By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Every year, as we bentch Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av, the cheerful blessing generates bittersweet emotion. The idea of an impending Rosh Chodesh brings with it hopes for a fresh start in a new month, but this past Shabbos, as we recognized that a new moon is about to dawn, the fact that it was to be that of Menachem Av, with its hints of melancholy, caused our hearts to sink.
We are in the period of national sadness, which began last Sunday on the 17th day of Tammuz, ramps up on Friday with the commencement of Chodesh Av, and continues to increase in our level of mourning until Tisha B’Av is observed a week from Sunday.
Throughout our history, the first week of Av has seen some of the most wrenching, catastrophic events for the Jewish people. That legacy of sorrow and disaster continues.
As we enter Chodesh Av, we wonder what we can do to reverse this terrible cycle and when it will all end.
Our search for a ray of hope begins with the awareness that the root of all our sadness and misery is the churban Bais Hamikdosh. We reflect on the Gemorah in Maseches Yoma (9b) which teaches that the first Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because we did not observe the halachos of avodah zora, gilui arayos and shefichas domim.
The Gemorah says that at the time of the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdosh, the Jews were proficient in Torah and gemillus chassodim. What brought about that churban was sinas chinom.
Since sinas chinom caused the churban, the final redemption cannot occur until we have all repented for that sin, and cleansed ourselves of the senseless hatred which seems to accompany the Jewish people wherever we are.
During these sorrowful weeks, the Lakewood mashgiach, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel zt”l, would deliver many vaadim. At each one, he would inevitably begin to weep. Usually a man of composure and self-control, he was unable to restrain himself during this bitter period.
His son, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Gedolah Zichron Moshe of South Fallsburg, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, recalls that when he was a small child, the family spent bein hazemanim in Prefontaine, Quebec. On Tisha B’Av, after the recital of Kinnos, Rav Nosson would climb the old shul’s rickety stairs to the attic and seclude himself there.
The sound of his heartbroken sobs rang out over the Canadian countryside, chilling whoever heard them.
He explained his sobbing in a shmuess. Referring to Klal Yisroel without the Bais Hamikdosh, Chazal say, “Oy labonim shegolu mei’al shulchan Avihem – Woe is to the children who were banished from their Father’s table” (Brachos 3a).
Rav Nosson explained that Chazal don’t say that the table they have been chased from is not set. In fact, the table is all set and ready for us. The table is complete, with all its settings. The chairs are arranged neatly around it. Everything is there, except for us.
“Mir zennen upgerissen,” Rav Nosson would say. We were torn away and disconnected from the table. But the table still exists. It is still there, waiting for our return.
Our avodah during these weeks is to find the connection back to the table and back to our Father Who sits at its head. We can become one again with Him and with our destiny if we would only reconnect with each other.
The parshiyos that we lain this Shabbos, Mattos and Masei, are always read during the period of the Three Weeks, though they seemingly have no association with this time of the year.
However, on second glance, we note that they deal with the connection of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisroel. In this week’s parsha, the Torah discusses the lottery that was held to determine each person’s property in the land they were about to enter. The lottery, or goral, to use the Torah’s terminology, was the method through which Moshe Rabbeinu was able to ascertain each person’s portion in the land. For the soul of every Yid is connected to dalet amos of the holy soil of Eretz Yisroel. In the parshiyos that are read during the Three Weeks, we study the pesukim that discuss each Jew’s connection to the land.
For we are connected to that land, not only as a nation, but also as individuals.
When we lain the parshiyos and study them, we must realize that, as the mashgiach said, we are “upgerissen,” separated, from the dalet amos to which our neshamos are meant to be connected.
Rav Gedaliah Schorr taught that this lesson is hinted to by the name of the saddest month in the Jewish calendar, Av.
A blow hurts. A punishment stings. It causes richuk. It alienates, separating and driving away the victim from the one who dealt the blow.
But if the punishment was handed down by a parent, there is no division. Parents love their children and punish them out of love to set them straight. They punish not to inflict pain and suffering, but to return their child to the proper path. Thus, parental punishment is an indication of a deep connection.
Chodesh Av is meant to bring back that connection, making us realize that the tragic events of these days took place against a backdrop of “Ka’asher yeyaser ish es beno, Hashem Elokecha meyasrecha.”
This is a point made by Rav Tzadok Hakohein, using the mystical formulation for Hashem’s Name connected with each chodesh. You may have noticed that in some siddurim, on the page before the Mussaf that is recited on Rosh Chodesh, the order of the letters in Hashem’s Name corresponding to each month is listed. The four letters that comprise the Holy Name have several different combinations, each reflecting a different middah and attribute.
The Sheim listed for chodesh Av is Hey-Vov-Yud-Hey, as hinted to in the posuk of “Haskes Ushema Yisroel Hayom” (Ki Savo 27:9).
Rav Tzadok explains how this particular order corresponds to chodesh Av. Hashem’s name of Yud-Hey-Vov-Hey is referred to as the “Sheim Havayah,” as opposed to the 16 other permutations of the letters, which we do not pronounce. The reason we pronounce this “Havaya” name is because unlike the other formulations, the word “Havayah” has a second meaning besides for its reference to Hashem’s Name. We are thus permitted to speak it.
The Sheim the siddur gives for the month of Av is actually the formulation that spells Hashem’s Name the way we pronounce it. Rav Tzadok explains that the reason for this is that the word “Havayah” is found in the Gemorah [Kidushin 5a et al] which derives the laws of divorce from the laws of marriage through a hekesh. The posuk which the Gemorah derives certain halachos from speaks about a woman who was divorced, “veyotzah vehoysah,” she left and then she got remarried. In the words of the Gemorah, “Makish havayah leyetziah,” we compare the entrance into marriage to the exit from marriage.
The droshah, “Makish havayah leyetziah,” is spoken daily in botei medrash around the world, wherever Masechtos Kiddushin and Gittin are studied, and therefore, since Havayah has its own meaning, when we borrow it to refer to Hashem’s Name, we are permitted to pronounce it.
Chodesh Av is all about connection. It is about a relationship that was severed, to be ultimately renewed. We have experienced the yetzia. We have been experiencing that part of the relationship for too long. We are working towards the new “Havayah,” the coming back, the return to our Father’s table where we belong. We yearn to reconnect ourselves to our dalet amos in Eretz Yisroel.
Thus, the Name of Hashem of Hey-Vov-Yud-Hey corresponds to the month which we now enter.
We can facilitate the new “Havayah” by focusing on our relationships with the people around us, the people in our lives, and all good Jews wherever they are and no matter how different they are from us in thought and deed.
The present Munkaczer Rebbe tells a story about his zaide, the Minchas Elozor.
Towards the end of his life, the Minchas Elozor was ill and was hospitalized in Budapest. The hospital where he was being treated had very strict rules about the activities of the people there, including maintaining complete silence at all times. In order to daven with a minyan on Shabbos, the Rebbe sought a special waiver from the strictly enforced rules.
Initially, the hospital administration rejected the Rebbe’s request for the minyan, for fear that it would cause too much noise. The Rebbe’s doctor, who knew and respected him, intervened. He said that he would assume responsibility for the minyan, on the condition that no more than ten people would participate and that it be conducted as quietly as possible.
When it came time for Minchah on Erev Shabbos, the Rebbe began reciting Hodu. All was fine until he reached the posuk which states, “Then they cried out to Hashem in their distress.” Suddenly, a loud cry of agony escaped his lips as tears poured down his cheeks. The doctor who had assumed responsibility for the minyan rushed down the hall to silence the Rebbe.
The doctor asked the Rebbe how he could break his promise. “Even without the guarantee you gave, what about consideration for the other patients?” questioned the physician.
The Rebbe replied, “When we discussed this during the week, I understood from you that the hospital’s insistence on total silence was an absolute rule, and I therefore promised not to violate it. But then, at night, I realized that this is not the case. I had just fallen asleep when I heard terrible screams. I could not sleep most of the night because of those screams.”
“But Rebbe,” said the doctor, “you are a wise man and surely you understand the difference. The screams you heard came from a burn victim who was in terrible pain, and his suffering was too great to keep inside. That was an exception to the rule, which calls for absolute silence in this hospital. Don’t you understand the difference?”
“Dear doctor,” said the Rebbe, “in your studies, you encountered all sorts of pains and illnesses, such as headaches, stomach aches, broken limbs, infections, and more. But did you ever hear of or encounter ‘Jewish pain’? Do you have any idea how great is the pain of a Jew who is waiting thousands of years for the arrival of Moshiach? Every year, the Jew says, ‘This is the year when we will be redeemed,’ but still we wait. The suffering mounts and it becomes harder and harder, as we wait with such longing.
“You will never feel the heartache of a Jewish soul who waits anxiously for the time when Hashem will redeem His people. It is a deep-seated pain that bursts forth unrestrained, and no promises in the world can silence those desperate, broken cries. Please understand that this is why I cried out in pain and agony…”
And so cried the mashgiach.
And so cried Jews throughout the ages wherever they found themselves, from Rome to Budapest, from Marakesh to Livorno, from Spain to Portugal, and from Poland to England. Read the Kinnos of Tisha B’Av and the tragedies they commemorate and see that we have cried all over the globe.
We cry because the table is set and our places are vacant.
Like a baal simcha who sits in a beautiful but empty hall, waiting for his guests to arrive, Hashem sits at that table awaiting our return.
Let us do what we can so that this year will be the year we return, taking our seats at the table.
We are getting stale after all these years, but the table is as resplendent as ever, and just as the Lechem Haponim never grew stale, the table settings and helpings are as invigorating and stimulating as they ever were, as they await our return.
May we merit to sit at the table this year, anu, uvoneinu. Amein.