Comfort Zone

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Va-eschanan - Shabbos Nachamu
Comfort Zone


This week's portion, Vaeschanan, is always read on the Sabbath following Tisha B'Av. It is called "Shabbos Nachamu" (Sabbath of Comfort) because of the Haftarah that is read this week in conjunction with the Parsha. The Haftarah begins with the famous words "Nachamu, Nachamu Ami" (Be comforted, be comforted, My People; Yeshayahu, 40:1). This Haftara is the first of seven that attempt to comfort the Jewish People after they relived the experience of destruction this past Tisha B'Av.

There is a very good reason for us to be comforted at this time. This is because the Midrash (Tanna D'bei Eliyahu Zuta, chap. 21) says that Hashem said to the Jewish People, "From the day that I destroyed the Temple below, I have not sat in the Temple above. Rather, I am wandering about with the hair on My head saturated with dew" (so to speak; see Shir Hashirim, 5:2).

The depth behind this Midrash is as follows. The dew on God's hair refers to the dew that God is going to use to resurrect the dead. Just as the creation of man occurred with God pouring rain down onto the earth, making it muddy, from which He fashioned man (Parshas Bereishis, 2:6, Rashi citing Bereishis Rabba, 14:1), so will it happen in the future. God will pour dew onto the ground that people are buried in, turn it into mud, and recreate them (Yalkut Shimoni, Shir Hashirim, 5:2; Pirkei D'Rebbi Eliezer, chap. 33).

This dew is not really dew in the technical sense of the word. Rather, this dew is made up of the tears that the Jewish People have shed during their painful exile (see Shemos Rabba, 23:3). God collects every last tear and shapes it into a crown that He wears on top of His head (as it were). The message is clear; by wearing our tears on His head, God is demonstrating that He is thinking about us and our suffering.

Moreover, God Himself secretly sheds tears as He witnesses our misery (Chagigag, chap. 1, "Hakol Chayavin", pg. 5b; Yirmiyahu, 13:17). Although God knows that everything is ultimately for the best (Rebbi Akivah, Berachos, chap. 9, "Haroeh", pg. 60b; Nachum Ish Gam Zu, Taanis, chap. 3, "Seder Taaniyos Eilu", pg. 21a; Rebbi Acha bar Chaninah, Pesachim, chap. 3, "Eilu Ovrin", pg. 50a); nevertheless, Hashem participates in our anguish and cries together with us (Shvilei Pinchas).

This is why ultimately God will be the One to comfort us (Pesikta Rabbasi, 30:30). It is because He feels our pain. Often, the only one that can truly comfort a mourner is a person who is capable of crying with him, feeling his pain.

Parshas Vaeschanan also carries the message of comfort and hope because in it we read about how the Jewish People will eventually return to Israel even after they have sunk to a very low place (4:24-40).

This could be why the Ten Commandments are repeated in this Parsha (5:6-18). God is communicating to us that He will renew His covenant with us even after we have sinned and caused corruption. There are a number of differences between the text of the first set of Ten Commandments and the text of the second. Possibly, the first set spoke to a new born nation that rose to incredible heights in such a short span of time, with almost a flawless record. However, the second set speaks to a nation that fell to despicable places with a very blemished record.

In other words, the first set spoke to Tzaddikim (righteous people), whereas the second set speaks to Ba'alei Teshuvah (penitents). Once again, the message is clear; God not only feels our pain, but also accepts our return even after sinning horribly.

Perhaps this is why towards the end of the Parsha we read about teaching the traditions to our children (6:20-25). It is only this message of hope and unconditional love that God has for us that reaches the hearts of our youth.

It is not surprising that the Parsha concludes with the Jewish People returning to the Land (7:1-3). Once we realize that God has not and will not forsake us, then we are more likely to get close to Him, follow His Torah, and thus deserve to return to the Promised Land.

One exercise this week is to close our eyes at some point over Shabbos and think about God's unconditional love for us. Try to feel Hashem's Divine warmth spread over us and try to get closer to Him in some way. There is nothing more comforting than that!

Additionally, we must learn from Hashem's comforting us that it is imperative for us to comfort others. Hashem does not comfort us just to make us comfortable, but so that we become comforters to others. Comforting others is like a powerful sedative, and it is nothing less than therapeutic.

May we all be blessed to witness the time when God will wipe our tears away forever and transform our sorrow into happiness!