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By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Extreme Nechamah1

Nechamah is good. A double dose is even better.

A medrash2 relates the doubling of the consolation in the haftorah (nachamu, nachamu ami3) to the transgressions that precipitated the destruction for which we need consoling. Chet chatah Yerushalayim,4 Yirmiyahu lamented. This doubled expression of chet called for the doubled destruction spoken of by Yeshaya: “for she has received double for all her sins.”5 This in turn demanded a doubled consolation

If the medrash meant that Bnei Yisrael sinned prodigiously, it would have said that they “sinned much,” not that they “sinned doubly.” The medrash’s choice of words points to a qualitative, not quantitative increase in the transgression.

Several approaches come to mind. Each teaches us something about the nature of the aveiros we often commit.

The Saba Kadisha of Slonim provides us with the first approach we will consider. Imagine, he says, a prince who grievously disregards his father’s command. He is really guilty of two crimes. The first is the deed itself. Any action explicitly forbidden by the monarch is illegal, a crime by authority of the Crown. This level applies equally to all of the king’s subjects. The second misdeed is the insult to the king’s honor. When someone close to the king, when his own son flouts his will, he undermines his authority and sullies his prestige to an even greater extent than a stranger.

The double crime calls for a doubled penalty. If the son, however, repents his ways and is reconciled with his father, he feels relieved and unburdened, as would anyone convicted of a crime whose sentence was commuted. Additionally, the son feels the warmth of the mutual love between father and son that was jeopardized by his actions, and is now restored. He is consoled in two distinct ways.

Hashem’s message of consolation in the aftermath of Tisha B’Av takes on a second level of meaning when we realize that it emphasizes the love between Father and child.

Another approach to the doubled nechamah is sourced in a teaching of the Besht that was often on the lips of the Bais Avraham. The Besht observed that every aveirah must be considered for both the illicit activity itself, and for the inner quality of that activity. At times, the apparent aveirah is quite serious, but it might lack the inner component of sin for a variety of reasons.

The Besht illustrated with a mashal. Travelling to the hinterland of his kingdom, a child from a simple village family threw a rock at him. On the face of things, the act is a serious incident of lese majeste, a terrible affront to the dignity of the crown. An enlightened and compassionate monarch, however, might quickly take note of the boy’s failure to understand anything at all about kings and the honor due them. Rather than execute the boy, the king takes him under wing, and educates him about the responsibilities and doings of the royal court. The more the boy learns about the king, his position, and the honor that he is justly accorded by others, the more he looks back with guilt and horror at his childish act of defiance. Ironically, that experience is so painful and guilt-producing that in the course of times he pays a stiff price for his crime. His life is spared, but he hardly escapes punishment, at least in the form of the pain that comes along with his enlightenment.

The Besht linked this mashal to the opening verse of a chapter in Tehilim: “G-d of vengeance, Hashem! G-d of vengeance – appear!”6 Sometimes, he explained, Hashem will reveal Himself to the sinner. As the evildoer comes to understand more about Whom he has sinned against, he is consumed with guilt and remorse. Hashem “avenges” the wrongdoing by “appearing” to the evildoer and educating him.

Hashem might treat someone this way when He knows that an otherwise serious aveirah lacks the inner rebellion and awareness that figure in the deeds of other sinners. The deed is there; the inner quality of aveirah is weak.

Far more people populate this group of sinners than might be thought. We can advance an argument that most of us are members of this group. One of Bilam’s begrudging blessings of the Jewish people reads in part: “He perceived no iniquity in Yaakov. Hashem his G-d is with him.”7 What brings these two thoughts together? Why are they mentioned in the same breath, in the same verse? The point may very well be that Jews make a mess of sinning. They can never seem to get their full complement of enjoyment out of their misdeeds! At the very moment that they fall prey to their baser nature and decide to transgress some precept of the law, part of them already pines away in regret and shame. They fail miserably at turning their backs on their Creator. As they sin, they think of the terrible price they will have to pay in distancing themselves from their beloved Maker. Hashem thus sees no undiluted iniquity in Yaakov, because even when he sins, his G-d is very much “with him,” filling him with guilt and prodding him to return.

We now have a second approach to the doubled sin about which Yirmiyahu wrote. The transgressions that he observed in his countrymen fully contained both elements. They were serious crimes. The people, unfortunately, could not claim a tepid and irresolute inner aveirah experience. The inner quality of the sin was intense. They new quite well what they were doing. They committed their aveiros with their eyes open, unperturbed by the Shechinah that dwelled amongst them.

Yet another approach will yield a dividend of solving another mystery about the churban. The first beis hamikdosh was destroyed because of the most serious transgressions – idolatry, illicit relations, and murder.8 Yet this is not what Yirmiyahu tells us. “How was the land lost?… Through their foresaking My Torah.”9 Which was it – violations of the three cardinal sins, or shortcomings in their commitment to Torah study? Or was it the desecration of Shabbos, which the same navi points to elsewhere?10

Once again, bifurcating the aveirah offers us insight – and a solution. Sins are not arbitrary. Each one causes a tear in the fabric of creation. Beyond this evil that is at the heart of the sin, a consequence of the sin can be equally onerous. Whenever we sin, we distance ourselves from HKBH. Sometimes, the reason for the seriousness of a given aveirah is that it moves us intolerably far from Him. Such is the case with the three cardinal sins. Their nature is to open a huge chasm between ourselves and our Creator.

In His mercy, Hashem has prepared the road back for us, even from the far reaches of the exile in which we place ourselves through our corruption. Indeed, the first beis hamikdosh was destroyed because of the incidence of the three worst aveiros in halachah. They left us remote from His presence. Yet we were not without hope. From the distance, we could have chosen several well-charted paths of return. Torah study is one of them. Through it, a Jew can return and cling once again to his heavenly Father. The kedushah and deveikus of Shabbos offers another modality of return. From the standpoint of missing options to correct our misdeeds then, the beis hamikdosh was destroyed because we did not learn enough, and because we did not value Shabbos enough. Our sin was doubled – we committed it, and we failed to accept the Hand of G-d extended to lead us back.

All of these approaches – and several more that could be offered – remind us that aveirah is far more complex than we think. Complications and consequences, often unconsidered, are part of the bigger picture. Upon reconsideration, we should not be surprised that the consolation comes in such a generous portion. We need all that we can get.

1 Based on Nesivos Shalom pgs 42-44
2 Eichah Rabbah 1:57
3 Yeshaya 40:1
4 Eichah 1:8
5 Yeshaya 40:2
6 Tehilim 94:1
7 Bamidbar 23:21
8 Yoma 9B
9 Yirmiyahu 9:11-12
10 Ibid. 27:17

Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and