Seeing the Silver Lining

Following the news can be hazardous to your psyche. The world, which at some point in our lives had seemed so normal and comfortable, becomes more and more foreign to us with every passing day.

Our values as frum Yidden, which used to overlap considerably with what were considered normative American values, are now considered by many to be backward and bigoted, and our religious practices and beliefs seem to be under constant siege.

It isn’t just our values that are being attacked. According to multiple studies, anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise across the entire world — the U.S. included. In the U.K., one report found that in the first six months of 2016, incidents of anti-Semitism were up 11 percent from the previous year. And in the U.S., anti-Semitic assaults were up 50 percent in 2015 from the previous year.

It’s enough to make us want to throw our hands up in despair. But we shouldn’t.

The Navi says “Nachamu nachamu ami.” We begin these words of nechamah (as explained by the Malbim) by mentioning the three ways through which we can earn the Geulah. Ki mal’ah tzeva’ah — when the predetermined time has been reached; ki nirtzah avonah — when Klal Yisrael does teshuvah, thereby accelerating the day of Redemption; and ki lokcha miyad Hashem kiflayim b’chol chatose’hah — when the sufferings of galus reach a point in their intensity that it is considered as if we have endured its entire predetermined length.

But how can an overabundance of suffering be a consolation? How can we see that in a positive light, so that we can understand why the Navi puts it together with the words of nechamah?

The answer lies in the response that Harav Elya Lopian (Lev Eliyahu, Devarim 1:12) gives to a different question.

The Gemara (Kesubos 66b) relates how, in the days following the Churban, Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai saw a woman picking kernels of barley out of the waste of animals belonging to Arab merchants. When Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai found out that she was the daughter of Nakdimon ben Guryon, who had once been an incredibly wealthy man, he cried, “Ashreichem Yisrael — Fortunate are the Yidden! When they are fulfilling the will of Hashem, no nation can rule over them, and when they don’t fulfill His will, they are in the hands of the lowliest of the nations — and not just the lowliest of the nations, but the animals of those nations.”

Rav Elya explains that the words Ashreichem Yisrael refer to the entirety of the statement, not just the first section. We aren’t just fortunate that when we do the will of Hashem no nation can have power over us. We are also fortunate that when we don’t do the will of Hashem, He punishes us by using supernatural means.

Because, he explains, any affliction that is not b’derech hateva is tangible evidence for us that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is behind it. Moreover, it means that we are forced to recognize that Hashem is not engaging in hester panim.

So when the daughter of one of the richest men ends up looking through the refuse of animals for food — something that should never happen in the natural course of events — Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai saw a reason to rejoice; he saw a direct communication from Hashem.

Therefore, when the Navi says that an overabundance of pain is also cause for nechamah, it’s likely that it is because Hashem engages with us in a way to show us we are still special, and thus hastens the coming of Moshiach.

In this vein, Rav Elya points to the unspeakable horrors and the unfathomable sorrows caused by the Nazis, ym”s, during the Holocaust as a phenomenon that defies any natural explanation, rather than as an overt display of Yad Hashem.) Rav Mordechai Pogramansky, zt”l, when asked what he saw when he was in the Kovno Ghetto, replied, “Ich hab gezen di pesukim fun di tochachah — I saw the pesukim of the tochachah.”)

It is true that anti-Semitism is on the rise today, and we need to address this issue in a constructive manner. But let’s take comfort in the realization that none of it really makes any sense al pi derech hateva — not the treatment of Israel by the world, and not the treatment of many frum communities by their neighbors.

There is only one explanation that makes any sense, and that is that Hashem is reminding us that the rules of natural happenings don’t apply to us. And we are experiencing them because of our special status as his chosen people, as a reminder of what is expected of us in that role.

But there certainly is no reason for despair.