An installment in the series
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction click.
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
Invariably, when a toddler takes his first tentative steps he stumbles and falls. Understanding that the childâ€™s staggering and falling are indispensable developmental prerequisites to becoming a full-fledged walker, the wise parent will delight in both the unsure steps and in the awkward falls. On the other hand the toddler himself is apt to howl in pain, humiliation and frustration every time he hits the floor. Once the child outgrows this stage he usually forgets about it entirely until, several decades later, he becomes a toddlerâ€™s parent himself. But if, say, at age nine the child were to reconsider it, he too would understand that the early stumbles and missteps were no cause for humiliation or pain at all. In retrospect, the unsteady steps and the stumbling were ALL good.
The Lashon Kodesh word Nechama is often mistranslated as â€œconsolationâ€ or â€œsolaceâ€ when, in truth,Â the cognate of the concept of Nechama is best expressed in English by words such as â€œreassessmentâ€ or â€œreconsideration.â€ When applied to something in our past formerly thought of as sweet, good or beneficial we describe our change-of-mind as remorse or regret. Thus the Pasuk that serves as the prelude to the Great Flood (Bereshis 6:7 ) states â€œKee Nechamtee kee assesseemâ€ = â€œFor I regret having made him (man)â€. Based on context â€œFor I take comfort in having made manâ€ would be a gross mistranslation of the text.
Rav Tzadok, the Kohen of Lublin teaches that, conversely, when applied to something in our past formerly thought of as bitter, bad or detrimental we can still describe our change-of-mind as Nechama, but there is no parallel word or phrase in English that neatly captures the flavor of this sort of reassessment.
The current Zeitgeist urges people to â€œmove-onâ€ from tragedy and personal setbacks. Time may heal all wounds but it does so by blunting the pain and by dimming the memory, not by affording the one who sustained the wound the wisdom to understand that the wound was not an injury but the indispensable cause of the healing, development and growth, that the operation was not one of amputation or dismemberment but of reconstructive surgery.
We are not punished for our sins but by them. The Divine promise of Nechama will be delivered by Hashem bringing us to the realization that all of our sins and their punishments were necessary components in His original plan for the potential emerging into the actual. This is why the â€œseven haftoros of consolationâ€, beginning this week, lead into Shabbos Teshuva. Teshuva, predicated on human regret and remorse -â€œthinking better of itâ€ lies at the root of the transformative power of Nechama. Our reassessment of our sins, our awakening from below- â€œreturn to meâ€, evokes a sympathetic vibration and awakening from Above- â€œand I will return to youâ€ i.e. the Divine reassessment of the wages of our sins. Our sins and suffering will no longer be assessed as aberrant departures from His will but recast as indispensable steps in His original plan.
Our People long for the Nechama for a history that has seen countless white-water rivers of blood all surging into stormy oceans of tears. But this aching, longing yearning is for something much loftier than some palliative that will dull the unbearable pain and eclipse the nightmarish memory. We ache for the heightened consciousness of reassessment. The paradigm shifts that will make us â€œregretâ€ ever thinking that the Golus was painful. The highest consolation and comfort inheres in understanding that all of the stumbles, pain and humiliation were nothing of the kind, that they were all good. When HaShem heightens and expands our consciousness to reassess our Golus then and only then will our Nation have been comforted and consoled. We dare not settle for anything less.