In his introduction to sefer Devarim, Ramban writes that sefer Devarim contains an elaboration of much of what was already previously taught in the Torah. However, before Moshe began this, he first rebuked bnei Yisrael and reminded them of their transgressions, and how much they went against Hashem in the desert and yet, Hashem was nevertheless still merciful towards them. What was the purpose of Moshe pointing this out to them? In one of his reasons, Ramban explains that one might think that if he goes against Hashem, he is doomed — there is no hope for him. Therefore, Moshe came to combat this and thus strengthened the hearts of bnei Yisrael by impressing upon them that even if they have gone against Hashem, nevertheless “Hashem is compassionate and full of mercy …and will always relate to them with mercy.”
We, perhaps, see from here the necessity of understanding Hashem’s love for us and His “open arms.” For after all, man may make mistakes, and one may become hopeless if he thinks he’s doomed and there’s no way to repair, which may cause him to give up.
Lacking this belief of Hashem’s mercy and His open arms seems to have existed even in the times of the first Beit Hamikdash. Hashem told Yirmiyah the Navi, “Tell bnei Yisrael to do teshuva.” Yirmiyah related the message, but bnei Yisrael responded, “How can we do teshuva? Didn’t we anger and provoke Hashem!?” Yirmiyah relayed bnei Yisrael’s response back to Hashem, but Hashem said back, “Go tell them, ‘if you come to me, aren’t you coming to your Father-in-Heaven?’”
Rabbi Henach Leibowitz explains the back and forth: Bnei Yisrael thought that because of their wicked state, Hashem no longer loved them and, therefore, wouldn’t accept their teshuva, but Hashem responded that their perspective of Hashem was erroneous —“I am your Father-in-Heaven,” and a father’s love for his child isn’t dependent on the child’s level of righteousness, but rather is unconditional. And therefore, Hashem says, “You can indeed do teshuva and come back to me.”
We, perhaps, see from here that even in our spiritual lows, Hashem’s mercy is present, and as a Father, He awaits our return to Him with open arms.
In our parsha, we are reminded of the time when we didn’t listen to Hashem, “and the Amorites … pursued you as bees do, and beat you … ” Why are the Amorites compared to bees? Rashi explains that just like a bee dies instantly upon stinging a person, so too, the Amorites died immediately after inflicting you.
Yet, Rabbi Chaim Mintz (“Etz Hachaim,” Devarim) asks, “If the Amorites were allowed to hit and beat us, then why do they then die immediately thereafter?” Rabbi Mintz explains that this goes to show the love of Hashem for bnei Yisrael, even when they’ve transgressed. For even though at times, Hashem may thus bring punishment, it nevertheless stems from His love for us — in order to help one return to Him. As the pasuk says: “The same way a father will chastise his son, so does Hashem chastise you,” (Devarim, 8:5). Hence, although bnei Yisrael needed this pain for their own good; however, Hashem’s love for bnei Yisrael — even during such times — didn’t allow the Amorites to endure, but rather to immediately perish thereafter.
Suffering and pain, generally speaking, is because of our wrongdoings, from veering-off from the path of Torah. In such times, one might feel distant from Hashem, and unwanted. Yet, even when we’ve gone against Hashem and, at times, might go through difficulty, it stems from “our Father-in-Heaven,” who chastises us for our own good to stimulate us to return to Him — like a father does to his own dear child. Much like a father who awaits for his children to reconnect with him, Hashem lovingly awaits our return, to do teshuva and come back to Him.
The days around Tisha B’Av spring up to mind the depth of spiritual failing, as well as pain and destruction. In this context, one might see God as being so distant from him or her. A dark period of our history, the relationship between us and Hashem in this time may seem quite bleak. And one might, therefore, feel that these days are absent of Hashem’s mercy and His desire for us.
Nevertheless, while these days represent such difficult experiences both spiritually and physically, these days also perhaps carry within them Hashem’s desire for us, and are a tremendous opportunity for reconnection. In fact, Rav Gedalia Schorr (“Ohr Gedalyahu,” Matot), brings an explanation that the days of the “Three Weeks” can be compared to a king, who when he is in the palace, it is difficult come to him, as opposed to when the king is out on the streets, in which all people — even very simple people — are able to speak to the king. Meaning to say, this time of the Three Weeks when Hashem’s Shechina was exiled from its place, it becomes as if the King of all Kings — Hashem — is “on the streets,” and it is therefore a particularly auspicious time, and everyone is able to come close to the King.
“Thus,” says Rav Yerucham Olshin, “we see from here that these Three Weeks aren’t merely days during which we just strive for closeness to Hashem — they are actual days of closeness.” Incredibly, the Gemara (Yoma 54b) says that when the gentiles entered the Sanctuary, they saw the “keruvim” embracing each other. How can it be? The Gemara (Bava Batra 99a) itself says that when bnei Yisrael were performing the Will of Hashem, the “keruvim” would face each other, but they wouldn’t face each other when they weren’t! In such depth of sin and destruction, with a seeming abandonment from Hashem, the keruvim — which represent the current quality of our relationship with Hashem —still show a signal of love and affection? Yet, we perhaps see from here that despite the depth of suffering and our low spiritual state, the hope, yearning and love that Hashem has for us to return to Him and become one with Him again is nevertheless still present, and is — perhaps — even intensified in such times.
While these days may feel devoid of our ideal relationship with Hashem, nonetheless, they are uniquely auspicious for bonding back with Hashem. Maybe then, it’s neither ironic that this month is called “Av” which means “father.”
Perhaps, a focus around the times of the Three Weeks is recognizing this special relationship we have with Hashem, and that even in times of pain, destruction and spiritual failing, yet awaits our “Av”— our Father-in-Heaven — for us to reconnect with Him once again.
Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work.