JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review July 19, 2002 / 10 Menachem-Av, 5762

From tragedy to consolation

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | This Sabbath is traditionally called the "Sabbath of Consolation." It invariably falls in the week after the Fast of the Ninth of Av and when the words of comfort of the prophet Isaiah are read as the maftir in the synagogue, and thus, in its simplest form the name "Sabbath of Consolation" derives. But there is a deeper look at the concept of consolation and that this Sabbath, in fact all Sabbaths, represents.

Since grief, pain, disappointment and loss are all part of the story of every human being, it is remarkable how little attention most people pay to the necessity of dealing with misfortune --- of how to achieve consolation. We are all actively engaged in attempting to avoid problems and pain -- and correctly so -- but deep down within our being we know that no human escapes tasting the bitter cup that life always brings with it. So it would be of aid to all of us to investigate how to deal with sadness and bring and closure.

Judaism considers the consoling of others to be an obligatory commandment --- a mitzva.

The Talmud points out that the Creator Himself, so to speak, came to comfort Isaac after the death of his father, Abraham. Thus, our tradition of imitating our Creator, so to speak, naturally encompasses this process of comforting others. There are two components of "Jewish consolation." One is the empathy and sympathy expressed to the bereaved by fellow human beings. Sharing the burden is an essential part of comforting others, for it allows a sense of belonging and support to form in the psyche of the one stricken. In fact, that is the greatness of faith in the Creator in all such Instances- - the realization that one is never alone and abandoned. Even "in the shadow of the valley of death... -- ...You are with me." Whether through silence or conversation, the sense of the caring concern of others, sustains and comforts.

Thus, having the ultimate and eternal Other care and understand, at a level far beyond our abilities, our troubles and travails is in Jewish tradition the strong and basic foundation of comfort and . And this idea is reflected repeatedly in the words of Isaiah, where the L-rd is portrayed as the ultimate comforter and champion of Israel and even though He has visited troubles upon the Jewish people, His hand of comfort, so to speak, is never far removed from us. All seven haftaros of the weeks between Tisha B'Av to Rosh HaShana are taken from the book of Isaiah's prophecies and the representation of G-d as being the comfort of Israel is Isaiah's greatest gift to Israel's posterity.

The other aspect of the Jewish concept of consolation is the ability to accept even the hardest of fates and to persevere and rise again. Tradition teaches us that upon hearing bad tidings one should recite an acknowledgment of G-d's true judgments. Acknowledgment of G-d in the affairs of humans, in our life-cycle events, our careers, our triumphs and seeming defeats is a fundamental tenet of Jewish behavior. Jews always believed that life and death both came from the hand, so to speak, of the Creator.

Thus, the unpleasant, the tragic, the inexplicable and seemingly unjust, all become more bearable because of the Jew's ability to accept G-d's will and therefore justify the otherwise unjustifiable and thereby attain a measure of solace and comfort. Bearing grudges, especially against G-d, is invariably aggravating and self-destructive. Giving insipid and feel-good answers to explain G-d's behavior and explain or marginalize the Divine Presence in tragedy is demeaning to Jewish tradition and faith. Acceptance of G-d's will and the appreciation that G-d need not "think" or "behave" according to our finite minds and standards opens the way for closure and consolation.

JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He has authored over 650 tapes, books and videos which you can purchase at RabbiWein.com. Comment by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


07/12/02: The Sabbath of Stark Vision
06/07/02: "Challah": More than a mundane mouthful
03/08/02: The Havdala ceremony
01/04/02: Meditation and isolation
12/12/01: What celebrating Chanukah says about the state of Jewry
11/29/01: Requisite for a great scholar: Acknowledging -- and admitting -- one's limits
09/28/01: On forgiveness
09/07/01: Comfort and consolation
08/17/01: As the Jewish year draws to a close
07/13/01: The Three Weeks
07/06/01: Seventeenth of Tammuz
06/20/01: Worthy word books
06/01/01: The best (spiritual) summer reading
05/23/01: Shavous: Cheesecake, blintzes and flowers
04/03/01: Pre-Passover cleaning: A man's perspective
03/23/01:The Bible as fiction
03/08/01: A Purim fable
02/22/01: Why history
12/01/00: Those stubborn Jews
09/29/00: Of gifts and judgements
08/25/00: Diversity and unity
08/18/00: On Wagner and Chacham Ovadia
07/12/00: The return of a Torah scroll and confronting painful memories
06/27/00: Single issue fanatics
05/22/00: Strength and Weakness
04/04/00: The message of spring
04/25/00: Ritual's role
03/09/00: The hubris trap
02/28/00: Denial
02/17/00: The individual and the state
02/04/00: Going it alone
01/27/00: Hang together or hang alone
01/11/00: Hope and good sense: A Jewish recipe for survival
12/06/99: Trendy vs. tenacious
11/15/99: Legacies and remembrances
11/08/99: The joy -- and responsibility -- of being a grandparent
10/28/99: Imperfect solutions
10/21/99: 'Holy loafers'
10/07/99: Earthquakes --- 'natural' and otherwise
09/28/99: Beauty
09/17/99: Blessing the children
09/10/99: A good year

© 2002, Rabbi Berel Wein