From Tragedy to Rebuild – Parshat Vaetchanan


From Chazon to Nachamu

We go through many events in life. Some pleasant. Some not. Those which are pleasant we enjoy, we photograph, we experience, laugh and appreciate the experience. We look back nostalgically at these events. There is a prevailing sense that all is good at that moment. We are quite happy to 'live the moment'.1

There are other events which are less pleasant. They cause pain, sadness, frustration and hurt. Some of it is avoidable and some of it is not. That which is avoidable we try to avoid. The unpleasant surprises are what get us. We may feel shock, dizziness, disconnected or any of many other unpleasant sensations. We often choose not to remember these events though often they don’t leave us. There can be scarring. We may move on in life but these events leave their mark.

Tisha B'av has had this kind of effect on some people. What, then, would be the appropriate Torah portion to read on that day?2 The Gemara has a fascinating discussion on this. There are two opinions stating that we should read different parts from the story of the Spies and the Israelites' reaction to their report (Bamidbar 13-4), which according to tradition actually occurred on Tisha B'av.3 Yet, the final opinion mentioned, and the one which is followed, is that we read from a section in this week's portion.4 This section has nothing to do with the story of the spies or any other event occurring on Tisha B'av. Rather it offers a prophesy that the Israelites in the future would reach a time when they would no longer be following the Torah and would instead be involved in idolatry and other forbidden and unethical behavior. They would then be exiled and only from there, from their despair, suffering and sense of loss, they would look to return to God and his Torah. At that point they would look to their basic belief system and how they would rebuild their society. But what does this have to do with Tisha B'av? Why is this portion read and not the portion that actually tells the story of the spies?

In a class given before Tisha B'av this year, Rabbi Chayim Soloveichik offered an interesting insight. He suggested that there were 4 stages to the destruction of the Temple – foreboding, devastation, destruction, and redemption. First of all, I found it fascinating that there was already devastation of the society before the destruction of the Temple, therefore being a cause rather than a result of the Temple's destruction. The society was already in a state of devastation before the burning of the Temple.

Even more enlightening, though, is that there was also redemption afterwards. This, then, is the reason that this particular section is read on Tisha B'av. The other sections that were suggested discussed only the story of the spies and their punishment. This segment, however, offers redemption, hope and rebuilding.

Many of us have experienced tragedy. It is unpleasant. It is traumatic. It can leave long-lasting scars. It is painful. We look for answers and do not find them. Often we move on from there with some memories…lingering thoughts….heartache. The suffering is real. But so is the strength that we have to continue our lives. We look for ways to move on. Searching for a proper and healthy way to continue our lives, we return to our core values and those things which are important to us. We reconnect to those things which give us the strength to get out of bed in the morning. We adjust our attitude towards this tragedy and start to rebuild. We may discover new strengths that we never knew were there. The defiant power of the human spirit gives us the strength to get up and start moving forward.6  

Those are the basic building blocks to start climbing back to where we ought to be. This is the passage from Shabbat Chazon preceding Tisha B'av to Shabbat Nachamu immediately after - from destruction to comfort.


  1. This is one of the tenets of Dr. Viktor Frankl: that we try to live in the moment and listen to what we are being called to do at any particular moment.
  2. As Ezra the Scribe initiated the custom of regular public Torah readings, we specifically try to read on holidays and special dates a story or topic that relates to that date. On Pesach we read of the Exodus. On Purim, we read of the war with Amalek, the great-great-grandfather of Haman, our Purim adversary.
  3. Devarim 4:25-40
  4. Megilla 31b
  6. These are all ideas put forth by Dr. Viktor Frankl in his books, Man's Search for Meaning, Doctor and the Soul and The Will to Meaning

Have A Great Shabbat!laughing

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