Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Nachamu Ami

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Nachamu nachamu ami. More comforting words have never been uttered than those spoken by Yeshayahu Hanovi and repeated in every Jewish shul this coming Shabbos.

You hear those words and all the sadness in the world melts away. Everything that pains us and causes us grief becomes temporary as those immortal words ring in our ears.

Wherever Jews find themselves, they view those words as a call to be joyous and free, to embark on a vacation, and to take life a little less seriously.

While we do that, we should bear in mind that shallowness and complacency are dangerous and perilous. No matter where we are and what we are engaged in, we must be wary of allowing superficial considerations to guide us.

Not that we shouldn’t be lighthearted or enjoy ourselves, or that everything we do must be analyzed to death. But given the precarious times we live in, our responses ought to reflect more discernment and intelligent assessment.

We live in such frightening times. We may not realize it, but there is a war going on in Iraq. Iran may have a nuclear weapon aimed at us. Al-Qaeda can strike at any time. The economy may not be officially in a recession, but we all know countless people who are suffering from a lack of sufficient income. So many people we know are sick; so many have been plucked away in the prime of their lives.

We don’t have to be morose and melancholy all the time, but we do have to resist shallow thinking and living. We have to fight the complacency that lulls us into coasting along peacefully as our brethren in Eretz Yisroel are fighting for their very survival. The plunge of the almighty dollar has woeful consequences for our brethren, yet when they plea to us, we roll our eyes. As we worry about trivialities, a proxy war is being fought which, if lost, may lead to future wars and calamities, not just for Eretz Yisroel, but also for America and the entire western civilization. All the warning signs have been posted, all the alarms have gone off, yet we fail to absorb their implications.

The Yeitzer Hara clouds our psyche and causes us to concentrate on the wrong things in order to dull our thinking and lead us down the wrong path. Without proper perspective, we can easily get sidetracked, with trivial concerns skewing our lives. Additionally, losing focus is the undoing of every important project and vision. When one makes the trivial important, the important becomes trivial.

We live in an age when, all too often, perception trumps reality and people who are adept at creating perceptions win and those who don’t get it lose.

Proper focus and clarity of vision are essential for every aspect of existence. Nations will topple without a vision and political leaders can fall to the most inexperienced challengers when their vision becomes distorted. Take a look at the election campaign in our country, home to so many intelligent and educated people. A neophyte smooth-talker has a chance to defeat a national hero experienced in government and become president of this once proud country.

Similarly, our brothers in the Israeli army find themselves somewhere they have never been. They have always denigrated their Arab enemies and proudly patted themselves on the back as being intellectually and militarily superior.

Since the war of liberation in 1948, though the lone sheep has been surrounded by a pack of wolves, with all the odds stacked against survival, Israel has successfully beaten back enemy armies and emerged triumphant. Religious people recognized the Hand of G-d in each of Israel’s victories. Countless soldiers had miraculous tales to retell when they returned home. The Six Day War of 1967 had such an obvious miraculous outcome that it spawned a teshuva revolution whose repercussions are still felt today.

However, many military planners chose to close their eyes to the obvious and now face a new reality. Once again, their delusions about their omnipotence have been shattered. It has been shown for all who care to notice that without Divine assistance, Israel cannot win.

On its Gaza and Lebanon borders, Israel is faced with enemies who are sworn to fight the country to death. The enemy is getting stronger and more brazen by the day.

As much as we would like to ignore the deadliness of the dangers we face, we have to realize that we live in a pivotal time in history and our actions can have lasting impact. We have to recognize that ‘small’ problems that aren’t taken care of tend to fester and grow, turning more threatening with time. We have to understand that no part of Olam Hazeh is constant; everything is subject to change.

Most of all, we have to remember that without siyata diShmaya, we cannot succeed. We have to do everything in our power to secure Divine merit.

Though the more serious days of the Three Weeks and Nine Days have ended, we still need to focus on what counts. Study more Torah and engage in additional acts of tzedaka and chessed. Assist those who need our help and pay attention to issues which are really important. Speak softly. Tough times demand that we act tenderly. Remember that the book of Tehillim is as relevant today as it was when Dovid Hamelech wrote it over 2,800 years ago. Cling to it. Don’t just say its words, but comprehend them and let them sink into your soul.

Superficiality and small-mindedness breed sinas chinam, which caused the churban to begin with. Myopically focusing on our own petty interests without seeing the big picture can be catastrophic. The story of Kamtza, who was more concerned with his own minor personal grievances than about what he was doing to Bar Kamtzah, is a classic illustration of this failing. Too often, we get locked into a negative mindset and ignore the feelings and interests of others. By fighting this tendency, we can bring about the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh.

Last week was Shabbos Chazon and this week is Shabbos Nachamu. That’s the recurring cycle of our existence. We never sink into yei’ush, despair. We never give up hope. One day we can be deep down in the dumps and the next day we can be sitting on top of the world. History has shown that pain and tragedy often give birth to nechamos.

We bounce back so quickly from Shabbos Chazon and Tisha B’Av, because we know that this was the last year that we had to sit on the floor on Tisha B’Av. Next year, we will celebrate this mo’ed as we do the rest, eating, drinking, singing and dancing. May we merit to see sustained happiness and the fulfillment of the comforting words of Yeshayahu speedily in our days.


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