Parshas V'eschonon 5757 - '97
Outline # 47
The first Shabbos of Consolation following the 9th of Av is called Nachamu; V'eschonon is read at this time. In a way, the Parsha seems more suited to the 9th of Av than to consolation: Moshe relates how he prayed vigorously to be allowed to enter the Land before he died, but was refused.
However, the Shema is also found in the Parsha. The Torah does not describe opposing forces in the universe; rather, One Sole Power, unifying mercy and justice. The death-cry of untold martyrs, the Shema yields the secret of Judaism's eternal survival -- the Jew accepts G-d's judgment; indeed, he accepts with love.
Why does Moshe pray to change the decree? Why doesn't he just accept it? Prayer is the determination to accept challenges, to stand up to them and not merely submit. The eloquent statement of will, the humble assertion of need and request for pity, are consistent with the Jewish attitude of choice and self-determination. Nonetheless, our faith doesn't necessitate that our prayers be realized. The child with the tantrum thinks he will have his way, but the dedicated son knows that the father makes up his own mind.
After years of trials, and frightening visions of future pogroms, Moshe taught us to recite the Shema. Affirm -- when you see peace and comfort; affirm -- when you see war and hardship. Affirm when your prayers are heard and when they seem to go unanswered. The Jew is not such a fool as to make his faith dependent on superficial outcomes, but he affirms his belief constantly! Close your eyes for a moment and forget your surroundings, for the pain may quickly turn to pleasure, and the pleasure -- pain.
When, after many years, Yaakov reunited with his son Yoseif, he did not embrace him, but closed his eyes and said the Shema. He had entered Egypt, and saw prophetically that the Jews would remain in various exiles many years. He saw the fusion of mercy and judgment, and paused to affirm before embracing his son.
So, too, for Moshe. Pausing at the Entrance to the Land, Moshe knows that his mission has been accomplished, but he is disappointed at not being able to fulfill the mitzvos dependent on the land. Now is a fit time to teach the Shema, the declaration of the unity of mercy and judgment. The Bayis Chadosh wrote that during the Shema, each Jew should have in mind that he would give his life in martyrdom rather than deny the faith (see Chaye Adom at length; also quoted in Sidur Otzeir Hatifilos).
Av to Elul
On the 9th of Av and Yom Kippur, leather shoes are not worn. There are different opinions regarding the brochah "Sh'asa li kol tzoki" -- (who has fulfilled all my needs). The Talmud says that this brochah refers to the wearing of shoes, so some say this blessing should not be said when shoes shouldn't be worn. The other opinion says that, since in certain circumstances shoes may be worn even on these days, the brochah may be said.
This raises another question. Why is the brochah over Torah Study recited on the 9th of Av? The 9th of Av is the time of national mourning, and not a time for rejoicing. Since Torah Study necessitates joy, a mourner is not allowed to partake of it. True, we may learn sad parts of the Torah during the 9th of Av, but see "Aveilus l'chorbun": such study does not fulfill the Mitzvah of Torah Study. Apparently, the Mitzvah of Torah Study is intrinsically tied to joy...
In tractate Moed Koton, Rashi questioned how the Mitzvah of Torah Study could be forbidden for a mourner -- a mourner is obligated in mitzvos! (This is discussing the "Aveilus" period [sitting Shiva]; until the burial the mourner ["onein"] is indeed exempt from positive mitzvos.) Rashi was forced to answer that mitzvos intrinsically involving pleasure are different (and thus a mourner is not obligated). Ramban, however, in Toras Ha'odom, answered simply: The mourner will say Shema during morning and evening prayers; this minimal recitation automatically fulfills the mitzvah of learning Torah. Therefore, the mourner is not entirely exempt from the mitzvah of Torah Study (because he anyway needs to recite the Shema).
Our question, too, is now answered. The brochah over Torah Study is necessary because a certain amount of Torah Study is allowed -- the recital of the Shema. And if, for just a few minutes, the reader feels the joy of Torah Study, we'll allow that, even on the 9th of Av. In the recital of Shema, you recall -- we accept martyrdom...
The Hebrew for Elul stands for: "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine." (The Ari Hakodesh)
During the Chasom Sofer's youth, the month of Elul -- the period preceding Rosh Hashanah -- was a time of great joy; he would compile songs of praise and love for the Creator. In later years, he would study the entire Mishnah, Talmud (Babylonian and Jerusalem), Midrashim and Tanach (Scriptures), in their entirety, all in the one month of Elul...
The Medrash Pirke D'Rebbe Eliezer states that Moshe acsended Mt. Sinai at the beginning of Elul and descended forty days later, on Yom Kippur. If Yom Kippur is the final day of the reception of the Torah, the forty days prior would be the time to prepare, joyfully, for the ultimate joy of the Torah.
The 15th Av ("Tu B'av") is a minor holiday; this year it occurs Sun. night and Mon. Tu B'av is a turning point between the 9th of Av and Elul. Sefer Hatoda'ah writes that some people add the phrase "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year," from this day, although the general custom is to do so from the beginning of Elul.
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
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Last Revision: January 27, '97