Double Comfort

June 26, 2012 - 5:00 am

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” — Isaiah 40:1

A famous story is recorded in the Talmud that took place shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues are in mourning. When they come to Mount Scopus and see the desecrated and destroyed Temple, they tore their clothing. When they got to the Temple Mount itself and saw foxes running around where the Holy of Holies once stood, they cried. But Akiva laughed.

“Why are you laughing?” they asked.

“Why are you crying?” he replied.

They explained that they were looking at the holiest place in the world, where only the high priest was allowed to enter on the holiest day of the year. “Now foxes run through it! How could we not cry!” the Sages say.

Akiva replied, “That is why I am laughing.” Then he continued, “One prophet said, ‘because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field’ (Micah 3:12). Another prophet said, ‘there will come a time when old men and ladies, boys and girls, will once again sit together in the streets of Jerusalem’ (Zachariah 8:4-5). Since the words of one prophet have been fulfilled, I now know that the words of the other prophet will also be fulfilled.”

To this the rabbis exclaim, “You have comforted us Akiva, you have comforted us.”

In this powerful story, Rabbi Akiva appears to teach us to see the glass as half full instead of half empty. See the positive; don’t dwell on the negative. But the truth is that Akiva is teaching us that the glass is never half anything — the glass is always full!

Everything that happens is good. Where the other rabbis saw destruction, Akiva saw building. He connected destroying the old with building the new. The destruction was part of the construction. This is why the rabbis say, “You have comforted us,” twice. Akiva comforted them by reminding them that the future will be better, and he also comforted them by explaining that the present is good too.

Isaiah delivers a similar message just after he finished describing the destruction that will come upon the Jewish people for disobeying the Lord. The prophet says “Comfort, comfort my people . . . ” Notice the word comfort written twice! God, via Isaiah, is telling the Jews that they should find comfort in knowing that there is an end to their exile. And they should also take comfort in knowing that the exile itself is part of their redemption.

Be comforted, be comforted, my friends. Everything happening in your life is truly for the best. The future will be better, and whether or not you can see it right now, the present is the gift that makes the future possible.


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