Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Mourning Over the Churban
To dedicate this lesson

Comfort and Consolation

The Jewish people has searched for some sort of physical and psychological response to the destruction of the Temple. The pain of centuries of humiliation, discrimination and violence cannot easily be replaced or erased even by the miraculous resurrection of the Jewish people and the state of Israel in our time.

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Rabbi Berel Wein

Av 12 5781
The Jewish people has searched for some sort of physical and psychological response to the destruction of the Temple, the millennia-long dispersion throughout the world, and the continuing enmity from much of the non-Jewish world and societies. Consolation is hard to come by, let alone comfort and some sense of serenity. The pain of centuries of humiliation, discrimination and violence cannot easily be replaced or erased even by the miraculous resurrection of the Jewish people and the state of Israel in our time. We all experience loss and tragedy during our lifetimes. It is well-nigh impossible to escape this fate and its consequences. We are also aware that what we have lost is irreplaceable, and, therefore, true comfort can never again be achieved. The Talmud teaches that one of the gifts that have been bestowed on human beings is that the memory and the loss of loved ones is somehow mitigated and softened by the passage of time and the events and circumstances of later life. If it were not for this ability, not so much to console ourselves as to distract ourselves from the loss and tragedy that we have endured, it would be impossible to continue normal life after suffering from such a loss. This is certainly true on a personal level but is also true from a national perspective as well. Part of the restlessness and frustration that marks Jewish life all over the world stems from the fact that we have never been able to achieve any sense of comfort or consolation regarding the destruction of our Temple, and the length and intensity of the exile that followed its destruction.

After the day of mourning of the ninth of Av, we read special Haftorot taken from the words of the prophet Isaiah, that are called seven chapters of consolation. The striking point about these seven Haftorot is that profit concentrates upon the future and ignores the tragedies of the past. He does not dwell upon the cruelty and evil of the enemies of the Jewish people, and the many atrocities that were perpetrated upon the Jewish people in destroying the Temple and later generations as well. He does not attempt to erase the past or even to justify it, even though all the actions of Heaven are just and true. In discussing the future and outlining for us the better times that will yet visit us, Isaiah's main points and themes of these seven Haftorot are the physical restoration of the Jewish people and the land of Israel and the ingathering of the exiles. It is as though we are being told that there is no use or benefit in reliving the past. Our hope and reason for continued life and success is based upon our future and its attendant blessings. The past will never bring us comfort or consolation. The paradox of life, and especially of Jewish life, is that, at one and the same time, we are to remember the past and honor its memories and lessons, while at the same time looking forward to our future as the place where our energies should be focused and expended.

It is difficult for us humans to look backwards and forwards at one and the same time. So much of the Jewish world still focuses its attention on the past, on memorials and museums. As noted above, the past never brings any sense of closure that can lead to a state of true consolation. The Talmud, therefore, warns human beings not to grieve too long or too bitterly over the tragedies that have befallen us. Such is the way of the world, and it is beyond our abilities to change this seemingly natural course of events. However, we are bidden to rise above our feelings, and continue to be productive human beings. Our future, to a great extent, is dependent upon us and what we will make of it. Judaism searches for the path and the psychological necessity be able to move forward in life, even when we are beset with dark memories and the sense of permanent loss. I once heard from Rabbi Kaheneman a comment that he made regarding a stone throwing incident that, unfortunately, happened in Israel. He said that stones are to be used for building and not for throwing. That pretty much sums up the Jewish attitude towards past tragedies and permanent loss. Throwing stones never leads to a better future. Building with stones always gives a sense of achievement and purpose for life, and it is that sense of achievement and purpose that holds within it the gift of comfort and consolation.

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