This morning during kinnos, I found myself spacing out, my thoughts blurring together as my eyes lit upon themes of destruction, starvation, crusades, and devastation. I have been to many shiurim over the years about the kinnos, and I am informed as to the historical background of each one, who Rabbi Elazar HaKalir was, and what the Jewish communities of Worms and Mainz had to endure. Yet, every year, reciting the kinnos is a very difficult avodah for me.
There is a concept of being “mosif tzar”, increasing one’s pain and mourning on Tisha b’Av, and undoubtedly the kinnos were composed to facilitate this. When one reads about the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, it should be impossible not to feel pain. If this is not your reaction, you should check yourself out. On the other hand, if one’s sole reaction to reading about these events is anger and resentment–if one comes away simply gnashing his or her teeth at Romans, crusaders and Nazis, may the memory of them be obliterated–he or she is missing the point.
Our sages have stated clearly in the Talmud that there is no pain or punishment without sin. In order to understand the perspective from which the kinnos were composed, we have to consider the Hebrew word אבל, which is normally used like the conjunction “but”. In the text of Tachanun, the supplication prayer that follows the amidah, we find the following introduction:
אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבותֵינוּ. תָּבוא לְפָנֶיךָ תְּפִלָּתֵנוּ וְאַל תִּתְעַלַּם מִתְּחִנָּתֵנוּ. שֶׁאֵין אָנוּ עַזֵּי פָנִים וּקְשֵׁי ערֶף לומַר לְפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבותֵינוּ צַדִּיקִים אֲנַחְנוּ וְלא חָטָאנוּ. אֲבָל אֲנַחְנוּ וַאֲבותֵינוּ חָטָאנוּ:
Our G-d and G-d of our forefathers, let our prayer come before You and do not ignore our supplication, for we are not so brazen and stiff-necked to say, our L-rd and G-d of our forefathers, that we are righteous and have not sinned. Truly, we and our forefathers have sinned.
Here, the word אבל is used in its true sense to mean, “truly” or even “alas”. The composers of the kinnos did not intend to voice a complaint in doing so, like “how, G-d can You have done this to us?” Rather, the kinnos are a confirmation that what has been prophesied in our Torah has come to pass: unfaithfulness to G-d’s Torah leads to destruction. Alas, we see the fruit of our straying away. Interestingly enough the Hebrew word for a mourner is composed of precisely the same letters, even written the same way: אבל. Perhaps we can learn from this that the essence of one who is in mourning is a person who is confronted with an undeniable truth, an ultimate message, and can do nothing else but acknowledge it.
There is no doubt that the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash are basic articles of Jewish faith, two major items that Jews have yearned for more than two millennia. The very fact that you and I merit to be a part of the nation that have maintained this sacred yearning for so long should be the cause of great joy. But let’s not neglect our responsibility for the continuation of the Exile and the delaying of Moshiach’s coming. What we should be mourning today is our contribution to these things.
I mentioned before that our sources state explicitly that unfaithfulness to G-d’s Torah leads to destruction. Remember, friends, that a large percentage of the mitzvos are categorized as bein adam lechavero, “between man and his fellow”. Take inventory at the end of a day, and try to discern whether on the interpersonal level we have made this world a better place or not. Did you engage in the most basic acts of kindness? Did you smile at someone, wish them a good morning (or a “good Shabbos” [!!]), hold a door for someone, try to determine where you could be of help? Did you encourage anyone today? Did you use your words to create peace in the world? If you cannot answer “yes” to any of these questions, and you find that your behaviors reflected the opposite of these things, do not go to sleep until you have rectified the situation. Modern technology obligates us; you can always send an email, leave a voice message, write an encouraging letter or greeting card–even after hours.
G-d allowed the Beis HaMikdash to be destroyed, but He left us standing. It was a show of kindness from Him that He took His wrath out on the “wood and stones”, and not the Jewish nation in its entirety. The Beis HaMikdash was G-d’s home amongst us as it were. But our behavior towards each other was so saturated with hate that it was no longer a comfortable place for Him.
If we invest our energy in caring for each other the way He cares for us, if we try to see the preciousness of every soul and the tenderness of every heart, we will merit a similar reaction from the One Who loves us all, and see the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash–G-d’s dwelling place in our world–speedily and in our days, amen.