Tisha B’ Av תשע”ט
Last Friday, August 2nd, was Rosh Chodesh Av, the first day of the month of Av. The Code of Jewish Law (551:1) teaches us:
א) משנכנס אב ממעטין בשמחה; ובר ישראל דאית ליה דינא בהדי כותי, לישתמיט מיניה דריע מזליה
1) When the month of Av enters, we must minimize our happiness, and a Jewish person who has a court case with a gentile should try to avoid it because the month of Av has a bad mazal.
Rosh Chodesh Av begins the mourning period called “The Nine Days,” and because of this, during these days it is customary not to eat meat, except on Shabbos or at a bris celebration. The Nine Days are a countdown to the 9th of Av, the infamous day in our history called Tish-ah B’ Av, literally, the 9th of Av. The Mishna (Taanit 4:6) lists five calamitous events that occurred on Tish-ah B’Av.
בְּתִשְׁעָה בְאָב נִגְזַר עַל אֲבוֹתֵינוּ שֶׁלֹּא יִכָּנְסוּ לָאָרֶץ, וְחָרַב הַבַּיִת בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה וּבַשְּׁנִיָּה, וְנִלְכְּדָה בֵּיתָר, וְנֶחְרְשָׁה הָעִיר
- Hashem decreed that our forefathers could not go into Israel and would die in the desert.
- The first Holy Temple was destroyed
- The second Holy Temple was destroyed
- The city of Beitar was captured,
- The site of the Holy Temples was plowed like a field
It is significant to note that the idea of mourning for the loss of the Holy Temples is not the same as mourning for the loss of a close relative.
When a child loses a parent, for example, he mourns the loss of his parent for an entire year. During the shiva, the seven days of intense mourning when one must stay home and receive condolences, the purpose is to dwell on the accomplishments and deeds of the deceased and to force us to appreciate the importance of the person who just passed away. This gives respect and honor to the deceased, for it cannot be that a person came into this world, lived his life, left the world, and life continues as if he never existed. We must pause and contemplate the benefit that the world had from the life that he lived. During the first 30 days after the passing, one may not shave or cut his hair. For the rest of the year, although the hair cutting restriction is lifted, the mourner may still not listen to music go to weddings, or buy new clothing (unless it is truly necessary). And if the mourner is a son, he must say the kaddish thrice daily. The purpose of all of this mourning is to honor and respect the deceased parent, the sentiment being, “You have done so much for me, and having lost you is such a blow to me, I cannot rejoice and carry on with my life as if nothing has happened.”
The purpose of mourning for the Holy Temples, on the other hand, is that by focusing on what we lost, we should yearn and aspire to have the Holy Temple back so we can once again live the holy life that our forefathers did when the Temples stood. The mourning is designed to awaken within us a thirst for having Hashem dwell among us again so that we can strengthen and grow our relationship with Him.
King David himself expresses in a Psalm how at one point in his life he was beginning to have doubts about Hashem. He says (73:2):
ב) וַאֲנִי כִּמְעַט נָטָיוּ רַגְלָי כְּאַיִן שֻׁפְּכוּ אֲשֻׁרָי
2) As for me, my feet almost veered off the path, in no time, my legs almost left Your path.
King David goes on to explain the issues that confronted him and shook his faith in Hashem. The evil people prosper and have no worries. They go through life and everything works out perfectly for them. King David uses a full 14 verses to describe how it seems that there is no Judge and no judgment for the evil people in the world. What saved King David? He tells us in verse 17.
יז) עַד אָבוֹא אֶל מִקְדְּשֵׁי קֵל אָבִינָה לְאַחֲרִיתָם
17) Until I come to the Sanctuary of Hashem, and I think about their end.
What was it about the sanctuary that restored King David’s faith? Its intense holiness; when one entered the sanctuary, Hashem’s presence overwhelmed him, and he could have no doubt about His reality. The ten miracles that constantly occurred there were also proof to the presence of Hashem. When the Holy Temple was around, there was a clear way to see Hashem. All you had to do was go there.
Unfortunately, there are also those who dismiss Hashem’s existence for similar reasons to King David. They see evil people prosper and righteous people suffer, and the only conclusion they can come to is that there is no G-d. Many others are just so caught up in their day to day existence trying to make ends meet, or trying to enjoy the pleasures of life, that they just never think about Hashem’s existence. “Don’t disturb me with that trivial issue; I’m busy.”
Because we do not have the service of the Holy Temple, the prospect of a godless world seems feasible. But when the Holy Temple would be in full service, it would be impossible to deny Hashem’s existence. In the times of King Solomon, the nations of the world would come to see the Holy Temple. There was no question as to if Hashem existed. It was evident in the Holy Temple, and it was evident from the Jewish people’s vibrant, living relationship with Hashem. The holy, elevated lifestyle that they lived served as an example of the appropriate way that Hashem recommends people to live their lives. Even today, Jewish communities the world over are oases of charity and kindness to all members of the community. They are a paradigm of a community caring for each other, helping all in need.
There is also another aspect to the yearning for the Holy Temple, and that is to restore Hashem’s honor and glory. Hashem is the source of all blessing in the world. Nobody has anything in this world without Hashem deciding that he should have it: our health, our wealth, and everything in between. Hashem provides us with so many luxuries such as all of the delicious fruits and vegetables that we enjoy. The variety of flavors, textures, shapes and colors, is simply dazzling. Does Hashem owe us anything that he makes life so enjoyable for us?
We owe Hashem everything, but what does He get? Ignored! So many people enjoy the blessings Hashem has bestowed upon them and think that they are the source of their blessing. It is they who, through their own wisdom and efforts, have created all that they have. Mention Hashem to them and they will laugh at you. “You still believe in that ancient stuff? Where exactly do you see Him? It’s all in your mind. In 2019, there is no reason to believe in G-d.” In today’s world, if you do believe in a creator, in a living G-d who is involved in every aspect of your life and the entire world, you are considered a fool. Belief in a creator is archaic and unscientific.
This is the world’s greatest travesty! Those of us who recognize Hashem’s goodness and who understand that He is the source of all the blessing in the world, should feel the injustice of Hashem’s being ignored by so many. We should want the whole world to recognize Hashem for His goodness and to show Hashem gratitude for all that He has done for them. It is inappropriate that Hashem be ignored like this!
There is another layer of depth to this. The Talmud (Brachot 3a) tells the following story.
תניא אמר רבי יוסי פעם אחת הייתי מהלך בדרך ונכנסתי לחורבה אחת מחורבות ירושלים להתפלל בא אליהו זכור לטוב ושמר לי על הפתח… ואמר לי בני מה קול שמעת בחורבה זו ואמרתי לו שמעתי בת קול שמנהמת כיונה ואומרת אוי לבנים שבעונותיהם החרבתי את ביתי ושרפתי את היכלי והגליתים לבין האומות ואמר לי חייך וחיי ראשך לא שעה זו בלבד אומרת כך אלא בכל יום ויום שלש פעמים אומרת כך
Rabbi Yosi said, “Once when I was travelling, I entered a broken-down building to pray. Eliyahu the Prophet came and waited for me at the door… When I finished, he said to me, ’My son, what voice did you hear when you were in that ruin?’ I told him that I heard a heavenly voice crowing like a dove saying, ’Woe to the children who, because of their sins, I destroyed my house (the Holy Temple) and I burned my sanctuary, and I exiled my children among the nations of the world.’ He then said to me, ’I swear that it is not just now that Hashem says these laments, but every day, three times a day, Hashem says this.’”
We see that Hashem laments that He had to destroy the Holy Temple, and exile His children, dispersing them among the nations. He wishes to once again have the deep and close relationship we had while the Temples stood. It is as if Hashem is in pain, the way parents would be when their child has left the house under difficult conditions. We are Hashem’s children, and He wants us back. And, as His children, we should also want to go back to our father’s home to once again receive His love and warmth.
The Sages use the metaphor of a king who had to send his son out of the palace to teach him a lesson. He sent him to live in the forest, hoping that he would see the folly of his ways, ask his father for forgiveness, and return to the palace. The king sent some of his men to keep an eye on him and to make sure he was okay. The most dreaded report that the king could receive from his men is that his son has forgotten that he came from the palace, has acclimated to life in the forest, and feels completely at home there with no desire to ever return to his father.
In the same sense, if we are so lost and far removed from the Holy Temple that we don’t even have a desire to return to our Father’s house, this is the greatest blow to Hashem.
Eliyahu the Prophet told Rabbi Yosi one more thing.
ולא זו בלבד אלא בשעה שישראל נכנסין לבתי כנסיות ולבתי מדרשות ועונין יהא שמיה הגדול מבורך הקדוש ברוך הוא מנענע ראשו ואומר אשרי המלך שמקלסין אותו בביתו כך
Not only that, but when the Jewish people enter their shuls and study hall, and answer to the Kaddish, “May Hashem’s great name be blessed forever and ever,” Hashem nods His head and says, “How lucky is the king who is praised this way in his home.”
The refrain of the Kaddish is a request that Hashem restore His kingdom to the world. He should bring the Mashiach immediately and restore the Kingdom of David. When we say this with understanding and feeling, we are requesting Hashem to rebuild the Holy Temple and to restore the close relationship that we had with Him! This request on our part brings Hashem the greatest pleasure. All is not lost! They still remember Me! They want to return to My home!
The Talmud (Shabbat 31b) takes this concept a step further.
אמר רבא: בשעה שמכניסין אדם לדין אומרים לו צפית לישועה
Rava said, (after a person leaves this world) when they bring him in for his judgment, they ask him, “Did you look forward to the final redemption?”
Rava is teaching us that it is our obligation to yearn and anticipate the Mashiach’s coming. When we come upstairs for our judgment, they are going to ask us, “Did you yearn to return to your Father’s home? Or did you get so comfortable in the forest that you forgot that you lived in the palace? Your Father was waiting for you to repent for your sin and return home.”
This is what Tisha B’Av is about. Not so much about dwelling on the past, and what was, but rather focusing on the future and what we want to happen. We want the Holy Temple back! We want Hashem to send the Mashiach who will restore the Kingdom of David, Hashem’s kingdom to the world. We want Hashem to be recognized by every creature on the planet! He deserves it!
Maimonides sets this down as no. 12 of his 13 principles of our faith.
יב – אֲנִי מַאֲמִין בֶּאֱמוּנָה שְׁלֵמָה. בְּבִיאַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ. וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁיִּתְמַהְמֵהַּ. עִם כָּל זֶה אֲחַכֶּה לּוֹ בְּכָל יוֹם שֶׁיָּבוֹא:
- I believe with complete belief, in the coming of the Mashiach. And even though he may tarry, nevertheless, I will wait for him with every coming day.
From the words of Maimonides, it seems that the first thing that I should ask when I wake up in the morning is, “Did he come yet? Is he here?”
There is a question on Maimonides. We understand why it is important to yearn for the Mashiach to come, as we have just explained. But why does this qualify as one of the fundamental principles of Judaism? What is lacking now in our service to Hashem, without Mashiach?
The answer is that even though we want the kingdom of Hashem to be recognized in the world, it is not for Hashem that we want that. Hashem needs no recognition from us, and all the praise and thanks that we give add nothing to Hashem.
Hashem created this world so that He could give us pleasure. We earn the pleasure by creating a closeness to Him through learning His Torah and performing His mitzvot. Hashem does not want His kingdom restored so that He should be recognized and receive the attention due Him; rather, He wants us to recognize Him so He can reward us with the pleasure for which He created us and the world.
To think that the world can continue as is, with the glory of Hashem trampled and ignored, is to accept that Hashem’s plan in creating the world will be unfulfilled. It entertains the notion that the world will never reach its perfection and that Hashem’s plan has failed. Of course, this is impossible. Hashem’s plan will succeed no matter what. He will see to it that it comes to fruition. This is a principle of Judaism. Hashem’s plan will always succeed. Therefore, the coming of Mashiach is absolute. It cannot be any other way. There will come the day when all of humanity will recognize Hashem as the King of the universe. When this happens, Hashem will be able to fulfill His desire of rewarding them with the pleasure He wanted them to have. This is what Hashem created the world for.
Let us resolve on this Tisha B’Av, to yearn for the glory of Hashem to return to the world through the coming of Mashiach who will build the third Holy Temple. We can actualize the yearning by saying the refrain of the kaddish,
יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּא יִתְבָּרַךְ:
May the great name of Hashem be blessed for ever
with feeling and understanding. This brings great pleasure to Hashem that his children are seeking to return home to His love and closeness. If enough of us do this, we can be sure that we are doing our share to bring the Mashiach, hopefully, speedily in our days.