Parashat Vaetchanan: A Reason for Consolation
The Shabbat after Tisha B’Ab is known as "Shabbat Nahamu," the "Shabbat of consolation." This name is based on the famous prophecy which we read as the Haftara on this Shabbat, which begins with the words, "Nahamu Nahamu Ami" – "Console, console My nation."
But why should we be consoled? What reason is there for comfort? The calamity which we mourned on Tisha B’Ab has yet to be resolved. We are still in exile, and the Bet Ha’mikdash has not yet been rebuilt. Why are we to feel consolation, just because Tisha B’Ab is over?
One answer to this question comes from the beginning of the Parasha which our Sages specifically instituted to be read on the Shabbat after Tisha B’Ab – Parashat Vaet’hanan.
This Parasha begins with Moshe’s pleas to G-d that he be allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael. The Sages teach that Moshe recited 515 prayers, at which point G-d told him to stop praying. It seems that G-d wanted Moshe to recite this specific number of prayers. Why?
One of the tragedies that befell our nation as a result of the Temple’s destruction is described in the third chapter of Megilat Echa: "Sakota Be’anan Lach Me’abor Tefila" – "You covered Yourself with a cloud, so that prayer cannot pass." At the time of the destruction, G-d made an invisible "cloud" which blocked the heavens from receiving our prayers.
This was, indeed, a terrible tragedy. Prayer is not just a means of attaining that which we need and want. This is far from being the primary purpose of prayer. The primary purpose of prayer is to connect us to the Almighty. The Tefillin that we wear is so named because it is tied and bound to our bodies. The word "Tefila" means "bind." When we pray, we connect to Hashem. We build a relationship with Him. At the time of the destruction, G-d decided He no longer wanted a relationship with us, and so He broke this connection by blocking our prayers. This marked one of the gravest tragedies of the destruction.
A number of books teach that Moshe Rabbenu prophetically foresaw this calamity, and he acted to help us, to restore for us this ability to connect to G-d through prayer. The Gematria (numerical value) of the word "Tefila" is 515. Moshe prayed 515 prayers for our sake, to reaffirm the power of Tefila when it would be taken from us. It is in his merit, because of his prayers, that we were given anew the opportunity of Tefila which had been taken away at the time of the destruction. Thanks to Moshe’s prayers, we are able to maintain our connection to G-d even in the darkest of times. The prayers at the beginning of Parashat Vaet’hanan are the greatest possible source of consolation for us – because they have assured our continued ability to build a relationship with Hashem, under any and all circumstances.
Remarkably, this concept relates to the festive day of Tu B’Ab, the 15th of Ab, which falls less than a week after Tisha B’Ab.
One of the events celebrated on this day, as the Gemara explains, is "Kalu Meteh Midbar" – the demise of the generation of the wilderness was completed. After the sin of the spies, G-d decreed that the entire generation would perish over the course of the next 39 years, and only their children would enter the Land of Israel. It was on the 15th of Ab, 39 years later, that Beneh Yisrael realized that the decree had already been carried out in full, and now everybody who was alive would be proceeding into Eretz Yisrael. This was a joyous day, when the people saw that the punishment had been completed, and this is one of the reasons why we celebrate Tu B’Ab.
The Peneh Yehoshua (Rav Yaakob Yehoshua Falk, 1680-1756) writes that it was on that same day that Moshe Rabbenu recited his 515 prayers. Upon seeing that G-d had completed punishing the people for the sin of the spies, and everyone who remained would be entering the Land of Israel, Moshe saw an opportunity to beg for the privilege of entering the land. G-d denied his request, but, as we have seen, these prayers were inestimably valuable, having the effect of restoring for us the ability to connect to Hashem through prayer.
Tu B’Ab is thus an exceedingly significant day – celebrating the restoration of Tefila, the elimination of the "cloud" which had blocked our access to G-d in the wake of the Temple’s destruction, so that we can once again, even in our state of exile, build and maintain a beautiful and meaningful relationship with Hashem.
May we all seize the precious opportunity we have to connect with Hashem each day through prayer, and may we succeed in building a close relationship with our Creator and in bringing His presence back to Yerushalayim, in the rebuilt Bet Ha’mikdash, speedily and in our times, Amen.