OU Torah Insights ProjectParashat Vaetchanan - Shabbat Nachamu
When the prophet Yirmiyahu describes the iniquities of the Jewish people, he says, "Jerusalem has sinned a sin." The prophet Yishayahu, referring to the Jews suffering, says, "She has received double for all her sins." And when Yishayahu speaks about redemption, he says, "Comfort, comfort my people."
The double nature of these verses ("sinned a sin;" "double for all her sins; "Comfort, comfort") emphasizes that man constantly functions on two levels, spiritual and physical, the Midrash observes. Everything we do impacts on both our relationship with G-d and our relationship with the world around us.
This concept also apply to the Jews as a nation. Just like the individual Jew, the Jewish people constantly functions on these two levels. On the one, hand, our national focus is toward our relationship with G-d alone, as articulated by the infamous Bilam: "Behold, it is a nation that dwells in solitude, not to be reckoned among the nations." On the other hand, as Yishayahu puts it , we are mandated to be a "light unto the nations."
The sins of the Jewish people, both as a nation and as individuals, occur on these same two levels.
G-d conveys through Yishayahu, "Children have I raised and exalted, but they have rebelled against Me....They have forsaken Hashem, they have angered the Holy One of Israel and have turned their back to Him."
At the same time, the prophet declares, "How the faithful city has become a harlot. She had been full of justice, but now murderers.... Your princes are...associates of thieves, each of them loves bribery."
Sins against G-d; crimes against man.
Divine punishment was thus dealt measure for measure. G-d severs His relationship with us. "Your worthless meal-offering...is an incense of abomination to me.... My soul detests your new moons and holidays.... When you spread your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you...I will not listen, G-d declares through the Prophet.
On the physical level, he declares, "Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire. As for your land, strangers consume its yield."
Fortunately, the redemption, too, shall have these dimensions. Our spirituality will be restored and "the Glory of Hashem will be revealed and all flesh together will see that the mouth of Hashem has spoken."
So, too, our physicality will be restored: "As for your ruins and desolations...you will now become crowded with inhabitants.... For Hashem will comfort Zion,...He will make her wilderness like Eden,...joy and gladness will be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of music."
Too many of us lose sight of the importance of our dual role and responsibilities as Jews. Instead, many people focus on either a man-man relationship or a man- G-d relationship. This approach is clearly wrong.
Judaism is a package deal. In order to be a good Jew, it is essential to perfect a relationship with G-d as well as one with fellow men.
It may be possible to be a good person without being a good Jew, but one cannot be a good Jew without being a good person. Only when this concept is internalized can our redemption materialize.
Rabbi Joel Landau
Rabbi Landau is rabbi of Congregation Beth Jacob in Irvine, California.