Nechamah or Simchah? – What’s the Celebration?

By Harav Aharon Lopianksy

There are some mitzvos that seem so much easier to perform than others. For instance, this article is being written during the time of mourning for the Beis HaMikdash. We do not find the mourning all that easy: not the restrictions of its halachos (Witness the constant stream of siyumim, with fleishig seudos), nor the emotional expression of mourning. After this period comes the time for nichum, which we feel is expressed well through our various events. Nichum is a much easier mitzvah — or so it seems.

The problem is that we are confusing nichum — consolation — with simchah (assuming even that our celebrations are in the appropriate spirit of “mitzvah”), and do not really begin to understand what the incredible gift of nichum is all about, and what it takes to earn it and express it.

Let us first start with a Gemara: “He who does not associate himself with the community in its suffering does not merit seeing its nechamah”(Taanis 11 a).

A similar idea is expressed there regarding the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.

The Sfas Emes (Shemos 5643) asks the obvious question. The Gemara does not seem to imply that this person dies early. That being so, if he is alive when the tzibbur is saved, doesn’t he automatically participate in its nechamah? Similarly, won’t everyone alive when Moshiach comes automatically come to Eretz Yisrael and partake in all the good that awaits us?

The answer to this lies in a clearer definition of nechamah. The word nechamah is identical to the word meaning ‘regret.’ Regret does not imply a change of action alone; it implies a rethinking, a recognition that my previous thought process was mistaken.

To flesh out this point, imagine a person has a short spell of difficulty in his business. If one assures him that he will soon strike gold and become very wealthy, the person will be duly relieved. A short spell of financial hardship is not the end of the world.

On the other hand, a person who was very ill for years and couldn’t function at all, even if he is assured of being cured, will feel bad for all the years of life that he has missed out on. All the more so, if someone loses a close one, the assurance that he will move on, get over the loss and have many simchos, rings hollow. True, good things are coming, but none of that replaces the loss. So what nichum is really available?

Real nichum means that when techiyas hameisim happens, not only will we have our loved ones back, but we will have retroactively understood death. And we will understand it as the necessary step to life. Just as a caterpillar is not dying when it is inside the cocoon it spun around itself, but rather is transforming itself into a new being, so too death is not the cessation of life. Rather it is a process needed to take humanity — who have become inherently flawed as a result of Adam’s sin — and purify it to produce beings capable of living eternally.

This is the only process that can be called nichum and it is the one true relief for the suffering. It is not that we deny our suffering; nor do we comfort ourselves by the fact that at some point it will be good. Rather, there will come a time when we will retroactively realize that the suffering we endured was actually the process of achieving that ultimate good. (See Tzidkas Hatzaddik 170 who offers deep insight into this point.)

This is why our words of nichum to mourners are only: “May Hashem be menachem you,” or alternatively, “may Heavens be menachem you.” For though we know this to be true, and sincerely believe this, the idea of techiyas hameisim is inherently alien to us. It relates to the future — la’asid lavo — and not the present reality that we live in. Therefore it is only Hashem Who can offer us nechamah, both by bringing about that future and by giving us a whiff of that awareness.

A condition necessary to achieve that awareness of nechamah, is to have lived through the stress and difficulty, followed by the redemption; only then is there nechamah. The redemption is not merely the solution to the suffering, but, more importantly, it is the product of the suffering. We can get a sense of this by reflecting upon an event that most of us are privileged to experience, and that is the marriage of a child. The raising of a child is described by Chazal as tzaar gidul banim — the stress of raising children. Their helplessness at birth, the illnesses, providing for them, the emotional stress, the challenges, the disappointments, etc. When we are bringing our child to the chuppah we do not merely say, “Baruch Hashem, it is all over.” Rather we say, “This is the product of our effort and hardship.” Were the process of raising children simple and effortless, we would not sense a fraction of the deep joy that we feel at that moment. It is not only the moment of marriage alone that we are celebrating; it is that a few decades of travail have turned to joy. This then is the macro picture of galus and geulah.

Klal Yisrael sinned, and to go forward it needs to rehabilitate itself. All the generations born during the millennia after the Destruction know only the suffering. It seems endless and hopeless. Only when the Geulah arrives will we understand, retroactively, all our suffering. This is the incredible joy of simchas olam, the joy of all those times that had seemed like hopeless suffering turning around, retroactively. It is the joy of nechamah. If we do not suffer with the community, if we do not awaken in ourselves the sense of loss of the Beis HaMikdash, then we will not participate in that deepest of emotions, the emotion of nechamah.

Yes, thank G-d we live in a generation of affluence, in relative safety and with a sense of well-being. But we are one continuity with a nation that once possessed malchus, kehunah gedolah, Sanhedrin, nevua, and the Beis HaMikdash. Generation after generation suffered so much to preserve the memory of this. It is our job to evoke in ourselves the genuine sentiments of aveilus, and to read and ponder the incredible suffering and hardships that each generation has endured. The ultimate joy of nechamah awaits only those who have suffered the losses, whether personally or vicariously.

May we do our part, and Hakadosh Baruch Hu will do His part and transform all the suffering that we endured, to the Geulah Sheleimah, bimheirah b’yameinu.

Harav Aaron Lopiansky is the Rosh Hayeshivah of Greater Washington — Tiferes Gedaliah. Harav Lopiansky learned for decades at the Mir Yerushalayim and follows the mesorah of his Rebbeim, Harav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zt”l, Harav Nachum Partzovitz, zt”l, and his father-in-law, Harav Beinish Finkel, zt”l (the late Rosh Hayeshivah of the Mir). His approach to learning was also deeply influenced by his long association as a close talmid of Harav Moshe Shapiro, zt”l. Harav Lopiansky is a renowned speaker and the author of several Hebrew sefarim and English-language books, including Time Pieces, Golden Apples, Seed of Redemption and the widely acclaimed Orchos Chaim: Ben Torah for Life, published by Eshel Publications.

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