This week’s haftarah, opening with “Nachamu, nachamu ami—Be comforted, be comforted, my nation” (Yishayahu 40:1), always falls on the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av. It marks the resumption of weddings and all forms of entertainment that are reduced during the three-week mourning period leading up to Tisha B’Av. Is this feeling of comfort, this transition and resumption of celebration, appropriate just days after we mark the grief of Tisha B’Av? The Beit Hamikdash is still not rebuilt and our dreams of geula, full redemption, have not been fulfilled. What has changed and what is the actual source of the comfort?
In this week’s parsha, when Moshe beseeches Hashem in a heart-rending way for permission to enter Israel, we see that Hashem does not relent:
“Ascend to the top of the cliff and raise your eyes westward, northward, southward and eastward, and see with your eyes for you shall not cross the Jordan.” (Devarim 3:27)
Chazal state that Moshe asked 515 times to enter Israel, this verse being his final request. So why did Moshe stop asking? Had he finally accepted the decree?
Looking closely at this verse, one notices the strangeness of the expression “and see with your eyes.” How else does one see, if not with one’s eyes? The redundancy is striking when we compare this verse with a similar verse in Parshat Pinchas:
“And Hashem said to Moshe: Go up to this mountain of Avarim and see the land that I have given to the children of Israel. And you will indeed see it.” (Bamidbar 27:12)
The Rogatchover Gaon (The Tzafnat Paneach) explains that the earlier verse—“you will indeed see it”—is a command for Moshe to survey the land before he dies, while the second verse—“see with your eyes”—implies a much more personal command in which Hashem asks Moshe to face Eretz Yisrael (both literally and emotionally) and recognize his personal agony.
The Gemara in Sotah 14 records an Aggadic interpretation of this scene, where Hashem recognizes that Moshe’s desire is a unique and passionate longing, one intertwined and interwoven with his spiritual development. Moshe did not need to eat the fruits or satisfy himself with the goodness of Eretz Yisrael; he just desired to fulfill the mitzvot that can be fulfilled only in Eretz Yisrael. Hashem comforted him by saying that He would consider it as if Moshe had fulfilled them.
Moshe, standing at the top of the cliff, looks upon Eretz Yisrael in its entirety and directly encounters the extent of his pain. Although seemingly counter-intuitive, this awareness is the very source of his comfort. After asking Hashem repeatedly to enter the land, Moshe feared he had become numb; once he saw the land, he realized that he still agonized over the punishment. That realization comforted Moshe, in the same way that years after losing a loved one, a person can find comfort in a yahrzeit, in the awareness that one still identifies with the loss. Sometimes one’s worst fear is desensitization, and, ironically, knowing that there is still passion for a cause or feelings for a loss can bring comfort.
Perhaps this is the spiritual underpinning of Shabbat Nachamu. It can be difficult to feel the pain of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash after almost 2,000 years but on Tisha B’Av we try to connect—through Eicha, Kinot and learning about the calamities of Jewish history. The goal is “seeing with your eyes”: identifying within ourselves this feeling of catastrophe. When we finally experience the anguish and cry over the destruction, we can then truly find comfort in the acquisition of these emotions and channel that energy into the moments of simcha in our lives. As Chazal state, “Whoever mourns Jerusalem merits to see its joy,” indicating that whoever mourns the fall of Jerusalem not only merits seeing it in a state of redemption, but is also inherently comforted by the awareness of its loss.
Rabbi Yehoshua Fass is the co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).