Monday, July 26, 2021

A number of years ago, friends of mine told their young son that he needed to behave especially well, as his parents weren’t eating and drinking today. They were fasting, they explained, to commemorate that the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed. That evening, as they sat down to break their fast, their son looked at them, confused: “Why are you eating? Was the Beit Hamikdash built again?!”

This story highlights a crucial question that we face each year after Tisha B’Av as we transition into Shabbat Nachamu. Why do we stop mourning? Nothing has practically changed: We mourned the lack of the Beit Hamikdash, and that lack remains. So where does the nechama come from?

To answer this, we must gain a better understanding of the Jewish concept of nechama. Rav Elchanan Adler, rosh yeshiva at YU, points out that although the classic understanding of nechama is “consolation,” in a couple of places—more specifically at the end of Parshat Bereishit, as well as in the aftermath of the Cheit HaEgel—the word “vayinachem” is used to refer to Hashem “reconsidering” a decision He made. Rabbi Adler suggests that this double usage of the word nechama—to mean “consolation” and “reconsider”—helps us better understand the concept of nechama and consolation.

In Rabbi Adler’s words, “The essence of consolation is the ability to shift perspective—to look at the same reality and to “reconsider,” to see it in a different light. While from an earlier perspective a tragedy might be viewed in stark “black and white” terms—as senseless and meaningless—nechama allows for shades of gray, leading one to perceive a silver lining within the depth of the suffering. While a painful void and gnawing questions still remain, the spirit of nechama begins to uncover Divine grace... In short, nechama connotes the ability to reconsider. Although externally nothing may have changed, and things may, on occasion, even seem worse, internally a transformation has taken place in the meaning that one assigns to this harsh reality.” (YU Torah-To-Go 5773 “Tisha B’av: Hope in the Face of Sorrow”)

Thus nechama refers to our ability to reshape our view of what occurred and search for the silver lining. This doesn’t take away from the mourning; the grief is still there. However, at some point, we are meant to reconsider our perspective and to recognize any positive aspects of what occurred.

Despite the devastation that the Churban Beit Hamikdash represents, if we look closely, silver linings begin to emerge. One midrash points out that there is consolation in that God took out His anger on the stones of the Beit Hamikdash as opposed to on the Jewish people. The Gemara Makkot records the story of Rebbe Akiva laughing as foxes walk through the Beit Hamikdash ruins, in contrast to the crying of his peers: He realizes that if the prophecy of destruction came true, so will the prophecy of redemption. Others point out that the fact that we’re still mourning the Beit Hamikdash’s destruction 2,000 years later is itself a silver lining—signifying our everlasting dedication to Zion and Yerushalayim.

We can now better understand the Gemara Taanit 30a that “one who mourns over Yerushalayim merits to see its happiness.” Commentaries point out that the Gemara does not speak in future tense, but rather it speaks in present tense. The implication is that when one mourns over the Beit Hamikdash, that mourning itself sprouts the seeds of redemption, such that the person immediately begins to experience the happiness of Yerushalayim right then.

This ability to shift perspective—to first mourn a tragedy fully, but then reconsider the tragedy and search for silver linings as a source of comfort—is fundamental to the Jewish story. Throughout the generations and numerous calamities suffered, what has defined us is our ability to rise back up even stronger. We don’t forget the catastrophes—we commemorate them each year—but we move on and grow from them.

The ability to shift perspectives is an important skill for us to teach our children as well. Children generally experience things one-dimensionally and in extremes: Something is either great, or it is horrible. The capacity to experience nuanced emotions—to recognize that something can be tragic but also contain aspects of hope and optimism—requires some maturity and must be taught. As our children experience the challenges of life, both big and small, we must give them the space to mourn and process the disappointment that comes their way, but then teach them the tools to find the silver linings that stem from those challenges. Perhaps we can even teach them that it’s okay to “hold” both emotions—sorrow and optimism, grief and hope—at the same time. Because that’s part of being human: experiencing conflicting emotions and learning how to navigate within them.

As Tisha B’Av transitions into Shabbat Nachamu, we as a nation shift our focus, as the sadness of the destruction gives way to the rays of hope emerging from the despair. We remember that as important as it is to mourn, it’s perhaps more important to find the sparks of positivity emerging from the tragedies. This is an important skill that we must cultivate within ourselves—and that we must teach and nurture within our children as well—as we all make our way through the vicissitudes of life.

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!

Rav Yossi Goldin is the menahel tichon at Yeshivas Pe’er HaTorah, rebbe at Midreshet Tehillah, and placement adviser/internship coordinator for the YU/RIETS kollel. He lives with his family in Shaalvim and can be reached at [email protected]

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