May 30, 2024
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May 30, 2024
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Facing Elul When ‘Nachamu, Nachamu Ami’ Is Not Enough

I was sitting in shul for kinos on Tisha B’Av morning, and looked around the room and thought about how we define destruction in our own lives. The kinos are difficult to understand, but the objective of reading them on Tisha B’Av is to somehow relate to the pain that was felt when the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed. The kinos continue to describe other times throughout our history when we were faced with a national destruction all the way through our history until the Holocaust.

We take the words of each kinna and try to relate them to the struggles we have faced or are currently facing. By no means is this process meant to minimize the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, but I’m sure I’m not alone in finding difficulty in truly internalizing the pain of the Churban (destruction) even after going to many shiurim during the Three Weeks and going to an outstanding explanatory kinos. We all define personal destruction differently, and each person experiences kinos very differently, even though we are all saying the same words.

When we are young and naive we set lofty goals and plans to what our lives will look like in the future. It’s the Option A. So anything that isn’t Option A can make you feel like a lost soul later on. Maybe you thought you were going to get the awesome job in your 20s so you would feel financially secure by the time you were 30, or you’d have a couple of great kids and maybe one kid would be just a little bit allergic to peanuts and another who needed some kriah (Hebrew reading) support until second grade; you know, a pretty good life with some reasonable, everyday challenges.

And whether we have reasonable challenges or greater ones, it’s hard not to compare our lives to others. We tend to blame social media as the culprit, but it’s not always the case. It’s going back to your parents house for the Yamim Noraim and seeing how old friends are succeeding at work or at home, or even standing in line at Target and noticing the complete stranger in front of you with the stunning designer bag you wish you had.

But even with the perfect designer bag, it’s not all roses for everyone else. I can’t think of one person in my life who hasn’t faced some sort of major, potentially catastrophic challenge in his or her life over the past couple of years. We’re talking heavy stuff: mental and physical illness, parnassa challenges, shalom bayit problems (no matter what that bayit looks like, living with a spouse and children, roommates and relationships with your immediate family).

Beyond the scope of what you learn in the classrooms of Michlalah—other than each nisayon you face will make you stronger, blah, blah, blah—it’s easier to hear than to believe. And yes, what I consider to be a challenge may be no big deal for my neighbor and vice versa. I am the first one to quickly judge and consider their challenge as not something substantial. A friend and I were recently discussing the difference between feeling overwhelmed and feeling pain. I always felt that the two emotions are completely independent. Yet, it turned out I was very much wrong and they go very much hand in hand.

Yes, you can feel overwhelmed by seemingly wonderful things: planning for a vacation, cooking for your beautiful family, or even building a brand-new house. But let’s say you are going on a vacation alone or you thought your spouse would be helping you out more with grocery shopping or you lost your job and now have no idea how you will be paying for the house you are building, or it’s a total money pit and you can’t go back. And it doesn’t even have to be as intense as that; life can be overwhelming at any time or place.

We are now in the midst of hearing the shiva d’nechamta, the seven haftaros of comfort. We tend to just focus on the first one with the famous words “Nachamu, nachamu ami.” Maybe the rest of them don’t get as much attention because we are on vacation or we are focused on Elul as soon as Rosh Chodesh hits.

But I couldn’t help thinking of all the pain everyone experiences and somehow relive that pain each Tisha B’Av. I’m sure we know people who sit and read kinos and think that it might not seem so bad compared to what they currently have going in on their lives, when the words “nachamu, nachamu ami” are just not enough—when you look at the month of Elul as a chance for this year to just be over and are counting down the days of Hashem giving you this wonderful opportunity to get a new slate. There will be nisyonot in all of our lives that will not be changing.
Chronic illness is not disappearing and people we lost are not coming back until we are zoche to the days of Moshiach. We all have emunah and fully believe in Hashem’s capacity to change things k’heref ayin, but when you are choked by the nisayon you are facing, Moshiach’s arrival can feel just as hard to relate to as the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.

Our general approach toward Elul is to focus on forgiveness and prepare ourselves to face Hashem on the Yamim Noraim. But it’s just as important to keep in mind that just as much as Hashem is preparing to give us a new slate, He simultaneously is giving us comfort by setting a limit on each year’s tribulations.

The way the calendar falls out this year lends itself to a full Elul experience. Usually I just feel rushed with the start of school and the Yom Tov season all starting at the same time. In some ways this can be daunting, like if we have all this time to really acknowledge this time of year, we might feel compelled to actually be focused on teshuva while most years we are still in summer vacay mode and rushing in our mechila quests to the last few days of the month. But this year, thankfully, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

We can focus on teshuva and still relish the idea that Hashem is taking the time to comfort our pain of this year and remind ourselves that we actually made it through the year. And it may not be the Option A results we anticipated, but maybe the extended nachamu season can allow you to give yourself a pat on the back for finishing up the year stronger than you walked in to the year because, in fact, nisyonos do make you stronger and can help you feel closer to Hashem if you let them. May we have the zechus to live our Chodesh Elul with the ability to feel all the feels Hashem intended us to feel.

By Rachel Zamist

Rachel Zamist lives in Passaic with her daughter, Mimi, a freshman in high school.

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