Accepting No and Seeking Comfort
by Miri Korbman
The beginning of this week’s Parsha features one of the most heartrending stories in the Torah. Moshe recounts for the Jewish people how Hashem told him that he would not be Zocheh to enter the Land of Israel in retribution for his sin at Mei Meriva. Moshe describes how he beseeched God to let him enter the land, to let him fulfill the sole and soul desire he had carried with him for so many years, to let him reap the fruits of his arduous labor leading the Jewish people in the desert. The Pasuk says, “Va’eschanan el Hashem - and I beseeched God” (Devarim 3:23). The Medrash tells us that Moshe davened 515 prayers (the numerical equivalent of the word “Va’eschanan”) to enter the land of Israel, but he was denied. In fact, God actually told Moshe to stop praying! Hashem said, “Rav lach,- it is too much for you,”“al tosef daber elai od badavar hazeh,- do not continue to speak to me about this thing” (23:26)! In no uncertain terms, God demands that Moshe cease his prayers and accept his fate.
Such a response from HaKadosh Baruch Hu is truly devastating. Most of us have prayed for something before in our lives. Just a few days ago, the entire nation prayed with all our hearts and souls for the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash and the final redemption. Accepting a “No” can be extremely difficult, even debilitating, particularly when we have expended so much time and energy into something, or into the request. How can we take no for an answer, and how can we be comforted when the grief and disappointment is so devastatingly acute?
Let us look at what happened to Moshe when he had to accept God’s No to his 515 prayers. At the end of his life, Moshe is personally buried by God, as the Pasuk says, “God buried him in the valley in the land of Moav” (Devarim 34:6). The pasuk notes that Moshe died “al pi Hashem,” and the Medrash says that this might actually have been a “kiss of death,” removing Moshe’s soul from him the same way that God blew Adam’s soul into him at the dawn of creation (Devarim 34:5). Moshe’s comfort came in the form of a literal kiss from God. Despite Moshe’s inability to enter Eretz Yisrael, God showed him the land, and God himself took care of Moshe’s death and burial in a personal, loving manner.
Similarly, the text of the Haftarah that we read following Tisha B’Av each year carries with it this central theme of being denied by God, and yet seeking comfort in His presence, in His embrace. The entire Haftarah is literally a poem about the greatness, glory, might, and wonder of God. The prophet Yishayahu says, “Nachamu, nachamu ami, yomar elokeichem, - God says be comforted, be comforted my nation” (40:1). And we need comfort; we have lost the Beis HaMikdash, we have mourned and grieved for its loss and for the consequences of that loss, and we have stormed the heavens begging for redemption – and we have been denied. How, then, shall we be comforted? The prophet continues, “Hinei Hashem Bichazak Yavo… k’roeh edro yireh bizoro, yikabetz t’laim.. - behold, Hashem will come with strength, like a shepherd would graze his flock, gathering lambs in his arms,” “mi tikein es ruach Hashem? - who can measure the strength and spirit of God?” “si’u marom eineichem, u’riu, mi bara eileh? - Hamotzi b’mispar tzivaam, lichulam b’shem yikra,” raise your eyes heavenward, and see, Who created all of this? He Who brings forth the legions by number, calling each by name (Yeshayahu 40: 10-11,26).
How are these psukim, telling of Hashem’s might and strength, meant to bring us comfort? One would think that after promising, practically commanding, that we be comforted, God’s message would be one of reassurance, that he would be promising us that we will one day return to the Land of Israel, that one day the temple will be rebuilt! After all, we see similar content elsewhere in Navi, in other excerpts that we will read in the coming 7 weeks known as the Sheva D’Nechemta, the seven Haftaros of comfort. And yet, this first, famous, incredibly important Haftara speaks not of promises of redemption and return, but rather seems to be an ode to Hashem’s glory. What is going on here?!
When a child begs for candy, for ten more minutes’ time on electronics, for a free pass from taking a bath or going to school, and throws a virtual tantrum when denied his or her request, to whom does he or she turn for comfort in the throes of the outburst? Why, to the very person who just moments ago denied their heart’s desire! When a disappointed child seeks his mother’s comfort, crying hysterically into her chest, it is critical for that mother not to be coerced by the emotional display to give in to the child, but also not to turn away from him in his moment of need and vulnerability. When that mother strokes her child’s head and says, “I know you are so sad, because you really wanted ____; the answer is no, and I love you, still,” the child gets the message, “I am known, I am seen, I am loved.” It does not detract from the fact that the child has not gotten the treat or privilege or request for which he has lobbied, but it strengthens the bond between the child and his mother, despite the denial of the request. Additionally, it sends the child the message that his mother (or father) is strong, is powerful, and cannot be easily swayed – while at the moment this may not work in the child’s favor, ultimately, it is extremely comforting, because it makes the child feel safe.
Validating another person’s feelings can provide immense comfort, even if it is not the solution or answer they are seeking. In fact, comfort is more often about closeness and connection than it is about consolation. Often, when we have lost something, when we are disappointed, we are not ready to hear that “it’s ok,” or that “it’s meant to be,” or that “all is for the best.” We must be validated, we want to be told that what we are feeling is real, that it makes sense. When we are sad and dejected, we turn to those we love, to those we trust, to those who are in better standing, even if they are partially responsible for our current feelings of loss, because in their embrace, we feel seen, loved, and cared for, even if we are still lacking. When God comforts us, He does so not by giving us what we seek, but by inviting us to turn to Him, to be held by Him, to be in His embrace, to consider His strength, His awesome power, and the way in which, amidst His massive glory and wonder, He takes the time to count every star, every being, one by one, by name. This is comfort.
Though Moshe is denied his life’s ambition, to enter Eretz Yisrael, God still seeks to comfort him. He does this not by granting Moshe’s request, but by enveloping him in His love, by taking personal responsibility to care for his death and burial. Similarly, as we emerge from the depths of our mourning after Tisha B’Av, God turns to us with His arms wide open, and says, I know you are hurting; I cannot give you what you seek right now, but I can give you a relationship with Me, and I can remind you of Who I am. Through this relationship, by stepping into His arms, we can finally begin to feel validated in our pain, seen in our discomfort and heartbreak, known by He Who carries his flock in His arms and counts each star by name. Though we are forced to accept God’s “No” for now, Shabbos Nachamu is a reminder of the relationship we are seeking, and of why we continue to seek. May this Shabbos Nachamu bring comfort and validation and hope to all of Klal Yisrael.