This year with the coincidence of the ninth of Av with Shabbos and our observing the fast of Tisha B’Av on the tenth of Av, the transition from profound mourning to inspired consolation was quite swift. Whereas normally we wait until midday of the next day before we may resume the activities we refrained from these last three weeks in mourning, this year we went right back to ‘normal’ as soon as it was over.
How indeed does one so suddenly transform from a mindset of distress and sorrow into one of comfort and solace?
This week we reiterate a seemingly tragic tale, that of Moshe’s unrequited plea to enter the holy land. Moshe tells the Children of Israel how: ואתחנן אל ד', “I implored G-d...” We are told, that Moshe prayed 515 prayers, equivalent to the numerical value of the word ואתחנן.
What did he think; didn’t G-d already swear that he would never allow him to enter the land?
G-d finally confronts Moshe and tells him to desist, רב לך אל תוסף דבר אלי, It is too much for you, do not speak to me further.
Rashi informs us that G-d forbade Moshe to continue, “Lest people say the Master is unduly harsh and the student is unduly persistent!”
Was that the actual reason? Wasn’t it the fact that G-d was unwilling to relent on His oath that made Moshe’s prayers an exercise in futility and therefore purposeless? What meaning would there be in such a prayer that could never be effective?
The Baal HaTurim reveals a fascinating detail as to the nature of Moshe’s prayer. The word ואתחנן, and I implored, is also numerically equal to the word שירה, song. The manner in which Moshe ‘begged’ of Hashem was through the singing of שירה!
Was Moshe attempting to ‘serenade’ G-d into conceding to his wish?
שירה, song, is the expression of one’s most heartfelt emotions. When one is deeply connected to someone, an idea or a place, upon encountering that object of one’s desire one spontaneously breaks out in song. The ‘song’ embodies one’s longing and connection to that which one soulfully sings about.
Although Moshe accepted his ultimate fate, he couldn’t stifle the expression of his greatest dream. The promised land and all its wondrous possibilities inspired his entire existence. Even if he could not actualize this dream for himself, he remained inspired by it, acutely aware of the magnificence that awaited his beloved flock.
This joyous expression of the splendor of G-d’s gift of His coveted land to the Children of Israel reflected Moshe’s longing even if it wasn’t articulated as such. When G-d observes how deeply we thirst for and value His closeness, He responds. In the case of Moshe G-d couldn’t, for reasons unknown to us. Moshe’s ballad could have appropriately continued since it was merely a formulation of praise and appreciation not any formal request. But the measure of Divine Judgment could not have been fathomed by the nation. How, the people would wonder, can the Master refuse His disciple’s most exquisite and deeply felt yearning. G-d had to therefore insist of Moshe to cease his beautiful expression of love.
Moshe taught us how to deal with disappointment, keep on dreaming! Live with the ideals, be inspired by its message, allow it to animate everything you do, let it be the ‘song’ in your every step.
On Tisha B’Av we reunite with our greatest hopes and dreams. The sense of loss compels us to yearn for that which we are missing in our lives. After sitting Shiva for a parent or a child we feel a gaping hole but are compelled to go on with life with a sense of mission in living up to all the ideals and love that the relationship represented. That never goes away.
A mother who recently commemorated the yahrtzeit of her teenage child, who passed away tragically, shared a most poignant thought. She related how she had recently attended a training session in hospice care together with some other women. One of the women she befriended there revealed to her that she was participating so that she would be able to provide hospice care for her own young daughter who was terminally ill. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, she told her new friend, she felt especially privileged in the fact that G-d had obviously selected her as the one who would best be able to provide the loving care and devotion this child so deserved in her shortened life. She would forever cherish that exquisite connection to both her child and G-d for the rest of her life.
She would certainly feel the pain of her loss but would remain inspired by the beautiful ‘song’ of her daughter’s life and their relationship that remains for all of eternity.
Moshe didn’t implement this strategy of ‘singing’ to affect a reply; it was a natural expression of his very essence. He lived every moment of his existence on earth articulating the joy and privilege of a life that is intricately bonded with a loving G-d, no matter the circumstances.
I had been privileged to be acquainted with the beloved Rosh HaYeshiva, Reb Moshe Mordechai Chodosh zt”l, who sadly passed away just two weeks ago. He was renowned for the love he displayed towards his fellow man and his fatherly devotion to his students. He took ill only several months ago, undergoing intensive chemotherapy treatment, that had at first shown much promise and a seeming cure, to recently discover that the cancer had tragically returned.
At the funeral, his son, his successor, shared the ‘last shiur’ and lesson his father taught the family in his last days. As he lay on his deathbed, Reb Moshe constantly expressed that he was counting the days until the approaching Rosh Chodesh so that he may once again sing Hallel and proclaim the powerful sentiment of מה אשיב לד' כל תגמלוהי עלי, How can I repay G-d for all His kindness to me? One of his children challenged him by pleading that it was more appropriate to now cry out the prayer in Hallel of אנא ד' הושיעה נא, Please, G-d, save now! To which his father emphatically responded, “No! I long for the opportunity to chant ‘How can I repay G-d..!”
The Rosh HaYeshiva in his last ‘lecture’ taught us how to view life’s trying circumstances, when the soul feels helpless, when the sword dangles above our neck. One must see the kindness of G-d; to contemplate how our cups are half-filled rather than half empty; to ponder in our hearts ‘How can we repay G-d for all his kindnesses’. We must thank G-d on the infinite compassion He extends towards us constantly. He grants us life, health, the ability to pray, to eat, to walk, to speak and to hear. We must have gratitude to G-d for having chosen us from among all the nations, drawing us close to Him. Even when we experience our ups and downs, on those too we must be thankful because it is the greatest testament to the fact that we are alive!
This ability to be grateful even on the difficulties and the challenges empowers one to transcend and release oneself from distress.
ציון שדה תחרש (מיכה ג יב), Tziyon is a plowed field. The place of the Temple is a desolate field, yet we dream of the day it will be rebuilt and already envision the Mikdash that will sit there. We yearn for a life of happiness, holiness and purity that the Bais HaMikdash will herald, and live inspired by that notion already today although we are yet thousands of miles away.
This is our ‘song’, and if we sing it convincingly and enthusiastically G-d will respond.
This is our solace and consolation! May our nation be comforted.