Category Archives: Tisha B'Av

Tisha B’Av 5770: Where is the Love?

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.


Chanukah: Restoring Our Temple, Returning to One

CandlesRebbe Nachman, as recorded in Likutei Eitzos, Chanukah, makes a somewhat enigmatic statement: the selach na (“please forgive”s) that we utter on Yom Kippur enable us to partake of the holiness of Chanukah.

What is the connection?

In Likutei Moharan Tinyana 7:11, the Rebbe relates to the interaction between G-d and Moshe Rabbenu during the aftermath of the sin of the spies.  Moshe Rabbenu says to G-d, “please forgive this people for their sin in Your great kindness”.   In this case, Moshe Rabbenu was not only relating to the sin of speaking lashon hora about Eretz Yisrael, thereby causing an epidemic of bad faith amongst the Children of Israel; instead, he took the long view, and considered the sin in terms of its ultimate consequence: the future destruction of the Holy Temple.  The gemara (Taanis 29) states, “Hashem, may He be blessed, said to them, ‘you cried a crying for no reason.  I will establish a crying for all generations’.”  As we know, the lamenting over the idea of entering Eretz Yisrael occurred on Tisha b’Av, as did the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash.

Sin destroyed the Holy Temple.  The absence of the Temple is problematic in and of itself, because it was the primary mechanism in the expiation of sin for the Jewish people, both collectively and individually.  The verse (Yeshaya 1) states, “righteousness dwells in it”, and Rashi explains this to mean that this was possible because the morning tamid-offering cleared all of the sins from the previous night, while the afternoon tamid-offering cleared all of the sins from that day.  As long as the Beis HaMikdash was extant, it was possible for the Jewish people to be clean of sin.  Rebbe Nachman emphasizes here that this is all-important, because the Jewish people, due to their delicateness and high level of spirituality, cannot really bear the weight of sin, even for one day.  Without the Beis HaMikdash, there is no way to relieve ourselves of that crushing burden–and Moshe Rabbenu knew this.  Therefore, he said:

סְלַח-נָא, לַעֲו‍ֹן הָעָם הַזֶּה–כְּגֹדֶל חַסְדֶּךָ; וְכַאֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתָה לָעָם הַזֶּה, מִמִּצְרַיִם וְעַד-הֵנָּה

Now, if you look at part of this phrase, namely:

הַזֶּה–כְּגֹדֶל חַסְדֶּךָ; וְכַאֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתָה

You will notice that the roshei teivos (first letters), when arranged properly, spell out the word חנוכה, “Chanukah”.  Moshe Rabbenu asked specifically that the forgiveness of the Jewish people should involve an antidote to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash–a chanukas habayis (re-dedication of the house).  When the Maccabi’im entered the Beis HaMikdash and purified the altar, as we commemorate on Chanukah, this was an example of Moshe Rabbenu’s request for restoration made manifest for the benefit of the Jewish people.

The main aspect of the holiness of Chanukah that we aim for is the very purpose of that Holy Temple: to know that Hashem Hu HaElokim, that the L-rd is G-d–specifically, that His attributes of kindness and judgement, which appear as separate, contradictory forces in the world, are aspects of His Oneness. We end Yom Kippur with this statement, this idea. And we re-invoke it on Chanukah. This knowledge can enable us to purify ourselves from sin.

In addition, as we gaze at the menorah’s warm radiance, and the candles burn on into the night, let us tap into that desire that lies deep within us, to carry this knowledge of holiness and purity forth to our children, for all generations.

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