justify itself, ascribing the atrocities to elements of society which lack culture.

This is not the case, though, when the heart is sick. When, in the Nation of Israel itself, the connection to holiness is weak, it takes the form, in the nations, of a casting aside of all restraints, a 'throwing off of the yoke' with regards to even the most fundamental commandments, without which the world cannot exist. First and foremost, though, it appears in the form of a reaction which strikes at the heart itself. "If you are separate you are mine, and if not you belong to Nebuchadnezzar and his entourage."

With this we reach the secret of the last of the three sources which we brought when we set out: "They sinned repeatedly" - the sin of Israel means tragedy for the entire world, it doesn't remain in the domain of Israel alone. It is observed and learned from: "If Israel behaves in such a manner then for us all is permitted." For Israel, wrongdoing does not exist in a vacuum. It reverberates continuously. It rises and ascends. It bears fruit and fruit's fruit. Therefore it is understandable that Israel was "stricken repeatedly," for indeed, Israel feels the repercussions immediately - on its own body.
It is also understandable why Israel is "comforted repeatedly," for our redemption is unlike that of all the other nations. Our redemption is dependent upon the anticipation of the redemption of all of humanity. Our redemption is tied to the vision of the end of days when "no nation will lift sword against another nation," and is dependent on the fulfillment of the prayer that "All the people on earth will recognize and know that to You every knee should bend and every tongue should swear," for - to once again quote Rabbi Judah Halevi in The Kuzari - "Through our (Israel's) cleansing and rectification, Divinity can attach itself to the world."

The Significance of Repetition
How much more enlightening now are Rabbi Akiva's words of comfort to his colleagues in the second of the three sources with which we opened our discussion. They cried at the sight of a fox coming out of the Holy of Holies, they saw that the most holy of all places was also the most devastated, and this roused them to tears. Yet Rabbi Akiva perceived in this a comforting sign, for if, even in the destruction, the distinction between the more and the less holy was still well felt. If, he reasoned, the destruction takes its toll most upon that which is most holy, this indicates that even, as the Sages teach, "when they sit in desolation, they maintain their holiness." This is the reason that they are hit harder, and if that is the case, then that itself is the source of the comfort. If the Holy of Holies is the sickest of all, - the source of all sickness - this indicates that it is still the heart, and if so, then it is also potentially the healthiest of all - the source of all health. Certainly the heart will recover, overcome, and return once again to his firmness. And, "Through its cleansing and rectification, Divinity can attach itself to the world."

If so, the hope for consolation, like the transgression and like the punishment, is also repeated. It is the hope for the redemption, not only of an individual people, but for the whole of mankind. And this is why the Sages saw the need to emphasize: "In this manner did they respond: 'You have comforted us Akiva, you have comforted us Akiva.' "

Seven Commandments: Judaism teaches that the non-Jewish nations of the world are obligated to keep seven commandments: 1) Not to worship idols 2) Not to curse God 3) To establish courts of justice 4) Not to murder 5) Not to commit adultery or incest 6) Not to steal 7) Not to eat flesh from a living animal.

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