JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review Sept. 7, 2001 / 18 Elul, 5761

Comfort and consolation

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- SINCE tragedy and disappointment in life's events are unavoidable, the Torah and Jewish tradition constructed a framework for comfort and consolation. Life can only continue if one is able somehow to rise from the depression and sadness that tragedy and failure bring.

We are now in the period of time on the Jewish calendar between the sadness of the Ninth of Av's fast and day of national mourning and the hopeful and awesome days of the High Holidays. This seven week period is described in the Talmud as being the "seven of comfort." In a narrow focus this phrase refers to the seven haftoros --- the concluding portions of the public Torah reading that are taken from the words of the Prophets and are read in the synagogue for these seven continuous Sabbaths.

The Talmud teaches us that from the Ninth of Av until Rosh HaShana there are seven Sabbaths and on each of those Sabbaths a prophecy of comfort -- all taken from the Book of Isaiah -- is read publicly. But in a broader sense, the entire seven week period is to be considered a time of consolation and spiritual and morale building and strengthening.

The entire structure of Jewish mourning as delineated in the Talmud and later Jewish tradition is seen as an aid to consolation. The period of withdrawal from everyday life and active mourning, of having friends and acquaintances visit the bereaved and show empathy with the tragedy, of the ritual of a torn garment and the absence of sturdy shoes, all are part of the process of healthy grieving that will eventually lead to acceptance, solace and a renewed will to carry on in life.

The periods of time prescribed for the different intensities of mourning - the first seven days (shiva), the next twenty three days (shloshim), a full year for parents --- are the correct psychological times for healing to begin and develop. Time may eventually heal all wounds, but time alone never erases deep scars and tragedy imposes a searing scar within our psyche. Without the aid of some sort of positive healing force being applied to the victim, the scar of tragedy remains as dangerous to the mental health of the person as the actual tragedy itself was at the time of its sad occurrence.

Thus the seven weeks of comfort and consolation for the national tragedy of the Jewish people, as the seven days of mourning for personal loss, is not an arbitrary number, chosen only becauseof the impositions of the calendar. There could be a different number of weeks arranged if need be, given the many flexibilities built into Jewish calendar making.

Rather, the seven weeks is the right psychological dose of strength for a people long learned in troubles and steeped in tragedies and yet resilient and hopeful after all that has happened to us in our history, ancient or current. It is our firm belief in the truth of the words of the prophet Isaiah that we as a nation will be redeemed, that our homeland Israel will yet be safe, secure and tranquil, that mankind will conquer its beastly instincts and behavior and truly create the better world that we all long for, that gives us consolation and allows us to continue on our path of G-dly goals.

In spite of all of the troubles that now face the State of Israel particularly and the Jewish people generally, we have been blessed to see many of the prophecies of comfort, uttered by Isaiah so many century ago, come to fruition in front of our eyes in our time. Isaiah's message of hope, "Be comforted, be comforted, my people... Come and shine as a light, for your great light has finally arisen," speaks to all of us in the here and now when we are also bent under the physical and psychological burdens that we are forced to bear.

Though the world apparently now holds out little solace for us, we should remember and absorb the words of Isaiah within us. That way, we will be able to console ourselves and rise up again to face the challenge of the great tasks of Judaism and Jewish life that still lie ahead of us.

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. You may contact Rabbi Wein by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


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© 2000, Rabbi Berel Wein