Parashat V'etchanan Print Version
16th of Av, 5776 | July 28, 2018
Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik
Rabbi Yissocher Frand The Story Behind the Story
You may have heard it before. It’s become a popular niggun (song), with its words commonly attributed to Rav Nachman of Breslov. A niggun about realizing that even amidst the most hidden and inexplicable of events and tragedies, G-d is still there.
Hashem says to us, “Children, I will conceal Myself on that day,” but the Rebbe (R’ Nachman) says, even in a concealment within a concealment, Hashem may He be Blessed is certainly there. And behind the difficult things that stand before you, I stand.
There are times in our lives when we look at something before us and we have no words. It makes no sense. Why would it happen? And why to him, to her or to me? And the answer is just like the question, except with one slight addition. It makes no sense to us. We as human beings only see a snapshot of the entire picture, and can in no possible way construe the entire true reality from that little bit we perceive. But Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, can and does know why everything, literally everything, occurs. All we can hold onto is the firm belief that G-d is behind all that transpires. Amidst terrible calamities that we see and hear about, G-d is still there.
But, at times, G-d allows us to be privy either first-hand, second-hand or further to the story behind the story. We are taken behind the curtain and shown that behind the front stage, there is a back stage, where a whole other story takes place. And so, allow me to share with you two such examples, which in no way mitigate from the tragedy, but at the very least provide us with faith that in a concealment within a concealment, Hashem is certainly there.
A number of years ago, a couple from Lakewood, New Jersey, were left tragedy-stricken. Their young son ran out onto the street and was tragically hit by a car, rachmana litzlan. He didn’t make it. You can imagine what the shiva house looked like.
One day during shiva, another couple came to visit. They in fact had never before met the couple from Lakewood and did not know the little boy either. But they did have something to share with the inconsolable parents. “We have to tell you a story…” they began.
“For many years we have been involved in kiruv work. We moved out to a little town populated by a handful of Jews, where along with a list of other Jewish amenities missing, they were without a mikvah. And so, we resolved to raise the necessary funds to build one for the community. We scraped together every last penny we could save, skimping on daily meals and asking donors to generously donate, until we finally achieved what we set out to accomplish. We built the mikvah.
“Time continued on, as we both worked to build up the community and took care of maintaining the mikvah on the side. One night, however, as we headed to the mikvah to check and clean it, we took our little toddler along with us. As it happened, when we began attending to the mikvah, our little son wandered off to the other side and fell into the water. Before we knew it, he had drowned.
“We couldn’t make sense of it. The very mikvah we worked so hard to build and raise the community to greater levels of purity was the very instrument to drown our son! This is our reward for dedicating ourselves to a mitzvah! We were devastated.
“Until one night when my husband had a dream. Our son came to him and said, “I am the soul of a Jew who died during the years of the Spanish Inquisition. The problem was that I never received a tahara (purification). Hashem though wanted me to receive one in a mikvah that was built al taharas ha’kodesh, with the holiest of intentions and with extreme purity and precision. And this is that mikvah Hashem was waiting for. It took five hundred years for it to be built, but that is why I fell inside it. Once it was constructed, Hashem found the right time for me to return my soul back to Heaven in purity, and so I did…”
“We may not be able to fully console you,” the kiruv couple concluded, “but this is what happened to us, and we just wanted to share it with you. You may not have your son come to you in a dream like we did, but just know, we sometimes can never imagine what the story is on the other side…”
Indeed, behind the difficult things that stand before us, Hashem stands. But let me share with you another example.
Tuesday, October 13th, 2015. You may remember the day. A Palestinian drove his car into a group of people waiting at a bus stop on the Malchei Yisrael Street in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Geula, killing one and injuring two others. Again, more Jewish lives were taken at the hands of our ruthless enemies. An unspeakable tragedy.
That is the story we are aware of. But there is another story we might not be.
Rabbi Menashe Reisman delivers a daily Torah class every morning in the Beit Yehoshua synagogue on the Minchat Yitzchat street in Jerusalem. It was the middle of that summer 2015 when Rabbi Reisman received a call from a Jew in Antwerp, Belgium, inviting him to speak that upcoming Elul and inspire the community. Rabbi Reisman, who generally receives many such invitations to speak, politely declined. But not such success was met on that end. The Jew from Antwerp persisted in convincing Rabbi Resiman to make the trip, until he finally acquiesced to go, but for a later date. “I will come to your community a speak on Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, after the High Holidays,” Rabbi Reisman compromised.
Just later that night, after giving it more thought, Rabbi Reisman phoned the man from Antwerp yet again, and wondered if it would be possible to cancel the speech for various reasons, but it was too late. The visit had already been published and released to the community. And so, Rabbi Reisman was set to go to Antwerp for a speaking engagement on Tuesday, Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan.
But Rabbi Reisman still wondered about one thing. What would his many daily attendees, averaging two hundred, do that morning? “I inquired if I should have a substitute give my class in Jerusalem in my stead for that one day, but I was told that there would be no need, and the class would simply resume the next morning.” And so, that was taken care of. Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan soon enough rolled around, and Rabbi Reisman was away speaking in Antwerp with no lecture in Jerusalem in session.
Now what does this have to do with the Palestinian attack at the bus stop? Everything.
That previous Sunday and Monday before Tuesday of Rosh Chodesh, passerby noticed a Palestinian man sitting in his car just outside the Beit Yehoshua synagogue. Suspicion was aroused, but nothing happened. Until that Tuesday.
Surveillance cameras later showed a man arriving again near the synagogue that Tuesday morning and parking. At 10:10, the man got out of his car, nervously ran inside the shul and went up and down the stairs. But no one was there. Frustrated, he ran back to his car and madly drove to Geula, where he rammed into a bus stop and killed one Jew and injured two others.
If you are starting to see the story behind the story, that is exactly it…
The Palestinian man was waiting to ram him car into the two hundred Jews who generally file out of the Beit Yehoshua synagogue at around 10:10 every morning after Rabbi Reisman’s class. But no one came out because the class had been cancelled. Rabbi Reisman was in Antwerp giving a lecture he had vacillated about and tried to decline time and again. And so now, not meeting his target of the hundreds of Jews he had anticipated, the Palestinian frantically drove off looking for some other calamity he could cause. And he did. Tragically, he reached three of our brethren, one of which didn’t make it.
While we cannot know of the Divine reason any Jews needed to be struck by this Palestinian’s rampage, we can gain a glimpse into what very likely planned on happening, but didn’t. The lives of two hundred Jews were spared. So why did Rabbi Reisman finally accept to speak in Antwerp? Now he knows why, and so do we. Hashem wanted to prevent a massacre.
Now, does life always turn out so pat where someone comes to us in a dream and tells us why something happened? No. Do we always figure out why instead of two hundred Jews, one was killed? No. But from these glimpses we can extrapolate that even if we don’t understand, we can at least live with faith that Hashem is there. Shema Yisrael, Listen Israel, Hashem Elokeinu, G-d’s name of Mercy (Hashem) and G-d’s name of Judgement (Elokeinu), Hashem Echad, is all one. Both the good times and bad times in our lives are with G-d’s involvement behind the scenes. And that’s the story behind all the stories that ever happen in this world.
If you have any idea what the above words are, you’re a step ahead. Many people have no clue. It’s the inactive ingredients in Tylenol. Why most of us have no idea what they mean is because we are not pharmacists. If we were, these ingredients would make perfect sense.
This fact should not come as a surprise to us. But think for a moment. Don’t we tend to mull over the ingredients in our own lives again and again and wonder why and how they are there? We ask and wonder why things happen in the world as they do. The answer, though, is the same as above for the pharmacist. Hashem mixes the elements in our lives exactly the way they need to be. He knows what ingredients need to go in and exactly how much of each. We, in contrast, have no familiarity of the breadth and depth of the chemistry which makes up our world and lives, and cannot begin to assume we will comprehend it. Our job is rather to realize that the medicine has the perfect mix, and what happens to us and around us is with absolute rhyme and reason.
Just think about it. What is coffee? It is made up of bitter beans, sweet sugar, hot water and cold milk. A most tasteful drink comes together from the most basic of contrasts. In our lives too, one day we will look back and see how every contrast perfectly fit together. In the here and now, our vision becomes blurred. We often become convinced that the world is going haywire, and there is not much to hope for in our personal lives. We become frustrated and dejected. But, then again, Hashem whispers to us, “Trust me. I know exactly where you are and why you are there.” The more we believe that, the more peace and serenity will be added to our lives. Hashem will help us. He is our Father and He will never ever abandon us. He is simply mixing the medicine that will enable us to become the best person we can become.
Rabbi Daniel Glatstein Much Greater
Having just gone through Tisha B’av, a day of immense tragedy, we enter the weeks of Nachamu, comfort. We move from a state of calamity to consolation and from sorrow to solace. But even Tisha B’av itself, as depicted in Megillas Eicha (1:15), is described as a Mo’ed, a festival. In what way, though, is the saddest day of the year a joyous one?
The Gemara (Makkos 24a-b) shares the story of R’ Akiva and three other sages who were once walking and overheard from miles away the clamor of Roman celebration. The three sages broke down crying, while R’ Akiva began laughing. The sages explained that they were crying because such an idolatrous and degrading nation as Rome was living in peace and serenity.
“That is precisely why I am crying,” replied R’ Akiva. “If such is the reward for those who violate the will of Hashem, then how much greater is the reward for those who adhere to His word.”
In this vein, we can better understand the joy beneath the mourning of Tisha B’av. The Torah tells us that Hashem punishes for four generations, yet rewards up to two thousand generations (Shemos 34:7). As Rashi elucidates, Hashem’s attribute of mercy supersedes His attribute of judgment by five hundred times.
Applying this to Tisha B’av and the tragedies enumerated within the Kinnos recited, we are left with a new, incredible perspective. If we sat in shul all morning reading close to fifty lamenting elegies filling hundreds of pages, can we imagine how lengthy the book will be which describes our redemption and the miracles surrounding it? Five hundred times lengthier and denser.
Just think about it. The goodness and kindness Hashem will shower upon us with the Final Redemption will be so overwhelming and awe-inspiring. In this sense, even though we sat on the floor and cried on Tisha B’av, it was a festival of sorts, for it provided us with a window and picture into the type of goodness and comfort awaiting us. If R’ Akiva laughed, then we can still hear his faint laugh in our days on Tisha B’av. And indeed, that is the greatest consolation. Nachamu, nachamu ami – Be Comforted, be comforted, My people.
A Short Message From Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein
Shabbos Chazon. Tisha B’av. Shabbos Nachamu. It’s the progression of weeks we have encountered for thousands of years. A Shabbos of solemnity and seriousness, followed by a day of intense mourning and introspection, and bookended by a Shabbos of comfort and consolation. But ask yourself the question. What difference is there between last Shabbos of Chazon and this Shabbos of Nachamu? Is Mashiach here? We hope he will be here any moment, but not yet. Is the Beis Hamikdash here? No. Are people still dying? Yes. Are people still struggling to find their shidduch and have children? Yes. What then is the great comfort? Why do we celebrate the week after Tisha B’av if what we were mourning is still not here?
Chazal (Berachos 58b) teach that one’s forgets about the passing of a beloved relative after twelve months. After a year has passed following a death occurrence, the pain and agony of the loss disappears and dissipates. The memory may be there, but its tangible freshness dulls and dwindles. Hashem, in His kindness, ingrained such a phenomenon into our psyche, for He knew that holding onto the loss for too long would overwhelm us. But what does it mean if, even after a year and certainly further than that, the distress and anguish is still there?
The Torah relates that Yaakov Avinu refused to be comforted after being told that his son Yosef had been torn apart by a wild animal (Bereishis 37:35). All his sons and daughters attempted to console him, but to no avail. Why was that? It was for the very reason that one can only attain consolation at some point for someone who died, but not for someone alive. As long as the supposed person is alive, those who mourn him will remain inconsolable, which is exactly what Yaakov experienced because Yosef was in fact alive.
In this regard, explains the Chasam Sofer, the very fact that we still remember the Beis Hamikdash to this day and cry and mourn its lost indicates that it is still alive in our hearts and minds. The Beis Hamikdash is not eternally destroyed, for it is not forlorn and forgotten. We would not feel anything were it completely gone and dead. Within our very source of mourning is thus our source of joy, as our Sages allude, “Anyone who mourns over Jerusalem will merit seeing it in its rejoicing” (Taanis 30b). Shabbos Nachamu is thus a time of comfort for we know with certainty that the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Beis Hamikdash is a reality very close to our hearts and fully alive.
Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter
Timely Torah insights, stories, and anecdotes from your favorite TorahAnytime speakers, delivered straight to your inbox every week.