I have written in the past about an idea expressed by my first cousin, Rabbi Yakov Nagen (Genack), that the weekly portion has direct relevance to the time in which it falls and to our personal lives. I personally felt this when my father-in-law was in from Israel on Parshat Yitro, and he offered many opinions to advance my situation.
One need not look long and hard to understand the relevance of Parshat Devarim to the time in which we find ourselves right now.
Parshat Devarim is about tochacha, and as we approach Tisha B’Av, the ultimate day of mourning, we are filled with the theme of tochacha, as the prophets warned us of the Temple destruction based on our ways.
However, within destruction and rebuke there always lies hope and redemption.
My uncle, Rabbi Genack, points out that we know Megillat Eicha concludes with words of redemption: “Turn us back to You, O Lord, and we will be restored; renew our days as of old” (Lamentations 5:21), and kinot end with words of nechama as well. Rav Soloveichik, zt”l, explained that nichum aveilim is not just a fulfillment of chesed and the mitzvah of ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha, but rather it is a kiyum in the aveilut itself, because aveilut requires nechama.
On a metaphysical level, what greater joy is there to know that aveilut requires nechama.
Furthermore, our sages tell us that despite the sadness and pain associated with the 9th of Av, this is the birthday of Mashiach, our future redeemer (Jerusalem Talmud, Brachot 2:4).
Also, Isaiah (1:16-17) consoles us in this week’s haftarah by telling us, “Cease to do evil and learn to do good,” advice to hasten the redemption.
My late relative, Rav Avrohom Genechovsky zt”l, points out a wondrous idea that can in fact be the key to be mitaken the sin of sinat chinam that led to the destruction of the Second Temple.
It says in Pirkei Avot (5:5), “Ten miracles were wrought for our ancestors in the Beit Hamikdash… and one of them was when the people stood, they were crowded together, yet when they prostrated themselves they had ample space.” Rav Avrohom explained the nature of this neis. He said that the miracle happened because each person was willing to prostrate and bend for their fellow man, thus creating ample space for everyone to fit, surely a lesson to learn from to build camaraderie and friendship with others at this time and a way to implant for our nation the potential for nisim to materialize.
We may say that the extra nechama given to us is the notion of the 21-day period we were given from Rosh Hashanah through Sukkot to correspond to the three weeks of mourning. We must indeed mourn and be full of feelings of regret, but are then given days to be totally forgiven for our misdeeds. What greater nechama is there than that?
We began the article with Rabbi Nagen (Genack), and it’s worthy to finish with a statement of the rabbis he quotes in one of his books that can certainly serve as words of hope and inspiration. The Gemera (Sanhedrin 98a) brings down the story of one who asked, “When will Mashiach come?” and he was answered, “Today.” The questioner waited until the evening and was disappointed when the redemption didn’t materialize. Then they explained to him, “Indeed it will come today if you hearken unto the voice of God.”
By Steven Genack
Steven Genack is the author of the upcoming book “Articles, Anecdotes & Insights,” Genack/Genechovsky Torah from Gefen Press. He is a Clifton resident.