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“It is I, it is I, Who consoles you” —  those words contain the substance of the consolation itself


During these weeks, as we read the sheva d’nechemta, the series of seven haftaros intended to convey a message of consolation to Klal Yisrael after the Three Weeks and Tishah B’Av, we might ask ourselves what Hashem’s consolation really means.

We’re all familiar with the opening line of the first haftarah, “Nachamu, nachamu ami — Console, console My nation” (Yeshayahu 40:1). What, in fact, is the consolation? Perhaps the doubling of the word “nachamu” is keyed to another doubling, in the opening words of the haftarah for parshas Shoftim just a few weeks from now. “Anochi, Anochi, Hu menachemchem — It is I, it is I, Who consoles you” (Yeshayahu 51:12). Why two Anochis for the One and Only G-d? And why the switch from first person (Hashem is saying “It is I”) to the third person (“He will console you”), as if this isn’t Hashem speaking?

The Malbim (Bereishis 27:19) explains that the word “ani” is used in a sentence where the speaker’s intent is to impute actions or adjectives to himself, with a focus on what the speaker is doing. “Anochi,” by contrast, puts the emphasis on the speaker’s person, denoting that it is he, and he alone, of whom he speaks. Ani would be used to say, “I am going to the store,” while anochi is appropriate for saying, “I am going to the store.”

When Hashem tells Yeshayahu Hanavi “It is I, it is I, Who consoles you,” those words also contain the substance of the consolation itself. Hashem doesn’t need to do anything to console us, for He — that is, His Presence with us, next to us, within us — is the essence of the consolation. Hashem points to Himself, and says “Anochi, Anochi,” it is Me, just Me alone, “hu menachemchem,” that is the very consolation itself.

The root of every tragedy in This World is not the event itself, but the perceived distance from the Borei Olam that made it possible to occur. “V’amar bayom hahu halo al ki ein Elokai b’kirbi mitza’uni hara’os ha’eileh — And on that day he will say, ‘it is because Hashem is not within me that these troubles befell me’ ” (Devarim 31:17).

Yet, were we able to perceive with utmost clarity that even in the midst of every painful loss of a life, every perpetration of evil or injustice, He still remains right here beside us, the pain and the loss and the evil would still be there, but not the depths of despair we often feel. It is only because we feel so bereft, so terrified that this tragedy means we’ve been abandoned, chas v’shalom, that we grieve as we do. Thus wrote the Chazon Ish (Igros 1:36): “Ein kol etzev ba’olam l’mi shemakir ohr ha’oros shel ha’emes — There is no sadness in the world for one who recognizes the light of lights of the truth.”

This is why in consoling a mourner we refer to Hashem as HaMakom, the name Chazal coined to recognize that “He is the Place of the world, rather than the world being His place.” HaMakom, the very reality that He contains the world and is thus right here beside you, yenachem es’chem, that is the greatest consolation one can give.

That one word — HaMakom — addresses and assuages the existential terror of the human being over the possibility that he is now alone, left by G-d to his own devices. But it’s not so — Gam ki eileich b’gei tzalmaves, lo ira ra, ki Atah imadi — I fear not, for You are with me.

In commanding the construction of the Mishkan, Hashem told Moshe, “V’asu Li mikdash, veshachanti b’socham — And they shall build for Me a Mikdash and I will dwell within them.” Chazal take notice of that last phrase, “within them” rather than “within it,” and explain that the Mikdash was to be a means for HaKadosh Baruch Hu to dwell within each and every Jew. The Nefesh HaChaim (1:4) takes this quite literally, writing that “certainly, the main manifestation of the kodesh and the Mikdash and the dwelling of the Shechinah is man, so that if he sanctifies himself properly through performing all the mitzvos… then he himself literally is the mikdash, and Hashem is within him, as the pasuk states (Yirmiyahu 7:4), “They are the heichal Hashem, they are the heichal Hashem.”

But while the Beis Hamikdash is the ideal conduit through which the Shechinah might find its way into the Jewish home, it is not the exclusive one. Even now, in the dark of galus, we can welcome Hashem into our homes, our lives, ourselves. And that is a great consolation for the destruction over which we mourn on Tishah B’Av and the period leading up to it. We can experience some small part of the Divine Presence coming to rest upon us, which is the entire purpose of the Beis Hamikdash from its inception.

There’s a particular resonance during these times to the idea that Hashem seeks to dwell not only in the Beis Hamikdash, but within each of us. Although we’re not privy to the intentions of Heaven, we can say this much: If the Ribbono shel Olam wished to give us one chance to take Him into our lives, the scenario of the last five months is how it might look.

Only He could and did bring all of society to a standstill, making disappear all of the things with which we distract ourselves from the only thing that really matters, which is our relationship with Him. Jobs, shopping, sports, entertainment, events of every kind, all went poof. Against our will, we were driven into our homes and kept there.

And He was there, waiting for us. To truly bring Him into our day-to-day, minute-by-minute consciousness, our thoughts and conversations, even the ones about money and current events. Not just by punctuating our talk with a perfunctory “baruch Hashem” and “Im yirtzeh Hashem” (important as those are; see Chovos Halevavos, Ahavas Hashem 6), but truly. Not by talking about how bashert things are only when things work out well, but always.

Hashem was waiting for us to actually live with Him. To talk about Him as if He’s real. To talk about Him, period. And to talk to Him.

However we fared then, the sheva d’nechemta period is here. Now, as we take solace over our lack of a Mikdash by realizing that the Shechinah can still reside within us, we have another chance.


Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 822. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com

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