by HaRav Eliyohu Ze'ev Cochin, zt'l
The Key to Redemption: A Droshoh for Shabbos Nachamu
One Parshah, Two Messages?
More than eighteen centuries have now passed since our exile
from our land and the destruction of our Mikdosh, to
which we are still prevented from ascending. Hashem's Hand is
still outstretched against us; each day's curse is greater
than that of the day before. We assume that this is all
because our tefillos are not wholehearted and genuine.
Were we all to pray to Hashem with all our hearts and were
those prayers to be accompanied by tears -- a sure indication
that prayer is truly from the heart, for tears cannot be shed
if only one's lips move, without conviction, and in addition,
"all the gates are closed except for the gates of tears"
(Bovo Metzia 59) -- we would by now certainly have
gone up to our land and been redeemed forever.
The parshah that we read every Shabbos Nachamu
however, seems to contradict this. Moshe Rabbenu, who was
equal in stature to all of bnei Yisroel, prayed and
beseeched Hashem in tears: "And I begged Hashem at that time
. . . `I will please pass over and see the good land . . .'
But Hashem told him, `Enough . . . Do not speak to Me any
more about this matter' " (Devorim 3:23-6). It is
logical to argue that if Hashem did not accede to Moshe's
prayers, why should He listen to ours?
Another point that we must understand is the gemora (Bovo
Metzia 30) which says, "Yerushalayim was only destroyed
because they ruled according to the Torah's law." It is hard
to understand this -- should they have followed gentile
A further problem is that we read the same parshah --
"When you beget children and grandchildren . . ." (Devorim
4:25), on both Tisha B'Av and on Shabbos Nachamu. I would
have thought that we should be reading the second
parshah of Tochochoh on Tisha B'Av, for every
one of the ninety-eight curses it contains -- and more --
have befallen us. The curse, "And Hashem will make your
sufferings wondrous" (28:59), which Chazal tell us refers to
the deaths of righteous men, has been fulfilled with
particular severity in recent times, with several of the
world's greatest geonim and tzaddikim dying in
hunger, misery and destitution. "When you beget children . .
." on the other hand, is suited to Shabbos Nachamu, for we
hope to have fine offspring and all our efforts are directed
to this goal. Those whom Hashem merits with children whose
paths in life are pleasing to both Hashem and their fellow
men, are among the happiest people in the world.
Our Own Efforts
I offer the following thoughts to explain these points. In an
account of the life of Napoleon the First, Emperor of the
French, I read that he once happened to be in the city of
Posen on erev Tisha B'Av. Renowned geonim and
tzaddikim lived there and all the city's Jews lived
upright lives and observed every law in the Shulchan Oruch
When Napoleon saw that the shops were closed and that
everyone was going to the synagogues in mourning, he asked
what the people were doing and why? Someone who spoke French
explained that this was the day on which our Temple was
destroyed and that the Sages had instituted it as day of
mourning and remembrance, for on this bitter day we were
exiled, our Temple was destroyed and tens of thousands of
Jews were slaughtered in sanctification of Hashem's Name.
Napoleon expressed his interest in seeing what the Jews did
inside the synagogue. Together with his aides, he entered and
saw everyone sitting on the floor, lamenting and crying.
Napoleon declared, "While I approve of your custom of having
an annual remembrance of the land of your ancestors that you
were exiled from, so that their offspring do not forget their
roots, be aware that your salvation and tranquility will not
come from this alone. Your sitting on the ground will not
bring your ultimate redemption. It is merely momentary
comfort, to give outward expression to the grief in your
hearts. It would be better for you to take concrete steps
that will be effective according to the natural order of
things, like your ancestor Jacob did when he divided his
household upon encountering his brother Esav. He readied
himself to make peaceful overtures at first, then he prayed,
begging G-d to grant him success in all his endeavors. If the
gifts he tendered would be of no avail, he was prepared to go
like a warrior in full strength to fight, relying on G-d to
This is the meaning of Chazal's statement that, "Every
generation in which the Beis Hamikdosh is not rebuilt,
is deemed as though it was destroyed therein." Each and every
Jew is obliged to be a builder, rectifying whatever he can
and consulting wise men as to how Tzion, Yerushalayim
and Yiddishkeit may all be rebuilt together. We
are not supposed to just sit and lament and rely totally on
Hashem to bring Moshiach.
So long as we fail to rouse ourselves collectively, to build
[our] souls and to rectify the shortcoming that caused our
exile to begin with, healing the wound that festers deeply
among us -- causeless hatred -- then all our waiting until
now will have been in vain and we shall have to wait until
the very latest date by which Moshiach will have to have
And in that eventuality too, we will already have repented,
for we follow the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua, who says, "If
they don't do teshuvoh then Hakodosh Boruch Hu
will place a king over them whose decrees are worse than
those of Homon and he will put them back on the right path"
It is our duty to offer encouragement to ourselves
individually and to our nation as a whole, rather than
everyone embarking on his own initiative, following his own
understanding, ideas and wishes. Our salvation will come
about through broad discussion. Our nation's leaders and all
the different groupings in Klal Yisroel should unite
and not budge from the idea of Tzion and Yerushalayim.
All the steps they take would then be firmly rooted in Torah
and in our faith, and Yehuda would then certainly be saved
and Klal Yisroel would dwell safely in Eretz
From the story of Megillas Esther, this is what
appears to have taken place then. As we reflect upon the
megilloh, we are struck by the Jewish nation's
powerlessness at that time. Logic would dictate that when the
decree to eradicate our nation became known, the Jews should
have aroused themselves and sought ways of foiling Homon's
plans. Wherever Jews lived, there should have been large
meetings of all the people, irrespective of groupings, to
choose sensible individuals to travel to the capital and
appear before the king to hear him list all his misgivings
about the Jews and prove to him that the entire nation was
innocent of any wrongdoing and that they had been denounced
by enemies, who libeled them with having committed things
that they had never done.
In fact though, we see that, "wherever the king's word and
law extended there was great mourning for the Jews" (4:3) but
besides this, they did nothing. Only Mordechai pursued a
"natural" path in search of deliverance, besides his
extensive prayers and supplications to Hashem. He aroused the
people to mend their ways and to repent and serve Hashem
wholeheartedly -- "the Jews affirmed and accepted upon
No longer would they serve Hashem with uncertainty.
Henceforth, everything they did would be genuine and
wholehearted. They would cast off the causeless hatred that
they harbored in their hearts towards each other. Now they
would truly unite. Each individual would do his utmost to
follow a good and straight path. When the people accepted
what he said, Mordechai knew that they would ultimately be
saved, as actually happened. The decree was removed and the
Jews once again dwelt in safety and security. As long as the
sin of causeless hatred remained deep within their hearts
though, Mordechai, "cried a great and bitter cry" (4:1).
The megilloh is thus testimony that unless we uproot
this scourge that has been rooted among us since we were
exiled from our land, we cannot hope for an improvement. The
source of this jealousy is the fact that people considered
their own ideas, that they developed on their own, as being
much higher than divrei Torah. They considered
themselves as being wise and they cast divrei Torah
away and were guided by their own ideas and evil thoughts.
This is the meaning of the gemora [quoted earlier]:
"Rabbi Yochonon said, `Yerushalayim was only destroyed
because they ruled according to the Torah's law.' " It is
universally acknowledged that the nation's salvation and its
standing are entirely dependant upon providing the youth with
a good education, teaching them to remain faithful to Hashem
and to observe His mitzvos and to guard and strengthen their
identity, not mingling with the other nations of the world.
This can be achieved when we follow Torah's path, hearken to
Klal Yisroel's elders and school our children in
Talmud, which is "our life and the length of our days."
The Future of the Youth
This was Avrohom Ovinu's question, "How will I know that I
will inherit it?" (Bereishis 15:8). He trusted
completely in Hakodosh Boruch Hu's promise to give him
the land and had no doubts about His fulfilling it. What he
was unsure of was whether his descendants would continue to
tread in his path.
Would they always see themselves as Avrohom's descendants and
trace their origins to him? Would they never veer from the
straight path and take after the gentiles that were living
there? Were that to happen, the land's possession by wayward,
evil sons would be worth nothing to him.
When Mordechai saw the Jewish children coming out of their
school, he was glad and felt comforted regarding any
troubles. He knew that if the children were learning Torah
and growing up with Torah, the plans of the Jewish nation's
enemies would all come to naught. So long as there are youth
who are faithful to their People and their Torah, none of the
other nations' plotting and planning to wipe us out will be
Dovid Hamelech said, "From the mouths of babies and young
children, You have established strength, to stop enemies and
avengers" (Tehillim 8:3). We can thus understand what
would have happened had they not ensured that their children
were receiving a Torah education and had instead been
learning from the gentiles' ways.
This is why part of our mourning on Tisha B'Av is to read the
parshah, "When you beget children and grandchildren .
. . and you become corrupt and make idols and images . . .
and you do what is evil in the eyes of Hashem . . . angering
Him." The education of the youth was on a very low level and
was disorderly. The education purveyed by the maskilim
who have recently come on the scene, casting away the old
type of education, of learning Torah, Nevi'im and
Kesuvim and then gemora with children, is based
instead on the "methods" that they themselves invent. Woe to
the ears that hear how they have made our religion
Read the sefer, Chomas Hadas, by the gaon and
tzaddik, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Hacohen of Radin shlita
[zt'l]. Nobody attends to putting Jewish education right,
restoring it to its former state, where fine fruits were
implanted within the hearts of Jewish youngsters, who are
[now instead] wayward.
One Parshah, One Message
Let us reflect upon our terribly difficult times. We are
surrounded by troubles that have overcome us and are
unbearable. No one is concerned with strengthening Torah,
particularly in our city, where thousands of Jewish children
are growing up without [Torah] education. They know nothing
at all about how Jews conduct themselves. In Europe, it was
the responsibility of a town's rov to put right all that
needed correction. The rov was the leader and everyone
listened to what he said. It was therefore his responsibility
to take action so that everything was run in a Torah
It is with regret that we must acknowledge the truth about
ourselves [and our position]. In this land of freedom,
Orthodox Rabbis are unable to rectify anything, or to arrange
anything that needs correction, according to Torah, unless
they have the assistance of the town's G-d fearing and
important householders. Woe to us for this shame and
disgrace! Boorishness increases virtually every day, while
something as fundamental as raising our children to follow
the good and straight path, that is pleasing to both G-d and
man, is ignored and is viewed by them as an unnecessary
luxury. They don't listen to those who reprove them.
The breath of children who learn Torah shields us and rescues
us from all troubles and protects us from everything
untoward. Especially now, when destruction is rampant
wherever Jews live. Anyone who is able to, will be doing a
great mitzvah by opening talmudei Torah and implanting
Torah's spirit in the hearts of Jewish children so that Torah
does not leave them, even when they grow up. This is the
promise of the novi Yeshayoh, "And all your sons will
be disciples of Hashem and your sons' peace will be great"
(54:13, Brochos 64). Once there are genuine
talmudei Torah, Klal Yisroel will be comforted: "I, I
am your comforter . . ." Then, there will be "everlasting joy
over their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them and
anguish and sighs will flee" (ibid. 51:11-2).
We thus read, "When you beget children and grandchildren .
. ." to comfort us on Shabbos Nachamu, because the
novi has promised us that all our children will be
Hashem's disciples and will observe His mitzvos. Our main
comfort will be that everyone merit having fine, upright
offspring. This is why Hashem did not accept Moshe Rabbenu's
prayers to bring him into Eretz Yisroel. Hashem knew that
Moshe Rabbenu would be unable to witness the path that the
sons would take, casting off the yoke of Torah and choosing
A Prayer and the Response
Someone who has lived a good and pleasant life, who has borne
the crown of Torah and within whose heart faith in Hashem is
firmly rooted, may go anywhere and may become extremely
wealthy but he will not readily take the step of throwing off
the yoke of Torah and mitzvos and following a different path.
Not so someone who has grown up in poverty and whose fortunes
changed, making him wealthy. He is in greater danger of
becoming proud and forgetting Hashem's Torah and of drifting
far away, on a path that is foreign to his forbears, to the
point where he forgets Klal Yisroel and his own
To begin with, Hashem knew that when Klal Yisroel
entered Eretz Yisroel, they would cast off the fetters of
Torah, in the astonishment and sudden joy at having left
slavery for freedom. They had performed crushing labor in
Egypt and were now suddenly entering the Land. They were
seeing its abundant stores filled with good things and its
fertile and fruitful soil yielding heavy crops. Each man now
lived peacefully and tranquilly under his own vine and fig
tree and amassed more gold and silver each day.
Hashem knew [that the result would be] that they would forget
Him and adopt the habits of the nations that were living
around them. They would no longer say that Hashem had done
everything for them, had taken them out of the Egyptian
furnace and given them other nations' land and the fruits of
other people's toil, showing His might to His nation so that
they would observe His laws and guard His Torah.
Hashem thus told Moshe, "Enough . . . don't speak to Me any
more about this matter . . ." -- because it won't be good for
you to go into the Land and be witness to the evil of them
turning from Hashem's path.
By nature, Moshe Rabbenu tended towards anger -- he said,
"Let the law pierce the mountain." Several Rishonim
explain that the sin of Mei Merivoh happened
because he became angry and said, "Listen now, you rebels"
(Bamidbor 20:10). Because of the power of his great
wisdom, he also had an additional measure of anger, as the
gemora says, "the Torah makes him boil" (Taanis
4). In his anger at witnessing that which Hashem knew
would happen, he might harm Klal Yisroel and many
might be lost, as happened after Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai came
out of his cave: wherever he looked, was immediately burned
(Shabbos 33).Hashem however, is slow to anger, even
May the eyes of all of Klal Yisroel be opened to see
the fire that burns His people and set themselves to putting
it out with the water of Torah -- as the posuk says,
"Hey, every thirsty person, go to the water . . ."
(Yeshayoh 55:1) -- and to strengthening the
talmudei Torah. Then, our true redeemer will come and
we will be saved forever, omein.
HaRav Eliyohu Ze'ev Cochin zt'l was a rov in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This droshoh for Shabbos
Nachamu was published in his sefer Aderes Eliyohu in
5677-1917. The sefer includes letters about him from
HaRav Chaim Soloveitchik and HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky.
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