Last week on Rosh Chodesh Av, the Passaic/Clifton community and klal Yisrael suffered a colossal loss: the sudden passing of Rabbi Shmuel Berkovicz, z”l, menahel—principal—of Yeshiva M’kor Boruch where my son attended, rav of Khal Yeraim, and for me personally, a rebbe and close friend. He was my counsel for many chinuch questions. He was suffused with love for each person, and he loved each child in yeshiva. We are bereft.
The Gemara says the death of a tzaddik is equal to the burning of the Beis Hamikdash. While they existed, both provided the means for forging a deep connection to Hashem. We are now left without the Beis Hamikdash and without the tzaddik. I personally feel the void so immensely.
This Shabbos is called Shabbos Nachamu because the haftorah starts off with the word nachamu—comfort. Hashem tells Yeshaya the prophet to go and comfort klal Yisrael after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.
Similarly, when a mourner is sitting shiva, there is a mitzvah called nichum aveilim to visit the mourner and offer words of comfort. Can we truly offer comfort to the mourner? Rabbi Daniel Schwab told me, in the name of his illustrious grandfather, Harav Shimon Schwab, that we can’t really comfort the mourner—only Hashem can do that. Indeed, these are the words we say to the mourner: “May Hashem comfort you amongst all the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim.” In this sentence, we refer to Hashem as Hamakom—the place—which is one of the names of Hashem, because when someone loses a close relative, there is a huge void. Only Hashem can fill that void.
Perhaps the following event relates to the comfort of Shabbos Nachamu, says Rabbi Daniel Schwab. Once he had to store a few items in his garage, but his garage was so cluttered, he had no room for them. He first had to clear everything out that wasn’t needed. On Tisha B’Av we clear out space inside ourselves. We first need to recognize the void in our lives and how much of Hashem we are missing. Once we have de-cluttered, we now have the space and the clarity to allow Hashem—Hamakom—to come fill that space inside us.
Our community feels the void without Rabbi Berkovicz. Which rebbe will love our children and care for them as deeply as he did? Who will lead his beautiful shul? Where will parents and rebbeim turn for chinuch advice? Where will I turn for my personal questions on raising my children in Passaic? There is a huge vacuum.
Perhaps there is another element to the nechama that is being offered on Shabbos Nachamu. It is almost impossible to console someone with regard to an irreplaceable loss. The Navi repeats the word nachamu twice, since there are two parties who need to be comforted concerning the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash: Hashem and klal Yisrael. Yes, Hashem also needs comforting.
The Gemara quotes an episode where Rebbe Yosse walked into one of the ruins in Yerushalayim to pray. Inside, he heard a heavenly voice saying, “Whenever I hear Jews saying the words yehei shmei rabba in Kaddish, I say, ‘Praise goes to the King because His nation praises Him in His home as such. Woe is to the father who has exiled his children and woe to the children who have been banished from their father’s table.’”
The sefer Bromo Shel Olam explains that Hashem also needs comfort for destroying the Beis Hamikdash, as His presence is now less felt in the world. Hashem is comforted when we express our yearning for Him and His dwelling place. We do this when we respond to people saying Kaddish.
The physical destruction is just temporary; the rebuilding will happen. Even in its destruction, the Beis Hamikdash retains its kedusha; the physical area remains holy and sacred. The loss of the Beis Hamikdash is not forever; we in fact “rebuild it” as we strengthen our connection with Hashem.
Similarly, upon the loss of tzadikim, the Gemara says they are considered alive even after their death, as their Torah is eternal. The lessons we have learned from Rabbi Berkowicz still live on. Living his lessons keeps him with us.
Just as Hashem grants a nechama to klal Yisrael after Tisha B’Av, so may Hashem grant a nechama to the Berkovicz family, our community and all of klal Yisrael.
In this week’s parsha, we find the tzivui from Hashem of “v’ahavta es Hashem Elokecha”. On this commandment of loving Hashem, many meforshim ask a very simple question. How is it possible that Hashem can command us to love Him? Love is something that a person feels in his heart, either you love someone or you don’t! How is it possible to command a person to love? And furthermore, many commentaries explain that this commandment isn’t merely a positive commandment like the rest of the commandments, rather it’s one of the foundations of Torah Judaism. If that’s true, then why did the Torah wait until sefer Devorim, the last sefer of the Torah, in order to reveal to us this tzivui?
The Rambam himself anticipates this question and offers an answer that the real commandment isn’t on the actual feeling of love, rather it’s a commandment to look around the world at the greatness of Hashem’s creations, which will undeniably lead to feelings of love for the One who created them. This idea is reiterated by the Rambam in the end of Hilchos Teshuva where he says that a person comes to a level of ahava for the Ribbono shel Olam through da’as, knowledge of Hashem and His presence. This yesod is also echoed by the Maharal in his sefer Nesivos Olam in which he states that by a person internalizing the oneness of Hashem until he feels that there is nothing which exists separate from Hashem’s shechina, fulfills the mitzva of ahavas Hashem.
However, maybe we can offer another answer. When a couple first become engaged and begin their pre-marriage classes, one of the first classes nearly always given is focused on how develop a love for your wife. The way I heard it was that the core of the word (which also often represents the essence of that word) ahava, love, is hav, which means to give. The true way that a person can develop a love to his wife is really giving to her.
But if we really think about it, there could be a husband or wife who materially give a lot, yet they’ll still feel a distance between them and their spouses. The reason may be because even though they may be giving things here and there, they aren’t giving themselves. In order to give to someone to create a love for that person, you have to be able to give yourself to that person. Once you do that, you can truly be able to develop a feeling of love.
The same is true with Hashem. The Ohr Hachaim says in this week’s parsha, the pasuk which follows the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem is “…..asher anochi mitzavcheh hayom al levavecha”, “that I have commanded today on your heart”. Says the Ohr Hachaim that this pasuk following the tzivui of ahavas Hashem isn’t a coincidence, rather the only way to get to ahavas Hashem is by “putting the words on your heart”. And the only way to ingrain the words of Hashem into ourselves is by completely giving ourselves to Him. This is the explanation of the commandment, to love Hashem. It isn’t so much on a feeling, rather it’s on the act of giving yourself for Hashem. And maybe that’s also why it’s written here, at the end of the Torah. For Hashem is telling us that there are 613 ways for us to give ourselves to Him. It’s only up to us to make the choice to do them.
In life, man’s nature is to give himself to something. Rabbi Ezriel Tauber says that it’s this exact innate drive which yields such fanatic sports fans nowadays. Hashem gave us this drive to give ourselves to something. It could be an ideal, a job, or even family. So when a person stands in the middle of shmoneh esrai, or when he learns a blatt Gemara, what does he think about? The Ribbono shel Olam, or his work? That reveals to the person what he’s really giving himself to. The drive is there. The only question is how we use it.