The Seven Levels of Nechama – Level One – The System
I am making an assumption which is that if this is where we learn how G-d comforts us, then all of the laws of Neechum Avaylim, comforting mourners, have to be here as well. Since this is where we learn how G-d comforts us, it is fair to assume that this is where we can learn how to comfort someone else who is mourning. All I can share with you is my own joy of seeing the unbelievable consistency of Torah. Never ceases to amaze me.
So we begin the Haftarah with the first word—the first verse. “Nachamu Nachamu Ami Yomar Alochychem,” you should comfort my nation says your L-rd. Very simple and very direct which is basically what you expect anyone to say if someone is visiting a mourner, you know, you should comfort and be comforted. We even say that, “HaMakom YinaChem EtChem B’Toch Sha’ar Alelei Zion vYiroshalyim,” and comfort you together with all of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
Listen to a Rambam that describes the laws of mourning. It is slightly different then the way we do it now, but what we do is based on it and anthropologically or conceptually they are related. The thirteenth chapter of hilchot Avel: Keytzad M’Nachameen Et haAvey’leen, how should we comfort the mourners? Which I think is related to what we are doing. “Achar Sh’Kovrin et hameyt,” after they bury the dead, “MeetKabtzeen HoAvyleem,” the mourners gather, “V’Omeydeem B’Kzad Beit HaKfarot,” and they stand on the side of the cemetery, “V’Chol Hamelaveen Et HaMeyt,” and all of those that are busy now escorting the dead, and honoring the deceased, now switch roles from being those that were honoring the deceased to being those that will comfort the living. “Omdeem Saveev LaHem Shura Le’fnei Shura,” they make rows, one row-one row-one row, all the way around the mourners. “Kol haM’Nachameen B’Eynei Tzo HaAveyleen Echad Echad,” and all the comforters go the mourner, one by one, and “Omreem LaHem,” and they say to them, “T’Nuchamu Meen Hashamayim,” be comforted from heaven. Next person comes, be comforted from heaven, be comforted from heaven, be comforted from heaven, how many times can you listen to it without going insane? It is so systematic; it is so structured. There is no room for spontaneity. You are not supposed to say anything. So picture, if you will, what happens halachically with mourning.
The stage immediately following the death of the relative until the funeral is called AniNoot. During the period of AniNoot, you are not allowed to say Shema, you are not allowed to put on teffilin, you are not allowed to make a bracha, you are not allowed to bench, you are not allowed to say Shmonei Esrei, you are not allowed to do a positive commandment.
You are not allowed to because there is no system and no structure to your world. Your world has just been turned upside-down. Nothing makes sense anymore. Your whole world has been changed so you are running around like a wild man, besides having to make all the practical preparations for the funeral and writing eulogies and everything and who should speak and who should not speak and which funeral home and cemetery and how do I take care of this and sit shiva and all of the different things you are running around, until you are so filled with rage that what are you told to do? You tear your clothes! Everything is insane. There is no system, no structure, your whole world is topsy-turvy. Ask someone who has been a mourner, so shiva is over and then people all of the sudden stop coming. Now your world is back to normal. You do not need visitors anymore, you do not need anyone to comfort you, everything is fine.Then you go back to work and you see that this guy sitting at his desk, “Oh I have not seen you in a while, where have you been?” “Well my father died.” “Oh, I am really sorry.” “Oh listen, can you take care of this problem for me?” Life goes on. “What are you some kind of idiot? Do you not understand you are acting like the world is the way it always was. Don’t you understand my father died? How could you dare say that everything is the same. What is the matter with you? The world is not the same.” Nothing makes sense anymore.
So the very first stage of Nechama has to be that there is a system. As much as you hate to hear it, there is structure. This is part of the system. We do it in an even better way. Now you know it is rare that we change halacha. Right? Do we form circles around the mourners and say, “Tnuchu meen HaShamyim?” No. We form two rows. Why two rows? We form the rows and why two?
Because you have been running around like a chicken without a head, that there is no system and there is no direction and no structure, so we hold you in. We direct you. And we say to you, “We are going to hold you up and bring you back into this system and the structure of life.”
If you take a peek, the Beit Hamikdash has been destroyed and every aspect of their life is affected by the Beit Hamikdash and you take away the Beit Hamikdash. If you take a nation and you destroy their homes, if you take a nation and you destroy their homeland entirely, smash it and bash it and destroy it, there is no structure in their life. So the very first thing that you do is systematically platitudes. The same thing that everybody does. NaChamu NaChamu, you may hate to hear it, but absolutely too bad. It is what you need to hear: that there is a system and a structure and there are natural things that people do. And there still can be some sense of system and structure to your life. That is the opening verse of NaChamu NaChamu.
Now we do not have time to do every verse in this detail, so I am just going to choose selective ones, unless you really want to be here for about a week straight. That would mean, just to give you an example, that during the first of the seven weeks of Nechama, a person has to focus very much on structuring his life. It is a time to work on having a set time to daven, a set place to daven, a set time to learn, a set place to learn, to focus on structure because often when we stumble in our relationship with Hashem it is because we are not focused. So the thing that we are supposed to work on during the first week of the seven weeks of Nechama is focusing ourselves. Structure. Do you see how the halacha matches the Haftarah? How practical and how you can use it in a practical sense as well, in order to prepare for Rosh Hashanah? And it is very simple. There is nothing new here. It is very simple. Let us read on in the Haftarah, just a few verses, to give you an idea of what happens here.
Please turn to chapter forty, verse twelve. I do not know if you have the verse marked or numbered in your book. “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and meted out heaven with a span, and comprehended the dust of the earth and weighed the mountains and scales and the hills in a distance, who has meted out the spirit of the L-rd? Who or who was G-d’s counselor that he may instruct G-d what to do? With whom did G-d take counsel? Who instructed G-d and taught G-d knowledge and made him to know the way of discernment?” You hear the verses, general idea of the gist of those verses?
I would like to read to you some other verses from a book called Eyov, Job, and you all know the story of Job? It is chapter thirty-eight, verses one through thirteen. I am not going to read them all to you. You tell me if you sense any type of message. “From the heart of the storm, G-d gave Eyov his answer. And G-d said, ‘Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Tell me since you are so well informed. Who decided the dimensions of it? Do you know? Or who stretched the measuring line across the sky? Who supports the pillars at their bases? Who laid the cornerstone of the earth when all of the stones and stars in the morning were singing for joy and the sons of G-d and chorus were chanting praise? Who pent up the sea behind closed doors when it leaked tumultuous out of the womb when I racked it in a robe of mist and made black clouds and swiveling bands. When I marked the bounds, it was not to cross and made it fast with a bolted gate. Where were you?” Should I go? Sound familiar? What is happening in Eyov? Do you see the similarities between the verses?
Listen to Yishayahu. “Who was there when I created the earth? Who was there when I measured out the heaven with a span? Who was there when I counted out the dust? Where were you?” What is G-d saying to Eyov? Same thing right.
Why is G-d saying this to Eyov? Because G-d is very unhappy. Eyov is saying, and his friends are saying to him, “You know if all of this terrible stuff has happened to you, Job, you must deserve it because there is a system. So if this happened to you, there has got to be a reason, Job, so stop denying that you did anything wrong and admit what you did wrong. Come on, what did you do wrong? Tell me!
So Eyov said, “No I did not do anything wrong. I did not do anything wrong. I did not. I am a good guy. Read the opening of my new book, it even says about me that I did not do anything wrong.” And Elifaz says, “I am sorry it has got to happen.” And Eyov is confused, I did not do anything wrong, so why is this happening to me? So G-d says to him, “Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me, Elifaz,” and G-d is furious with Elifaz, He is furious, “Who gave you the right to say why I did this to Eyov? Who do you think you are?”
And then G-d turns to Eyov and says, “Excuse me one minute. You are saying there is no system? What do you know about the system? What do you understand about the world?” The Haftarah begins with NaChamu, Nachamu. How did we understand this idea of Nachamu Nachamu? It is a platitude. Why is it so necessary to have a platitude? Because a platitude is indicative of a system of structure, the natural course of life. So G-d is saying to the Jewish people, “Do you know what? There is a system.” Or when you hear after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, the exile from Israel, you hear that there is a system. But thank you very much where is the system? I do not understand the system.
So G-d says, “Excuse me, who do you think you are? Who is the one who instructed Me when I created the world? Were you there? Were you the one who taught Me how to do it? Were you there when I created the world? Were you there when I laid out the sea? Do you understand the system? You have to understand that the system is beyond your comprehension.
So we are having the introduction of the idea of the system and the idea that we have to understand that the system goes beyond us.
And by doing this, Yishayahu now takes us into a different dimension. Because we are no longer focused only on those things that we can comprehend and those things that we can understand and experience. But remember one of the things about Nechama is that it has to be something beyond teva, the course of nature. This is the introduction of the idea of hope.
So it seems to me that if you were to decide on a theme for the first of the seven haftarot, you would call it system, with all the implications of system as we decided. And I spoke to you about practical ways to incorporate the lessons of the first Haftarah during the first week in the seventh.