Mourning and Rejoicing

Shlomo HaMelech teaches (Koheles 7:2): “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting.” On the day after Tishah B’Av, I was translating one of the Maggid’s discourses on this verse, and I found there a thought that is especially appropriate for the period following this national day of mourning.
The Maggid begins his discourse with a Midrash in Koheles Rabbah 1:4. This Midrash relates that Bar Kappara once wrote the following saying on Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi’s front gate: “After all your rejoicing comes death.” The Maggid explains this saying in terms of a teaching of the Toras Chaim in his commentary on Chullin 86a. The Toras Chaim describes how Hashem runs the world through two primary mechanisms, the Attribute of Justice and the Atttribute of Mercy. These two mechanisms operate in a complementary fashion: In the same proportion that the Attribute of Justice doles out punishment, the Attribute of Mercy doles out reward, and vice versa. Now, if a person eats, drinks, or indulges in other worldly pleasures to an exceptional degree, he is taking a large allotment from the Attribute of Mercy. He must therefore, correspondingly, take a large allotment from the Attribute of Justice, in the form of pain and suffering. This is what Bar Kappara meant by his saying – he is using the term “death” to refer to suffering in general.
Shlomo HaMelech presents the other side of the coin. When a person goes to a house of mourning, he takes a large allotment of pain and anguish. Hence, in the end, he will be granted a large allotment of joy and jubilation.
The Maggid illustrates this idea with a parable. A man had a young son, whom he loved very much. The king issued a decree that after three months, marriages would be prohibited for ten years. Because of this decree, the man was forced to marry off his young son right away, to a girl of similar age. He spent a large sum on the wedding. But immediately after the traditional week of celebration following the wedding, the couple separated. The boy and the girl each went back to their respective family homes; since they were just children, the family home was the only place they felt happy. The parents were very upset, for apparently all the great effort and expense he had invested in the wedding had gone for naught. But when the boy and the girl came of age, they reunited on their own. The parents marked the occasion privately with a single modest meal, without much expense, and they rejoiced greatly. This rejoicing mirrored their earlier anguish: Initially they suffered anguish at having spent a great sum without gaining any satisfaction, but in the end they gained satisfaction without any effort or expense.
This is the idea, the Maggid says, behind Yeshayah’s consolation (verses 35:10 and 51:11): “Those redeemed by Hashem shall return and come to Zion with exuberant song, with eternal joy upon their heads. They shall attain gladness and joy, and anguish and groaning shall flee.” Yeshayah is comforting us over the fact that we are now suffering so many afflictions, and seeing almost no blessing. He is telling us that in the end we will experience the mirror image of our current state: We will attain blessing without any pain and anguish, and we will then be joyful and glad of heart. Our Sages, in Shabbos 88a, read the phrase “eternal joy (simchas olam)” as referring to the “joy from time immemorial” (simchah shemeiolam). The Maggid intepretes this as meaning that we will be granted joy in return for the afflictions we suffered in times past. We will attain eternal gladness and joy – the anguish and groaning will flee, never again to plague us.
The Midrash relates (Devarim Rabbah 2:37, middle):
Said Israel: “Master of the Universe! This soul that sings praises to you, until when will it be set down in the dust?” [As it is written,] “For our souls are bowed down in the dust” (Tehillim 43:26). Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to them, “By your lives, the end will come and your souls will rejoice!”
At present we suffer, Hashem says, but in the end we will only rejoice.
PS: For a beautiful thought by the Maggid on haftaras Nachamu, click here.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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