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Parshas Va’eschanan & Shabbos Nachamu: Radical Acceptance

So here we are, folks. Another year, another Tisha B’Av come and gone. We’ve fasted, we’ve cried, we’ve davened our hearts out. We’ve questioned and demanded answers, we’ve inspired others and been reciprocally inspired. And yet, rather than standing at the gates of the third Beis HaMikdash, dancing arm in arm in exuberant, triumphant joy, we find ourselves instead at the end of another week of work or camp, swept up in the mundane and all-too-familiar rhythm of life in exile. What happened to our heartfelt tefilos, to the joint merits of our national mourning these past three weeks? Why is it that, year after year, we seem to be running on a proverbial hamster wheel? Is Hashem just putting us through the ringer, so to speak? Are all of our spiritual efforts on Tisha B’Av just an exercise in futility?

It is no coincidence that perhaps one answer to these gnawing questions can be found in this week’s Parsha, and specifically in its juxtaposition to the Haftara of Shabbos Nachamu. In Parshas Va’eschanan, Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael about one of the most devastating and painful moments of his life, when he was denied entry into the Land of Israel after dedicating his life to escorting the Jewish people safely to its borders. Moshe recounts, “I prayed to Hashem… and said, You Who let Your servant see Your greatness… Please, let me pass over and see the land on the other side of the Yarden… Yet Hashem was wrathful with me because of [what you, Bnei Yisrael, caused at] Mei Merivah, and would not listen to me. Rather, Hashem said, enough! Do not speak to Me about this matter ever again” (3:23-26).

The Midrash Raba notes that the Gematria of the word “Va’eschanan” is 515, indicating that Moshe prayed 515 tefilos entreating Hashem to allow him to enter Eretz Yisrael, and each time, Hashem said no – yet Moshe continued to daven. As indicated by Hashem’s demand that Moshe stop davening, it appears that if Moshe had prayed just one more time, Hashem would have been forced to allow Moshe to enter the land. This of course is gut-wrenching to think about, but what is even more astonishing is that Moshe somehow found it within him to continue to daven despite being denied his request hundreds of times. Furthermore, it is equally as incredible that Moshe somehow found it within himself to stop davening, and to eventually accept G-d’s decree. How can we understand this?

Additionally, it is notable that Moshe is choosing to tell Bnei Yisrael about this incident just as they are about to enter Eretz Yisrael. In the desert, the Jewish people had all of their needs taken care of for them; in Eretz Yisrael, rather than relying on the miraculous Mann, they would need to daven for rain and successful crops and hope that Hashem answers their Tefilos. If that is the case, is it not perhaps a bit discouraging for the Jewish people to hear about how Moshe Rabbeinu, their holy and incredibly righteous leader, davened five hundred and fifteen times and was denied?!

Of all the DBT skills, the one that I both love and struggle with the most is called Radical Acceptance. Radical acceptance is predicated on the idea that though in many respects pain in life is inevitable, suffering does not have to be. Often times we turn our pain into suffering when we refuse to accept the reality that is in front of us. When we deny what is happening to us, or dig in our heels and question “why me, why now?,” when we tantrum emotionally and insist that life is not fair, refusing to lean in to what life IS, even if it does in fact feel unfair, we end up hurting from what is happening to us AND suffering further from our refusal to accept it.

Of course, it is far from easy to accept reality as it is when our reality is painful. When something terrible happens, when we are disappointed or hurt, we want to stomp our feet and cross our arms and say, “No, this can’t be happening!” And yet, when we do this for prolonged periods, we often make things much worse for ourselves. It is often more helpful for us to accept what is in front of us and therefore be able to choose what we can do about it than to fight against what is happening to us.

Radical acceptance is not agreeing, or giving up, or condoning what has happened. It is not feigning indifference, or pretending to be happy, or finding the silver lining. Rather, it is simply and crucially accepting reality as it truly is, acknowledging what is in front of us and how that reality feels for us. Accepting reality inherently requires tremendous humility. Acknowledging that life, and its deepest wounds, its most painful moments, really are happening to us, also requires accepting that Hashem has orchestrated these events, and that we are not in control. This is incredibly challenging at best. Moshe was able to accept Hashem’s no because of his Middah of Anavah; as we know, Moshe was the most humble man who ever walked the earth. And, at the same time, some things in life feel completely unacceptable. Even for Moshe, in all his humility, not being allowed into Eretz Yisrael was not something he could accept until he was forced to, and then – he accepted it completely. It is from this place of synthesizing acceptance of reality with a strong drive for change that we can turn to Hashem in prayer.

On Tisha B’Av, we talk about and commemorate suffering; in fact, we act in ways that make us suffer, fasting and sitting on the ground, because on this day we are actively NOT ACCEPTING the pain. On Tisha B’Av, we rage and we tantrum and we storm the heavens; we are Moshe, davening our hearts out despite having been denied, and denied, and denied again. And yet, we come to Shabbos Nachamu and G-d says, “Be comforted.” How can we feel comfort right now when we are so heartbroken and disappointed? How could Moshe accept G-d’s decree when He said, “enough, stop asking me about this!”?

Comfort is derived from our ability to accept. Comfort does not mean happiness, or a sense of peace - rather, it helps us to pivot from banging our heads against the proverbial wall to seeing that there is another path we can take. In the end, Moshe was able to radically accept Hashem’s decree, and his acceptance does not mean he was happy about it. In fact, Moshe’s message to Bnei Yisrael is not a lesson about the power of prayer, but about the power of accepting Hashem’s reality, even when it seems to directly contradict our Tefilos. Fascinatingly, when you look at the pshat of the pesukim, Moshe asked to cross over and see the land, and in fact, Hashem does comply with this request, bringing Moshe up to higher ground and showing him the entirety of the land. Though Moshe does not get to enter, one could see this as a form of answering Moshe’s tefilos. What is essential for Bnei Yisrael, however, is not whether or not Moshe’s tefilos were answered, but that Moshe was able to accept Hashem’s decree and model for us what radical acceptance truly means, and what makes it so radical.

Shabbos Nachamu is about turning to Hashem not in anger, but in acceptance, and seeking comfort because we are still in pain. A happy-go-lucky nation doesn’t need comfort; a nation with all the answers does not need consolation. Hashem tells the Navi Yishayahu (40:1-2) “Nachamu, Nachamu Ami… Dabru Al Lev Yerushaleim, vi’kiru eileha,” be comforted my nation, speak to the heart of Yerushalayim, and call out to her. We do not accept with our minds through logic or reasoning; in fact, often we are forced to accept a reality that makes absolutely no rational sense. Rather, we accept with our hearts, and with humility – we accept our realities alongside the pain and the sadness. In order to truly be comforted, Hashem has to speak to our hearts, for acceptance is an emotional enterprise.

This week, we struggle to accept our reality. Another year, another Tisha B’Av, and still, no Beis HaMikdash. We have kicked and screamed and cried, we’ve prayed and made our demands. And now, Hashem speaks to the pain in our hearts and says, “I know this is difficult. Don’t turn away from Me, digging in your heels and suffering in your refusal to accept. Accept My decree for now, and seek comfort in your relationships with each other, and in your relationship with Me.”

Of course, radical acceptance cannot be our only tool to living life. While it helps us prevent pain from turning to suffering, it can also run the risk of morphing into complacency if we are not careful. While we must accept reality as it is in order to live life effectively, we also need to synthesize this with a healthy dose of striving for growth and change. We will spend the next seven weeks grappling with seeking comfort from our Creator through the Haftaras and accepting reality as it is. And then, the Yamim Noraim will be upon us, and once again will be focusing on change, individually and nationally. It is crucial to look at Moshe’s story and recognize one pivotal detail: while Moshe davened his heart out 515 times, in the end, Hashem commanded him to stop. Hashem has not said to us, “Rav Lach, Al Tosef Daber Eilai Od B’Davar Zeh,” it’s enough, do not speak to Me about this again. As such, until such a time comes that Hashem tells us to stop, we must continue to balance our acceptance of our reality with a fervent, passionate prayer for that reality to change, bimheira bi’yameinu.

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