Parashat Vaethanan: The Source of Consolation
In Parashat Vaethanan, Moshe Rabbenu recounts the event of Ma’amad Har Sinai – G-d’s revelation at Mount Sinai, when He gave the Torah to Beneh Yisrael and made a formal covenant with them.
The Talmud in Maseches Shabbat records the famous tradition that at the time the Torah was given, G-d suspended Mount Sinai over Beneh Yisrael in order to threaten them into accepting the Torah. He told them that if they did not accept the Torah’s commands, then He would drop the mountain on them and bury them.
What is the meaning behind this event? Why did the Almighty need to coerce Beneh Yisrael into accepting the Torah?
The Hida (Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1806) explained this act of coercion in light of a surprising Halacha introduced by the Torah later in the Book of Debarim (22:29). The Torah there establishes that if a man forcibly defiles a young woman, he is required to marry her if she so wishes, and may never divorce her for the rest of his life. The idea behind this law is that a girl who was defiled in this manner may reasonably fear that no man would ever want to marry her. In order to ensure that she would be provided and cared for, the Torah requires the assaulter to marry the girl if she so wishes, and to remain married forever, without ever divorcing her.
The Hida writes that this was the idea behind G-d’s suspending the mountain over Beneh Yisrael at the time of Matan Torah. The event of Matan Torah marked the "wedding" between G-d and Am Yisrael. We entered into a solemn agreement with G-d, committing ourselves to forge a close, special and exclusive relationship with one another, just like a bride and groom. But as special a moment as this was, Beneh Yisrael may have been concerned that this arrangement might be temporary. Perhaps the day would come when G-d would no longer love them, when He would be dissatisfied with their observance of the Torah, and thereupon decide to "divorce" them, to end their special relationship and choose a different nation. In order to reassure Beneh Yisrael, G-d "forced" this relationship upon them. Since He had coerced them into this union, He is forbidden, as it were, from ever divorcing us. He is bound to maintain our relationship regardless of what happens, even if we fail to conduct ourselves properly and He becomes angry. No matter what circumstances arise, He is committed to our everlasting relationship, since it began with an act of coercion.
This Shabbat, the Shabbat following Tisha B’Ab, we read as the Haftara the famous prophecy of Yeshayahu that begins, "Nahamu Nahamu Ami" – "Console, console My nation." We might ask, what reason do we have to feel comforted? What has changed since we sat on the floor and cried on Tisha B’Ab? The Temple has still not been rebuilt, and we still find ourselves in a state of exile, with all the grave crises and troubles that this brings. Why do we suddenly change our tune and read words of consolation?
The answer to this question is found in the word "Ami" ("My nation") in this verse. We are comforted simply because we are G-d’s nation. Yes, we were driven into exile because of our sins, and we have yet to become worthy of our redemption, which is reason to mourn. At the same time, however, we have plenty of reason for comfort. We know with confidence that despite everything, we are still "Ami" – G-d’s beloved nation. Even with all the wrongs we have committed and all that we have endured, our special relationship with G-d is still unbreakable and fully intact. He still cherishes our prayers and good deeds, and we can still rely on Him for our protection and sustenance. And so, indeed, "Nahamu" – we have good reason to feel comforted and reassured. We draw consolation and inspiration from the knowledge that G-d suspended the mountain over us, that He specifically saw to it that the bond forged at Sinai would be everlasting, and will never be broken.