I was listening to a shiur while driving on the road this week. The topic was the ninth of Av, of course. Unfortunately I chose the shiur by luck of the draw, as the sunshine prevented me from actually being able to see who I was choosing, but that Rabbi, (HaShem, of course, knows who he is), raised some issues that really made me think about these nine days in general and about the ninth of Av specifically.
One of the most difficult things that we have to deal with concerning this time-period and its climax on the ninth day of Av (other than the dichotomy of packing to go on summer vacation immediately afterward”) is that we really have difficulty relating to the day.
“Don’t you know what happened during this time period and during these days?” the Rabbis, both living and ob”m, tell us.
“Yeah!” we respond bleakly, “But all of that stuff happened so long ago! What’s it got to do with me?” we all ask.
There are many a Rabbi who respond to such statements with anger and frustration. “How could you say that? It’s kefirah, (apostasy)” some might say. But the truth of the issue is that it is a frustrating point, and many times it is because the Rabbi himself is dealing with that issue but because he is the Rabbi can’t say that he’s still struggling with it.
I want to share a dvar machshava that I posted a few years ago (before Tisha b’Av 5775) before the blog. I’ll add on my new perspective afterward.
Sitting in front of my computer wondering how I can get “into the mood” for the upcoming fast of the 9th of Av???
Many people find that they share the difficulties that I have, wondering: How can I mourn the loss of something that I know nothing about?
I can think of two “eitzos”, pieces of advice, that address this issue:
First of all: get off your butt and learn about the Beis HaMikdash! Only someone who knows SOMETHING will have the ability to feel a sense of loss over it’s lack. The more you know – the more you will be attuned to it’s loss.
No. 2: Think about the following story:
At the end of the 1967 war, after Tzahal conquered the Old City of Jerusalem, as it is well known there was a tremendous out-welling of feeling as for the first time in generations we Jews finally returned (almost) home to the holy city of Jerusalem. No more were we forbidden from approaching it’s holy walls. No longer were we subject to restictions and ridicule for praying at this, the holiest of all places in the world. We were home. The Wall was ours!
As is well known Rav Shlomo Goren zt”l was among the first to approach this, the holiest of sites, rushing with a sefer Torah to reconsecrate it as a place of tefilla (prayer) for the Jewish people. Of the tens of soldiers there many began to weep uncontrolably out of sheer joy: The dream of 2000 years was a dream no more! We were back, Jerusalem and the Temple Mount were ours. The radio broadcasters were yelling uncontrollably “The Kotel is in our hands! The Kotel is in our hands!”
…and off to the side, among the groups of paratroopers, stood a young man, a young Jew that didn’t know what to make of it all. He had grown up on an irreligious Kibbutz, he had been taught that the Torah was an old book made up by a bunch of primitives… and yet here he was! One among the many Jews who were there during history in the making.
Suddenly though he – too – burst into tears. crying uncontrollably. His friends were incredulous: what did he have to cry about? This meant nothing to him!
So slowly his friends approached him, to console him. Finally one of them found the courage to ask “Shimon! Why are YOU crying”?
To which he said, in between crys, “Don’t you know? I’m crying… because I don’t understand what I’m supposed to be crying about!”
No matter how we slice it if we are disconnected to the beis Hamikdash it’s because we lack knowledge. Either what it was… or in the immensity of our disconnect from it.
May we know, speedily in our days, what we have been missing all of these years!
That’s what I thought a few years ago, and it’s still true. However, it turns out that there is much more depth to Tisha b’Av that I didn’t yet consider.
Our sages, ob”m, tell us that the real source of the tragedy that became the ninth of Av, the “straw that broke the camels back” was the loshon hara, (the evil speech) of the meraglim (the spies that Moshe sent to check out the land of Israel). It was in the aftermath of their loshon hara that the people of Israel sat down and cried. The Midrash tells us that HaShem’s response to this was “On this day you cried a bechi shel chinam, (cried without reason), by your lives! On this day, throughout the generations, it will be established as (a day of) crying for the generations”.
There are many apparent problems with this Midrash. Let me address three:
First of all: If our forefathers sinned – why should we be punished for it?
Secondly: How does this follow the concept of middah kneged middah (measure for measure) which our sages, ob”m, tell us is the manner in which HaShem meets out both reward and punishment?
Lastly: Is this really what HaShem is all about? Is He out to get us? Is He really a vengeful G-d, just like the Christians paint Him? Is G-d out to get us?
Above and beyond all of the above is the question if the day is all about the destruction of the two Battei Mikdash, then why doesn’t the Midrash mention them at all?
The real answer to the above questions is very simple. Tisha b’Av is not really about the Beis HaMikdash. Tisha b’Av is all about the crying. Let me explain.
Our sages, ob”m, tell us on the verse in Tehillim (Psalms 137:1) which says:
עַל נַהֲרוֹת בָּבֶל שָׁם יָשַׁבְנוּ גַּם בָּכִינוּ בְּזָכְרֵנוּ אֶת צִיּוֹן.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and we also cried when we remembered Zion
Upon inspection, there is an obviously superfluous word in the verse: sham (שם). Why does the verse stress “there (sham) we sat”? Where else would they sit if not there?
This is the way the Midrash Shochar Tov explains it:
When (the exiles, along with) the prophet Jeremiah (Yirmiyahu) reached the Euphrates river (Nahar Perat) Nevuzaradan (Nebuchadnetzar’s General) looked at him and said to him “If it is good in your eyes to enter the land of Babylon with me – do so”. Yirmiyahu thought about it in his heart. “If I go with them into Babylon there will remain no one left who can help console the remainder (of Jews in the Holy Land)”. All of the exiles lifted their eyes up and they saw that Yirimiahu was leaving them. All of them began to cry profusely and cried out “Our Teacher, Yirmiahu! You are our consolation”! There, they cried, as the verse says “On the rivers of Babylon. There we sat and we also cried”. Said Yirmiahu unto them “I testify unto you the heavens and the earth! If only you had cried once while you were still in Zion – you wouldn’t have been exiled”.
This Midrash is key to understanding what Tisha b’Av is all about. It’s not about this tragedy or the next (or even all of them together) it’s all about the crying. What do I mean?
When HaShem, yisborach, told us in the desert after the sin of the spies that this would be a day of crying for generations HE DIDN’T MEAN TO SAY “JUST YOU WAIT AND SEE THE GREAT SMACKS THAT I’M GOING TO GIVE YOU ON THIS DAY”! He meant exactly the opposite.
As we read last Shabbos in Parshas Devarim the description that the Torah gives of the children of Israel in the desert, surrounded with open miracles in all facets of their life. After having seen their masters wiped from the face of the planet ten times over. After having gone through the desert with all of its trial and tribulations, having been protected and supported on a daily basis. After having received the Torah in a manner for which there was no human explanation or doubt as to its authenticity. They are finally on their march to enter into the promised land and they listen to the words of a few men — and lost all hope and cried. That was a staggering act of lack of faith. In truth, if we pay close attention to the words of the holy Torah there (Deuteronomy 1:34)
“And HaShem heard Kol divreichem (קול דבריכם) and He was angered…”.
What was it that caused HaShem to get angry with the children of Israel? It wasn’t actually the words that they said. It was the Kol, the tone of voice in which they said it. They were totally despondent despite all of the clear evidence that they had the upper hand and that they were going to enter the land and conquer it. That’s what bechi shel chinam is. Crying for, or over, nothing.
So HaShem tells us that this day will be a tzaros magnet. “Mark this day in your calendar” because it is a day in which you will get all sorts of reasons to cry — IF YOU WAIT FOR THIS DAY TO COME AND CRY AFTER ITS EFFECTS.
HaShem yisborach is not out to GET us. He’s out to tell us how to avoid future calamity.
When HaShem tells you that this-and-this day is a day of calamity the point isn’t that we should just wait for that day and see what terrible thing is waiting behind door number 1. He’s telling us that so that we should understand that we have it within our ability to avoid it.
“If only you had cried even once before you made it to Babylon,” said Yirmiahu, “you could have avoided everything that happened”.
But we like to wait.
History has shown us quite clearly that we, the children of Israel, have never missed an opportunity – to miss an opportunity. In fact, we seem to be quite comfortable with our present situation. We have all sort of “festivals” in the Jewish calendar and we’re just loving them. We love the ones that commemorate the good times: the redemption from Egypt, the Sojourn in the desert, etc. We love the fun ones, like Channuka and Purim, and yes, we even love the ones which commemorate all of the bad stuff.
We remember the destruction of the Temples, the destruction of major Jewish cities such as Beitar and Har Hamelech, the Inquisition (What a show! – know that one?), Kristallnacht and the Holocaust. One day a year we fast and do some funky stuff to remember them and then… we quickly do the laundry and it’s off to vacation that we go! Such Jewish fun (I say with EXTREME sarcasm).
Don’t we realize just how stupid that is? How stupid it makes us because for year after year after year we still haven’t internalized that that’s not the way it’s supposed to be? HaShem wasn’t, isn’t, and never will be “out to get us”. He doesn’t send calamity after calamity just to “show us who is boss” or “to give us a smack”. Like all “prophecies of doom” He tells us ahead of time SO THAT WE CHANGE.
The day of Tisha b’Av is not supposed to be a day marked on the calendar to “celebrate” in its own special way. It’s supposed to be a day that we are trying to prevent. It’s a day that we have the power to change, if only we cry for all of the loss, the tragedy, the grief and the pain and use that as a catalyst to become better people, both in our relationship with HaShem Himself and also among ourselves.
If we uproot the chinam, the senseless, pointless, anger and hate that we have towards HaShem, which was the cause of the destruction of the first Temple, and the senseless, pointless, hatred that we have for each other, which was the cause of the destruction of the second Temple, then there is no more reason to have a day of bechi shel chinam, a day of senseless, pointless weeping.
Yes. We do mourn the loss of both of the Temples. These are tragedies and examples of national loss of such immense proportions that we cannot ever forget them. But they, per se, are not the point. The point is to open up our hearts and to cry. Not a pointless, senseless weeping, but rather a purposeful, building, healing cry. One of shaking off all of the pointless, senseless things that we fritter our lives away with, of getting rid of the things that separate us, both from our fellow Jews and from our Father in Heaven. A GOOD cry.
If we do that TODAY —- we won’t need to do it (again and again) tomorrow.