Last week on Rosh Chodesh Av, the Passaic/Clifton community and klal Yisrael suffered a colossal loss: the sudden passing of Rabbi Shmuel Berkovicz, z”l, menahel—principal—of Yeshiva M’kor Boruch where my son attended, rav of Khal Yeraim, and for me personally, a rebbe and close friend. He was my counsel for many chinuch questions. He was suffused with love for each person, and he loved each child in yeshiva. We are bereft.
The Gemara says the death of a tzaddik is equal to the burning of the Beis Hamikdash. While they existed, both provided the means for forging a deep connection to Hashem. We are now left without the Beis Hamikdash and without the tzaddik. I personally feel the void so immensely.
This Shabbos is called Shabbos Nachamu because the haftorah starts off with the word nachamu—comfort. Hashem tells Yeshaya the prophet to go and comfort klal Yisrael after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.
Nachamu? What is the possible comfort? We are in the same position we were on Tisha B’Av. What’s changed? On Tisha B’Av we were sitting on the floor with all the restrictions due to our mourning. We were even prohibited from studying Torah. The peroches (covering) was removed from the aron, signifying even the Torah was in a state of mourning. So how is it possible that the Shabbos following we can read the haftorah “Nachamu”—and attempt to comfort klal Yisrael? What comfort can be offered without a Beis Hamikdash?
Similarly, when a mourner is sitting shiva, there is a mitzvah called nichum aveilim to visit the mourner and offer words of comfort. Can we truly offer comfort to the mourner? Rabbi Daniel Schwab told me, in the name of his illustrious grandfather, Harav Shimon Schwab, that we can’t really comfort the mourner—only Hashem can do that. Indeed, these are the words we say to the mourner: “May Hashem comfort you amongst all the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim.” In this sentence, we refer to Hashem as Hamakom—the place—which is one of the names of Hashem, because when someone loses a close relative, there is a huge void. Only Hashem can fill that void.
Perhaps the following event relates to the comfort of Shabbos Nachamu, says Rabbi Daniel Schwab. Once he had to store a few items in his garage, but his garage was so cluttered, he had no room for them. He first had to clear everything out that wasn’t needed. On Tisha B’Av we clear out space inside ourselves. We first need to recognize the void in our lives and how much of Hashem we are missing. Once we have de-cluttered, we now have the space and the clarity to allow Hashem—Hamakom—to come fill that space inside us.
Our community feels the void without Rabbi Berkovicz. Which rebbe will love our children and care for them as deeply as he did? Who will lead his beautiful shul? Where will parents and rebbeim turn for chinuch advice? Where will I turn for my personal questions on raising my children in Passaic? There is a huge vacuum.
Perhaps there is another element to the nechama that is being offered on Shabbos Nachamu. It is almost impossible to console someone with regard to an irreplaceable loss. The Navi repeats the word nachamu twice, since there are two parties who need to be comforted concerning the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash: Hashem and klal Yisrael. Yes, Hashem also needs comforting.
The Gemara quotes an episode where Rebbe Yosse walked into one of the ruins in Yerushalayim to pray. Inside, he heard a heavenly voice saying, “Whenever I hear Jews saying the words yehei shmei rabba in Kaddish, I say, ‘Praise goes to the King because His nation praises Him in His home as such. Woe is to the father who has exiled his children and woe to the children who have been banished from their father’s table.’”
The sefer Bromo Shel Olam explains that Hashem also needs comfort for destroying the Beis Hamikdash, as His presence is now less felt in the world. Hashem is comforted when we express our yearning for Him and His dwelling place. We do this when we respond to people saying Kaddish.
The physical destruction is just temporary; the rebuilding will happen. Even in its destruction, the Beis Hamikdash retains its kedusha; the physical area remains holy and sacred. The loss of the Beis Hamikdash is not forever; we in fact “rebuild it” as we strengthen our connection with Hashem.
Similarly, upon the loss of tzadikim, the Gemara says they are considered alive even after their death, as their Torah is eternal. The lessons we have learned from Rabbi Berkowicz still live on. Living his lessons keeps him with us.
Just as Hashem grants a nechama to klal Yisrael after Tisha B’Av, so may Hashem grant a nechama to the Berkovicz family, our community and all of klal Yisrael.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Rockaway and Fair Lawn. He initiated and continues to lead a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Springfield, and Fort Lee. His email is [email protected]