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Close Encounters

Even the closest human relationship can’t approximate the cleaving of the soul to its Maker


Rav Yisroel Yaakov Lubchansky, the mashgiach ruchani in the Baranovitch yeshivah and son-in-law of the Alter of Novardok, was about to depart from the yeshivah late one night, when a bochur approached him. “Rebbi,” he said, “please forgive me, but Torah hi v’lilmod ani tzarich, I want to learn from how you conduct yourself. Don’t Chazal say a talmid chacham shouldn’t walk alone outside at night?”

Reb Yisroel Yaakov looked at the young man for a few moments. “I don’t walk alone. Wherever I go, the baal davar is with me,” he responded, using a term referring to the yetzer hara and making an incisive point about the ubiquity of the “baal davar” in our lives.

Yet, counterbalancing the Evil One’s omnipresence is that of its Master, He who created it and implanted it within us. After all, Hakadosh Baruch Hu dwells not only amongst us, but within us.

The Nefesh HaChaim quotes Chazal as teaching that when the pasuk commands the construction of a mishkan or mikdash with the words, V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’socham, this means that the ultimate purpose of a mikdash is as a means for Hashem to be shochein b‘soch kol echad v’echad, for Him to reside within each and every one of us.

Although the word nechamah is conventionally translated as consolation, in Tanach it also refers to a change of heart or the adoption of a new perspective. When Hashem, speaking through the Navi, says, “Nachamu, nachamu ami” (Yeshayahu 40:1), He is telling us that the ability to experience consolation lies with us. All we need to do is change the way we think and how we view life.

And what is the change of mindset we need to make? It is to stop focusing only on what we don’t have — an external, physical Beis Hamikdash — and begin contemplating what we do have with us always, which is the presence of the Borei Olam. And in truth, to have that is to have everything we could possibly want. There can be no greater consolation.

Why is it that in a house of mourning we console the bereaved “among the other mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim”? What does the person sitting low to the ground before us share with those mourning the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash? It is that they both feel utterly alone, abandoned.

And, in truth, they are not wrong. The root of every tragedy in This World is the chasm that we feel exists between us and the Borei Olam. As it is written regarding Hashem hiding His face (Devarim 31:17), “V’amar bayom hahu halo al ki ein Elokai b’kirbi metzauni haraos ha’eileh — and on that day he will say, ‘it is because Hashem is not within me that these troubles befell me.’ ” The Chazon Ish (Igros 1:36) explains: “There is no sadness in the world for one who recognizes the light of lights of the truth.” It’s only when that great light dims in our minds and hearts that sadness can set in.

Yet, throughout and amid every painful loss, every episode of evil or injustice, He still remains right here beside us. And so, in consoling a mourner we use the term HaMakom to refer to Hashem, which means, “He is the Place of the world; the world is not His place,” and we say to mourners of every kind, “HaMakom, the very reality that He contains the world and thus, He is right here beside you, yenachem eschem, that itself ought to dissipate your feelings of alienation and distance from your Creator and bring you true consolation.”

This same nechamah, the changing of perspective, is what we want to access after Tishah B’Av. We can decide to look at things differently, to realize that although we may be bereft of the Mikdash Hashem, we are not deprived of Hashem Himself. We are not alone, not abandoned.

There’s only one state of being that the Torah refers to as “lo tov,” clearly not good, and that is “heyos ha’adam l’vado,” to be alone. When two people join in marriage, they achieve one level of tov (Yevamos 62b). But even the closest human relationship can’t approximate the cleaving of the soul to its Maker.

That is why the highest level of tov is that which Dovid Hamelech describes with the words, “Va’ani, kirvas Elokim li tov — for me, nearness to G-d is what I consider the ultimate state of goodness.” Even as Dovid walked in the valley of the shadow of death, he could proclaim that he feared no evil — lo ira ra — because Atah imadi — You are with me and I am never alone.

The term “Moed,” a meeting in time with Hashem, is called a Yom Tov because it is literally a day of tov, of closeness between man and the Divine. That’s why the Haggadah speaks of Yetzias Mitzrayim as the time that Hashem took us out “me’eivel l’yom tov,” from mourning to Yom Tov, because those are polar opposites. To mourn is to feel all alone; to experience a Yom Tov is to feel maximally connected.

“There were no greater Yamim Tovim in Klal Yisrael than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Hakippurim” (Taanis 26b). Two days that epitomize Yom Tov, because they bespeak closeness of the most intense kind, which is reunification following rupture.

There is Yom Kippur, when we return to Hashem from the faraway place where our sins transported us. And there is Tu B’Av, when Hashem’s revealed connection with Klal Yisrael was restored following thirty-eight painful years of Divine silence as we wandered incommunicado through a forbidding desert, and when, through other miracles and life-altering events, our nation realized that Hashem never really left.

And from there, it’s only two short weeks until the advent of Elul, an entire month of “calling out to Hashem when He is close.”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 923. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com)

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