Parashat Vaet'Hanan: The Consolation of Shabbat Nahamu
Parashat Vaet’hanan begins with Moshe recalling the time when he beseeched G-d to allow him to enter Eretz Yisrael. Moshe tells the people, "Va’yit’aber Hashem Bi Le’ma’anchem" – that G-d was angry at him "for you" and refused his requests, denying him permission to cross the Jordan River along with them into the Land of Israel (3:26).
The word "Le’ma’anchem" indicates that G-d’s refusal to allow Moshe to enter the land was somehow for the people’s benefit. It was "for you" – in the best interests of Beneh Yisrael – that G-d deny Moshe’s request.
How did it benefit the people that Moshe would not go into the Land of Israel?
This question becomes even more perplexing in light of the Zohar’s teaching that if Moshe had gone into the Land of Israel, he would have been able to abolish the Yeser Ha’ra (sinful inclination) to worship idols. Later in this Parasha (4:22-23), Moshe tells the people that he would not be crossing with them into the Land of Israel, and then warns them not to worship idols. The connection between these verses is that had Moshe entered the land, there would have been no need to warn the people not to engage in foreign worship, because he would have abolished this Yeser Ha’ra. Moreover, the Zohar teaches, if Moshe had entered the land, he would have built the Bet Ha’mikdash, and it would have never been destroyed. Anything built by Moshe remained permanent and everlasting – and thus the Bet Ha’mikdash would have stood forever.
How, then, could it possibly have been in the people’s benefit that Moshe was denied entry into the Land of Israel? To the contrary, this would have spared us thousands of years of bitter exile!
The common explanation is that if the Bet Ha’mikdash could not have been destroyed, then G-d would have, Heaven forbid, destroyed Beneh Yisrael, instead. When G-d became angry at the nation for its misdeeds, He destroyed the Mikdash in lieu of their annihilation – like a creditor taking a precious item as collateral until the borrower repays his debt. If Moshe had built the Bet Ha’mikdash, this would not have been possible, and thus the Almighty would have destroyed the Jewish Nation. Hence, it was our benefit that Moshe was denied the privilege of entering the land, so he could not build the Bet Ha’mikdash.
Others, however, explain differently.
While on the one hand we want the final redemption to arrive immediately, and for the third Bet Ha’mikdash to be built right away, there is an advantage in its delay – as it gives us more time to prepare for the final redemption. We all have work to do, to refine and perfect our characters, so we will be prepared to serve Hashem properly in the Bet Ha’mikdash when Mashiah arrives. Of course, we must nevertheless pray for the redemption to arrive now, for G-d’s sake, as it were. As long as the Jewish Nation is in exile, G-d, too, is in exile, so-to-speak, and we therefore wish for our immediate redemption. But at the same time, there is a certain benefit to the delay, in that it gives us more time to grow, to improve, to elevate ourselves, in preparation for the rebuilding of the Bet Ha’mikdash.
Some explain that this was King Shaul’s calculation when he defied G-d’s command to annihilate the nation of Amalek. He knew that the annihilation of Amalek would herald the final redemption – and he also knew that there were those who needed more time to properly prepare themselves. His mistake was that we are to work toward bringing the final redemption not for our own sake, but for the sake of the Shechina, which is in exile together with us.
It has been similarly explained that this was Moshe’s intent when he said that G-d denied his request to enter the Land of Israel "Le’ma’anchem" – for Beneh Yisrael’s sake. It was to their benefit that the world’s redemption would not occur at that time – as they had more time to perfect themselves in preparation for the Messianic Era.
This explains why the Shabbat following the observance of Tisha B’Ab is called "Shabbat Nahamu" – the Shabbat of Consolation, when we read G-d’s prophecy of "Nehama" (consolation), and we are comforted after grieving over the destruction of the Bet Ha’mikdash. Although we hope and pray for the restoration of the Bet Ha’mikdash, each day that passes without its rebuilding gives us an opportunity to work harder to prepare ourselves for the final redemption. As much as we mourn and grieve, we can take consolation in this opportunity, in our ability to continue growing and improving ourselves so we can welcome Mashiah in a greater state of purity and spiritual devotion. This is a reason for comfort and consolation after having gone through another Tisha B’Ab, another year without our prayers for redemption being fulfilled.
But in order for this period to be one of comfort and consolation, we must take advantage of this opportunity. We must do the work required for us to grow and improve, to rise higher. This might be why we begin reciting Selihot shortly after Tisha B’Ab – because after mourning our continued state of exile, we take comfort by seizing the opportunity we are given to repent, to prepare ourselves for Mashiah.
May the coming weeks indeed be a period of considerable religious growth, so we will be worthy of greeting Mashiah at the gates of the rebuilt city of Jerusalem, speedily and in our times, Amen.