The Definition of Real Nechama

Given July 22, 2021

This writing is an edited transcription. It is not totally verbatim but is written up as a very close approximation of the rabbi’s language and style of expression.


Introduction


This Shabbas is Shabbas Nahamu. People have to focus on what the nechama, the consolation, is that we are supposed to have. Our exile has gone from one of light, meaning exile in a foreign country where Jews were not interfered with, to one of disaster when they begin to interfere, to persecute and even to destroy livelihood and life.


Fortunately, in America, until now anyway, it was good, but we now see the winds of change.

America is becoming not only anti-Semitic, but anti-religion. Obviously, it doesn’t bode well for Jews or those of other faiths.


Aside from America today, there was the destruction of the First Temple and then the Romans’ destruction of the Second Temple. So, the Jews have been enduring a difficult exile for two millennia.


The Ever-deeper Meanings of Nechama--Consolation


In the haftorah—biblical material beyond the five books of Moses read after the traditional Torah reading which is recited on the fast day of Tisha b’Av, G-d says, “Nachamu nachamu ami”—be consoled, be consoled, My nation. How is G-d consoling the Jewish people here and why say it twice? Obviously, we have to ask ourselves, what is the nechama?


There are many consolations a person can have. Any level of easing from suffering is a consolation. Call it “relief.” But in terms of Judaism, what is the real nechama? Is it that the mashiach will come? Sure, that is one aspect, but a candidate for mashiach hasn’t come in a very long time. And the truth is that mashiach isn’t really the nechama, as strange as that is to hear. What the mashiach will do is end the exile, will end the journey of misery. That is a nechama, certainly. But that is not the crux of the matter.


Consider someone who’s in prison, like those in Cuba who opposed Castro, yemach shemo—may his name be erased. Castro would imprison someone for 20 years, for nothing!--twenty years of an innocent person’s life. And prison in Cuba isn’t like prison in America. Imagine someone coming to his cell and opening the door and saying, “You’re free.” Imagine the nightmare ending. That is an incredible consolation. But something else is going on that doesn’t offer the freed prisoner any consolation, the twenty years of his life that have been lost. It is hard to live with that. This person will have post-traumatic stress disorder. So, the freedom itself isn’t the real consolation. What would be? –that the twenty years of imprisonment meant something, the fact that his imprisonment enabled him to be free. Then it would have meaning. Without meaning, the trauma is unlikely to be overcome, like survivors of the Holocaust who went to DP Camps where they stayed for a year or two until a country was found who agreed to take them. Even when they got out of the DP camp, migrated to another country, they could not fully forget the experience; they wake up thirty years later from a nightmare, screaming. The scar is there because the suffering had no meaning.


Consolation has to be more than the cessation of the suffering. There has to be value. Sure, tisha b’Av—9th of Av, the fast day, is over. But what is the meaning of the exile? Of the Temples’ destructions? Of the Holocaust? The pogroms and persecutions and Inquisitions and expulsions? In the last century in America, we have no such experience. But imagine you live during 17th-century in Ukraine and you hear that Ogdan Chmielnicki is coming. He was the leader of the Cossack and peasant uprising against Polish rule of the Ukraine which resulted in the destruction of hundreds of Jewish communities, 300,000 Jews.


There’s a midrash--commentary based on “Be consoled, be consoled….” In which G-d tells the patriarchs to console the Jewish people, but they fail. Why? Because consolation must speak to why the suffering happened. G-d turned to many prophets and told them to console the Jews. They too fail. This is why the verse has G-d speaking directly because only He can console His people. How does G-d succeed when the prophets and patriarchs fail? G-d knows what the consolation is because only He can offer the meaning for it all.


G-d, in the End, will offer a minute-by-minute play of each moment of suffering and its purpose. I remember fifty years ago, there was a t.v. show called “This is Your Life.” They would bring a guy out (usually a celebrity) and proceed to have a parade of people from his past, some of whom he hadn’t seen in forty years, greet him, to his surprise. What was interesting was that the subject was able to reacquaint himself with his past. This is what we will all experience when the mashiach comes. It will be the greatest production in mankind’s history.


Each person will re-live every moment of his life and learn why each event unfolded as it did. Only G-d can produce such a thing, to justify to each person everything He did so that each person will say, “You were right.” Even if a person was at a tollbooth rummaging in his pocket for a quarter but had only a dime, he will say of G-d, “You were right.” That is how exacting it will be. The realization of “You were right” is somewhat of a consolation. “You were right because I understand why I deserved it—right down to the nickel I pulled out of my pocket instead of the quarter.” But even this is not the total consolation.


Much better is: imagine a guy is feeling bad and he goes to the doctor. The doctor examines him and says, “I’ve got bad news for you. You have Cancer. I have to refer you to an oncologist.” The oncologist, after all the tests, tells him, “You have serious Cancer in a very bad place--inoperable. You have about three months.”


The patient goes home devastated. A day goes by and the oncologist calls him and tells him that there is one surgeon, the only one who takes on this type of Cancer. “And he happens to be coming to America in a couple months to teach other physicians how to operate on such cases. I will arrange for him to operate on you.”


Of course, the patient says, “Do it!” The surgeon performs the surgery and successfully removes the Cancer. In the aftermath, the grateful patient doesn’t simply admit that the surgeon was right, was correct, in the procedure he employed. He says, “Thank you and thank G-d” that there was a surgeon who could cut him up to cure him.


The real nechama is that a cure was possible at all. When G-d “sits down with you” in the messianic era, G-d will do more than simply explain how what happened to you was necessary because you caused it, because your sins were responsible. The consolation will be the realization that expurgation and atonement were even possible, were available at all, just as the surgeon had the rare skill to save the patient’s life. Were it not for this mechanism of suffering, olam ha’ba—Future World wouldn’t be available. G-d is that surgeon. We say, “Thank You for saving me that I will have the Future World.” What is that? It is infinite bliss, eternally. You don’t say to G-d “You were right and I was wrong.” No. You say, “Thank you for saving me!”


That’s nechama.


Not only will the suffering and persecution end, but the Jews will be the supreme nation of the entire planet. There will be “groupies,” the nations who will run to the Jews because they know that the holiness of the Jew will “rub off” on them. Why do people love celebrities? The celebrity is the one that has wealth and fame, not their fandom. But the fan thinks, maybe if I stand next to them, their mazal will rub off on me. The Jews will be the conduit for the Divine Presence which is not, like the fawning of a fan, an attempt to live vicariously through the celebrity. The Jew will actually be a conduit for the Divine Presence to be felt, to affect, the non-Jew. Every goy will want to touch the “hem of the garment” of the Jew, as the verse says. As it says in Prophets, kings and queens will run to touch the Jew. It says that every Jew will have ten goyim to serve him in order to be close to that Divine consciousness. It will be a sort of drug—infinitely greater than a drug—to them. This too is a consolation, going from a “zero” to “100.”


But greater yet is the realization that the pogroms, the persecutions, the expulsions, had purpose. If it weren’t for these, the Jews could not have survived. Were it not for a very brutal surgical procedure, the patient could not have pulled through. The sins of the Jews has been so great, that they need an assist; they can’t survive on their own.


As it says in a midrash in “Yalkut Shimoni,” at the beginning of time, G-d said to Mashiach ben Yosef—called “Mashiach ben Ephraim” in that commentary—when the End is near, your people (Jews) will be destroyed. The mashiach is dumbfounded. It is explained that this revelation doesn’t mean that all the Jews will be destroyed but that many won’t make it to olam ha’ba. So, the mashiach says, “I know that there are to be those who take it upon themselves to suffer for the atonement of others so I will accept upon myself the suffering of others who can’t make it on their own,” and this from the beginning of time! We don’t know why they can’t do it on their own because we don’t understand the measure of sin within the context of the system G-d created but, with this promise, G-d takes a yoke of iron, like that on a water buffalo, and places it on the neck of Mashiach ben Yosef. The yoke represents the burden of all sins. Mashiach ben Yosef bows and sags under the weight of it, screaming, “I can’t bear this!” G-d doesn’t allow him to renege on his vow but assures him that He will share the burden, go into exile with the Jews. What this means is that G-d would allow the Satan to take from the kedusha—holiness, holy energy empowering him to make the Jews suffer when they sin, to threaten them even with destruction. As such, both Mashiach ben Yosef and the shechina—Divine Presence would suffer in unison, two bearing it more easily than one. Mashiach ben Yosef assents, saying “If the Master can bear it, the slave can bear it.” The midrash goes on to say that what the mashiach did is unparalleled in Jewish history and when we are in the era of Mashiach ben David, and the resurrection of the dead is well underway, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov will say to ben Yosef, “You are far greater than we.” Whereas they were models, forerunners, he, MBY, took upon himself untold suffering.


MBY was not the only one. Throughout Jewish history, there have been those who volunteered to ease the burden. Beyond even this, there are things G-d does to ensure that every Jew will achieve olam ha’ba. This too is a nechama.


G-d made an agreement with the Jewish nation-- the Torah. It goes something like this: “You do my commandments, and I will give you the Future World; that’s a contract. It is so “legal” that G-d would enforce it. This isn’t like a worldly supreme court that reneges on its rules and defies its own mission. This is G-d talking. The Jews entered into it: “na’ase v’nishma”—we will do and we will hear. They would obey first and analyze and understand later. Both signed on the dotted line, so to speak. It is the covenant, the agreement. G-d is always reminding the Jews of this covenant. The amazing consolation is based on the following example:


Say a guy is selling his house. He and the potential buyer sign a contract that specifies the price, the timing, how to resolve any contingencies that arise, etc. A few weeks later, they’re in the lawyer’s office and the buyer doesn’t show up with any cash. The seller tells him, “You violated the contract so the sell is cancelled.” The buyer objects. The seller reminds him that he breached the contract.


Consider that G-d made a contract with the Jews but, like the buyer in the example, the Jews break the contract all the time with their sins. Why else would G-d destroy His temple twice and exile His people? That is the tochecha—the admonition. In parashiotbiblical chapters “Eikev,” and “Bechukosai,” and “Ki Savo,” G-d issues warnings, curses, what He will do, what will ensue when we break our half of the bargain.


Why didn’t G-d just “walk away” from the agreement? If he did, it is OVER. Why do the Jews still exist after 4,000 years?—because G-d didn’t walk away. It is incredible! G-d won’t walk away but He will exact payment. Where does G-d tell us this? In “Bechukosai,” there is a list of terrible repercussions that will await us. And still G-d will not walk away. At the end of all the curses He says that even though the Jews will be in a far-off land, He will not despise them or reject them, or cancel the agreement. No matter what the Jews do, He will always be our G-d.


This is the greatest consolation one can imagine, that no matter how grievous the misconduct that violates the contract, one party, G-d, will never give up on it. The agreement stands, though, as we see, payment will be exacted. The tochacha is an alternative form of payment. That means that G-d will never abandon the Jewish people. No matter what you do (and I don’t encourage it) you are always, by hook or by crook, to be in the Future World.


Participant: What you are saying is that the good people go to olam ha’ba and those who need to work on it go later?


Rabbi: The Zohar says that, during the time of Mashiach ben David, the resurrection occurs but will it happen all at once? No. It will take place over 210 years. It all depends on how much of the agreement was breached.


The nechama is this: The contract will never be nullified. The Jews will always exist, never disappear. The natural forces of history have destroyed all the nations of antiquity. They never had an agreement with G-d. Mark Twain recognized the unique mystery of the Jewish people, their continuing existence, their thriving despite grim challenges. Don’t think it’s because of Jewish mazal or ingenuity. G-d says explicitly, “I will not annul My covenant.”


We would have gone the way of the ancient Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians were it not for this vow. There would have been no Brooklyn, no Lakewood….


Summation and Q&A


The first great nechama is that G-d made the vow not to abrogate the agreement. The second is that He provides an alternative system of payment to bring the geulah—Redemption. The rebukes warn us that we won’t like the conditions of the alternative payment system. G-d says, “Ani ha’Shem,”—I am G-d therefore He will do as He says. And despite the abrogation on the part of the Jewish nation, there have been many who were fiercely loyal and martyred themselves for the glory of G-d’s Oneness. They refused to bend.


Participant: Remember how in Mitzraim--Egypt there were 14 million and 11 million died in makas choshech—plague of darkness and only 3 million got out? Nowadays, it is said that it will be like that again; not everyone will get olam ha’ba.


Rabbi: Everyone will get olam ha’ba. That is what Mashiach ben Yosef said, that he will take on the suffering of every Jew, even those from before his time. G-d has a solution for everybody. It’s like the surgeon; the patient doesn’t like the idea of someone operating on his brainstem but that is why he survives. The tochecha is the medicine but at least he gets olam ha’ba.

We see this also with Esav who was a pretty bad character in some ways. We are told that Esav gets into Gan Eden and sneaks up to a higher level. How do you do that? We don’t know, but the question is: what’s he doing there in the first place? You either get Gan Eden--paradise or annihilation. There is no intermediate. Take a guy like Hitler. We cannot imagine what G-d would do with him. He will be in Gehinnom--purgatorygetting whatever he deserves for a period of time because, unlike Christianity which says a soul can burn there for eternity, it’s nonsense. Nothing is worth infinity. Even Gehinnom ends with the onset of the Future World. After he is finished paying in Gehinnom, his soul is annihilated. He’s gone. There is a certain threshold to get into olam ha’ba. G-d makes sure that that threshold is reached. All those who hated and harmed the Jews, they are annihilated but first they have to undo the sin in Gehinnom or they come back, are reincarnated in a terrible situation, i.e. with an incredible deformation.


How did Esav do it? Even he got in because he really is Jewish.


(comment refers to the beheading of Esav at his father, Yitzchak’s, funeral and how the head was buried at the feet of Yitzchak because the head was righteous in relation to the body which was corrupted and buried elsewhere.)


Even though the Gemara says that there are those who, ein lahem chelek b’olam ha’ba-- won’t have a portion in olam ha’ba, those who, for example, constantly speak loshon ha’ra—evil, defamatory speech, and don’t qualify because of the judgement, even they will get a portion because G-d will see to it they reach the threshold, but with terrible suffering.


Participant: The terrible suffering will be during the time of t’chiat ha’meitim—resurrection of the dead? How can there be suffering after death once MBY is revealed? How can that happen?


Rabbi: He won’t get resurrection; he first must die and, since not everyone is resurrected at the same time, he will die and pay for his sins in Gehinnom for whatever duration is required. He might stay put for 150 years, suffering, and then he gets up and that is the end of the trials and tribulations. Sins have been expiated completely.


Participant: Will the time frame be the same as we have now or will it be different like during the time of Adam ha’Rishon—Primordial Adam?


Rabbi: Time is the same in the messianic era. A year will be a regular year.


Participant: Are there others historically who suffered for others?


Rabbi: Yes. The Gemara talks about other righteous Jews called the sovlei choloyim—those who bear the suffering of Jews. But MbY is the greatest. There is a Gemara that talks about Reb Yochanan, one of the great sages, who went to visit Reb Eliezer. This is in the Talmud, Brachos (5b), if I remember correctly. He was suffering, so Reb Yochanon asked him, “Do you want these sufferings?”


Reb Elozer answered, “I don’t want them nor the reward that comes from having them.” So, Reb Yochonon cured him--however he did that. What does that question mean, “Do you want them?” If they are based on your sin, you don’t have a choice. But obviously, he had the option to reject the reward for this suffering for others thus magnifying whatever his reward would be. So, we see that this suffering on behalf of others must be willingly accepted.


In fact, there are people who died, like from Covid, who should not have died. What G-d did, knowing what would be, was to configure it this way: Say someone would, in his lifetime, earn ten pots of gold. Were G-d to figure, “If I take you, those ten pots are multiplied to be a thousand pots,” what might the guy say?—“Take me!” When a tzaddik—righteous person dies, it serves as an atonement for the Jewish people, to mitigate the suffering of others from the virus. G-d knows that whatever merits they could have accumulated in their lives, it would be incomparable to the merit they would earn from dying for the sake of their fellow Jews.


There are so many reckonings, accountings, we don’t understand. We might see a righteous guy and he’s suffering or he’s poor. We see it topsy-turvy. We don’t see that his reward will be immeasurable. We don’t see what’s going on with whom or what. But, in the end, nobody loses.


Participant: How do we know when we leave the exile?


Rabbi: Mashiach ben Yosef leaves the exile, his prison. He is now suffering terribly due to the bargain he made with G-d 6,000 years ago. When he leaves his prison, it is called the “pekida.” The interesting thing about it is that, when he leaves, and gets the yechida, G-d too leaves, but does not reveal Himself. He is in this quasi-state. When he can reveal Himself, that is the Redemption. That is Mashiach ben David.


Participant: What kind of suffering does MbY go through? Physical? Emotional?


Rabbi: I would imagine it is emotional but the suffering is a fundamental type reserved for very great people, an inability to become spiritual. It is an inability to access G-d. For someone with a tremendous spiritual potential to be stymied from accessing G-d, that is his prison. Imagine someone like the Vilna Gaon having OCD, making it hard to learn. Or he has anxiety attacks, or is depressive---you name it. And he’s still the Vilna Gaon in terms of his potential! That is like the yessurim—suffering of the Mashiach ben Yosef. Imagine that kind of suffering—you have extraordinary potential but cannot actualize it! He is denied spirituality!


Participant: But they have a glimpse of it.


Rabbi: Yes, and that is why they have such pain. He has to have enough to know what he is missing. He is given a miniscule amount but not more. Imagine such grief and, to boot, he doesn’t know he’s mashiach, doesn’t know why he’s suffering; it has no meaning. He thinks: what in the world is going on? People struggle to fulfill their potential but his is awesome and he knows it because he has a glimpse of it. It is called “me’at ohr”—diminishment of Light. That is a kapporah—atonement for the Jewish people.


In regard to suffering, take a look at the rebuke in the portions “Bechukosai” and “Ki Savo” It is incredibly severe. I don’t make it up. These are the portions that no one wants to get an aliyah for. This is G-d talking. This is the alternative system. Is it good? Is it bad? It’s like the surgeon. This is your quandry or conundrum at night before you go to sleep; ask yourself is that a nechama or not, the situation with the surgeon? That is the exact situation with the Jewish people. As G-d says, “Ani ha’Shem rofecha”—I am G-d your Healer. He told us that in Egypt, that if we refrain from assimilating and sinning like the culture around us, we wouldn’t suffer from the maladies they did. This is G-d talking.


In the end it is about getting to the Future World. It may be a difficult trek, but the first thirty seconds in the Future World will erase all the turmoil of this world. It’s over. The Future World is so overwhelmingly good, that you won’t think about the trip you took to Paris….


Participant: Could we think Oh! I could have done more?


Rabbi: Yes. You could think: Why did I waste all that time, going to parties…? What I could have earned…. but that also will disappear. That would be eternal despair.


Participant: What about someone who wasted time, watched T.V. but stopped?


Rabbi: That’s teshuva—repentance. If you do it out of fear, the sin is erased, but you can’t bring back what you didn’t do. But, if you do teshuva out of love, then all the aveiros—sins become mitzvahs, merits. I am not suggesting we all sin a lot and then repent so we can have our cake and eat it too. Any mitzvah you do helps the Jewish people because we are one body.