He Promised

As we move through the shiva d’nechemta, the seven weeks of comforting by the nevi’im, we might remember Kiddushin 31b. Rav Abahu was an old man, in failing health when he asked his son Avimi for a cup of water. Avimi rushed to bring the water, but Rav Abahu had already dozed off. Rather than waken his father, Avimi crouched at the foot of the couch, glass of water in hand so that he could give his father a drink as soon as he woke up. While Avimi waited, he thought of a new interpretation of Tehilim 49, Mizmor L’Asaf. Rashi explains that Avimi had a question on the the words, “Mizmor l’Asaf.” The first pasuk says, “The nations have entered Your inheritance,” referring to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. The opening words should have been kina l’Asaf– a dirge of Asaf, rather than “Mizmor L’Asaf” a song of Asaf. As Avimi was crouching at his father’s feet, he had siyatta dishmaya and realized the positive side of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash – He poured out His wrath on wood and stones. Rather than destroying the Jewish People for sins which made them unworthy of the Beis Hamikdash, Hashem destroyed the Beis Hamikdash. Now the Jewish People could do teshuva and be blessed in the future. Was there any connection between the fact that Avimi was just then crouching at the feet of his old, sick father and this optimistic interpretation of the Mizmor L’Asaf?

After the Romans had destroyed the Beis Hamikdash, Rebbe Akiva was once walking with Rabbon Gamliel, Rebbe Elozor ben Azariya and Rebbe Yehoshua. They noticed a fox coming out of the place which had been the Kodesh HaKadashim. Three of these great tannaim were so distraught that they cried, yet Rebbe Akiva laughed. He explained that since the prophecy of Micha which said, “Zion will be ploughed over like a field and Har Habayis will become like heaps of stone in the forest,” has been fulfilled, surely the prophecy of Zechariah that, “Old men and women will again sit in the streets of Yerusholayim with their staffs in their hands because of old age and streets of the city will be full of boys and girls playing,” will also be fulfilled. (Makkos 24b).

“Knesses Yisroel asked Hashem, ‘Engrave me on Your Heart,’ Hashem answered, ’My daughter, why do you ask for something which is sometimes seen and sometimes not seen? I will engrave you on the palm of My hand which I will always see.’(Taanis 4a). As the pasuk says, “Behold I have engraved you upon My palms.” (Yeshaya 49:16).

One of the six constant mitzvos is remembering what Amalek did to us when we left Mitzrayim. What aspect of Amalek are we supposed to remember and why is “Do not forget.” repeated at the end of the paragraph.(Devorim 17-19) We tend to think that the pasuk is commanding us to remember the evil of Amalek and never forget to destroy the Amaleki nation. However the Sefer Hachinuch has a completely different explanation. He says that the mitzva is to remember how Amalek attacked the Jews and how Hashem defeated and destroyed them. We must always remember and never forget that the same will happen to all enemies of the Jews who want to destroy us, that Hashem will destroy them.

In the Shemone Esrei we say, “Ki lishu’oscho kivinu kol hayom. – We have hoped for your salvation the whole day.” Is it true? Do we hope for Hashem’s salvation the whole day? Are we never involved in other matters which distract us from thinking about Hashem’s salvation?

A true story is told of a man who constantly expressed his love for his son. He assured him that he would always be there for him. ‘If you ever have any problem, I will come to help you.’ One terrible day, an earthquake struck the town where his son lived. The authorities informed the families that it was impossible for anyone to have survived in the flattened buildings. The father came immediately to see if he could do anything to find his son. “Maybe, just maybe, he is trapped but still alive.” The authorities said it was futile. The father refused to accept his son’s death and ran to the exact spot where he reckoned his son must have been when the earthquake struck. Indeed it was completely flattened with no sign of life. However the father began digging with whatever tools he had. After a whole day he was totally exhausted from his efforts and had achieved very little. The next day he was back digging down inch by inch. Nightfall came with no results. He came back on the third day with helpers and more tools and continued working. As nightfall approached, the father noticed that the ground was slightly softer and he thought that maybe it was a sign of something.  Soon a hole appeared and, miracle of miracles, he saw his son underneath with some other boys trapped under a table, weak and dirty, but still alive. As his father jumped down to embrace his son, the boy turned to his friends and said, “I told you my father would come to rescue me. He promised.”

While Avimi was waiting for his father to wake up, he must have thought how physically weak his father had become. Perhaps he wondered why Hashem had transformed a healthy man, the leader of a generation to a state where he could hardly stay awake. Perhaps he realized that we have such questions because our perspective is so limited. Hashem has His reasons for everything He does. Everything is for the best. Hashem was visibly preparing Rav Abahu for his future life in Olam Haba, where he would not need his physical body. Avimi might have moved on to the question of why Hashem allowed the Beis Hamikdash to be destroyed. He would have realized that Hashem could not simply have abandoned us. He has promised never to forget us. Avimi concluded that it was an act of kindness that Hashem poured out his wrath on wood and stones, allowing the Jewish People to live on.

“In every generation they rise up against us to destroy us.” Like Amalek, they will all be defeated and we will live on, b’ezras Hashem. Hashem sees and looks after the Jewish People continuously. He cannot forget us, because we are engraved in “the palm of His hand.” To Hashem a day is like a thousand years; throughout that “day’ when we suffered expulsions, persecutions, pogroms and a Holocaust, we never lost our faith and our confidence in Hashem’s ultimate salvation. Like Rebbe Akiva we saw, even in the depths of exile, the seeds of future redemption.

Yeshaya tells us, (49:14-15), “Zion perhaps thinks that Hashem has forsaken her, He has forgotten her.” Not true, says the navi. “Can a mother forget her baby, not have mercy on the child of her womb? And even if she would, I will never forget the Jewish People.” This is Yeshaya’s comfort to us. Hashem will never forget us. He loves us like “the apple of his eye.” We may go through difficult times but salvation will come eventually. He promised.