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Home » Tragedy, Va'etchanan

Vaetchanan: A Woman’s Comfort

Submitted by on August 15, 2016 – 11:45 pmNo Comment | 2,815 views


Just before I sat down to write this essay, I tucked my daughter Rochel into bed. As I walked into her room, she was struggling with pillows, blankets and a comforter that were way too large for her to maneuver. I offered to help, but she declined. I realized that my wife would never have offered to help. Instead she would have offered encouragement and comfort. And when Rochel had finally succeeded, she would have offered praise for a job well done.

In that moment I decided to be like my wife. I offered encouragement and I offered comfort. And when Rochel succeeded, I offered praise for a job well done. For my efforts, I was rewarded with a loving smile as my daughter bid me good night.

Just before I was married, I decided to become an expert on women so I did what all aspiring experts do; I bought a book. I picked up a copy of John Gray’s, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Veenice. I can’t pretend to have become an expert, but I do remember one point that he made rather convincingly: men tend to solve while women tend to comfort.

I know John Gray is a smart man, but he was hardly the first to realize this truth. Many years earlier, Rabbi Kahana, a Talmudic sage, said the same. “A father responds with mercy,” said Rabbi Kahana, “and a mother responds with comfort.” According to Rabbi Kahana, G-d promised to do both. When Mashiach comes, G-d will both solve and comfort. [1]

This begs a question that only men will ever ask. If G-d intends to solve our problems, why will there be a need for Him to comfort us?

Comfort the Father

The name of the Jewish month we are in at the moment is Av, which means father in Hebrew. But because both Jewish Temples were destroyed during this tragic month, Jews have a tradition of adding a name to this month, Menachem Av–comfort the father.[2]

On the surface the intention is that our father in heaven requires comfort during this tragic month, but according to Rabbi Kahna, there is a deeper meaning. The father in G-d wants to solve our problem by returning our exile and rebuilding our Temple. But the mother in G-d, offers comfort. Menachem Av, represents the masculine and feminine Divine responses. G-d solves, but He also comforts.

Of course it raises the same question, why is there a need for comfort if G-d plans to provide a solution?

The Seed

The answer can be found in the alternate meaning of the word Av, which is spring, as in aviv, the spring season. In the spring, gardens are covered in flowers, fields are covered in grain and trees are dotted with fruit. But these don’t sprout in a vacuum. The growth was triggered by seeds that lay rotting in the ground for weeks before they began to sprout.

During the holocaust, a man asked Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, who was later murdered by the Nazis, why G-d allowed such suffering.

Rabbi Wasserman replied with a parable. Imagine a city dweller that visits a farm and marvels over the green pastures. The farmer walks in with his shovel and turns over the soil. The city dweller is aghast. These were beautiful green pastures, now it’s all mud. The farmer proceeds to take perfectly clean seeds and sprinkle them all over the mud. The city dweller is again, aghast.

With time, the seeds sprout and a golden field of grain waves in the wind. Finally, the city dweller understands that what appeared to be destructive was in fact constructive. To grow a golden field of grain, you have to kill the beautiful grass, turn over the soil and plant the seed.

Today, concluded Rabbi Wasserman, all we see is the death and destruction. However, when Mashiach comes, we will see how much our suffering has achieved. Not only will we appreciate our suffering at that point, we will even hearken for those days, thinking that if only we had suffered a little more, we would have achieved so much more.

Mother’s Comfort

We are now in a position to answer the question that no woman ever asked. Why do we require comfort when we have a solution? Because a solution imposed by others is no comfort at all.

If am suffering and you help me, I am left with the question of why I needed to suffer. Furthermore, I am left feeling inept because I was unable to solve it myself. My daughter did not need to have me arrange her pillows, she needed to know that she could do it herself. She needed her parent to show her that with effort, she could arrange her bed just as she likes it and she could do it all by herself.

Comforting words are not empty. They don’t tell the sufferer to feel good despite the suffering. They tell the sufferer that suffering is the road to solution. When Mashiach comes, G-d will not suffice with solving our problems for us. G-d will instead show us that we solved our own problems. Just like the overturned soil produced the golden grain so did our suffering produce our redemption.

This tells us that we are not powerless victims waiting for our father in heaven to swoop down from above and save us. This also tells us that we did not suffer in vain We are strong and enduring. We chart our own solution and walk our own path. It takes us time and our path is laced with suffering, but it is the path that leads to salvation and the suffering is what gets us there.

This is the truest comfort. G-d said that He would have mercy like a father and offer comfort like a mother. In other words, He would allow us to be the architects of our own salvation. Our suffering will not be in vain. Even in darkness, we will discover purpose.

What’s in A Name

We now understand the depth of this month’s traditional name Menachem Av, comfort father. This is not about comforting the father. This is about the father comforting the children as they experience salvation. Tell them that they did not suffer in vain. Tell them that their suffering was part of their solution. Tell them that the very prophecies that spoke of destruction, also spoke of redemption.

Indeed, this is the Shabbos of comfort. G-d looks down and sees the suffering of our long exile. He saw us mourning the loss of our Temples. And His response is merciful and consoling. Fatherly and motherly. “Comfort, comfort, My nation.”[3] Two times comfort. The first masculine, the second feminine. And it is the second that brings true comfort.[4]

[1] P’sikt D’rav Kahana, on Isaiah 51:12.

[2] Pischei teshuvah, Even Haezer, 126:112. See also Knesses Hagdolah 126:141.

[3] Isaiah 40:1.

[4] This essay was based on L:ikutei Sichos, v. 4, pp. 1080-1082.

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