The onset of Tammuz and Av bring with them a creeping sense of uneasiness and worry, a result of so many tragedies throughout the generations during the three-week period between Shivah Assar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’Av.
Every year, as the Three Weeks and the Nine Days approach, we fear what the news will bring. Ever since our people cried for naught in the desert, they have been marked for tragedy. Ever since the meraglim maligned Eretz Yisroel, our people have looked at this period with somber trepidation. Every year, we pray that this year will be different. Unfailingly, the noose of the golus tightens during this mournful period.
The very first mistake made during these days was the catastrophic miscalculation by the meraglim, who slandered Eretz Yisroel and challenged Moshe Rabbeinu. In doing so, they lost the land that would have embraced and protected them, and they undermined the koach of the tzaddik who could have pleaded on their behalf.
The echo of their mistake reverberates throughout the generations. The feelings of insecurity and vulnerability mount each year.
The passing of anoshim gedolim is a tragedy equal to, or more severe than, the burning of the Bais Hamikdosh. A tzaddik allows us to expand our dimensions, providing a shining example of how to live. The tzaddik protects us. His very presence serves as a shelter and fortress. When a tzaddik falls, apprehension increases.
Last week, we mourned the passing of Rav Moshe Feigelstock zt”l, a marbitz Torah for decades who personified the grandeur and humility of one who learns Torah lishmah. A talmid chochom, he was a mechaneich committed to the growth and development of each talmid. The yeshiva he built stands as testimony to the wisdom he used and the siyata diShmaya he merited.
This week, we mourn the passing of Rebbetzin Rishel Kotler a”h, who was as close to royalty as we get in our world. The wife of Rav Shneur Kotler zt”l, she shared the task of building his yeshiva, Bais Medrash Govoah and the town of Lakewood, NJ, into what they are today. She was a queen, the wife of a king, and the mother of royals who have enhanced Klal Yisroel in many ways. Her impact was not always seen publicly, but it drove the heart of the Olam HaTorah. With the arrival of this month, she was taken from our midst and the Olam HaTorah is mourning.
While we mourn the passing of elevated people close to home, we see the backdrop, a world stage upon which we are being weakened. We look on in horrified silence as the world embraces the arch enemy of Israel, the Jews, and the West. America and other major powers signed a deal with the largest state supporter of terror, enabling it to continue its nuclear efforts and giving it the wherewithal to retool, restock, rearm and strengthen its malicious behavior, emboldening it to continue causing trouble around the world.
The Obama administration downplays the threat of radical Islam and terrorism. They naïvely think that if they remove the Iranian sanctions, the radical haters of the West and Israel will return to the family of nations. The fanatics who rule Iran with a clenched fist insist that they have no intention of developing a nuclear weapon and that their intentions are peaceful. The country most responsible for international terror, itself an oil exporter, claims that it needs nuclear energy to power its electricity, and the nations charged with protecting the world validate that lie. As sanctions that have choked the Iranian economy are prepared to be repealed, and as blocks on importation of missiles and arms are put on a trajectory that will allow Iran to rearm, its Supreme Leader addresses his nation and the world.
His words do not seem peaceful at all. During a speech over the weekend that was periodically interrupted by chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, “Whether the deal is approved or disapproved, we will never stop supporting our friends in the region and the people of Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon. Even after this deal, our policy toward the arrogant U.S. will not change. We don’t have any negotiations or deal with the U.S. on different issues in the world or the region.”
We thought America was different. We assumed that we were safe and that the world had learned from the mistakes of the Holocaust era. We thought that democratic nations would stand behind their promises. We thought that they would keep their word. We thought that there would never again be a Neville Chamberlain. We thought that someone actually cared about us.
And we found out that we were wrong.
Once again, we were reminded that ein lonu al mi lehisho’ein ela al Avinu Shebashomayim.
So, along with the cascade of tears for the churban of the Botei Mikdosh, the harugei Beitar, the chet hameraglim, the Eigel, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, and everything in between, new tears of fear mingle.
Chazal (Taanis 30b) teach, “Kol hamisabeil al Yerushalayim zocheh vero’ah besimchasah – Whoever mourns Yerushalayim merits to see its joy.” The Chasam Sofer (Drashos 3, page 84) asks why Chazal use the present tense, “merits to see,” and not the future tense, “will merit to see.”
Perhaps we can explain that in order to mourn a loss, you must appreciate what you had. Only if you appreciate what you had can you comprehend what you have lost and truly mourn it.
Thus, one who mourns Yerushalayim appreciates what it was and what it represented. One who mourns Yerushalayim feels the joys that were present there during yomim tovim. He feels the joy of a sinner who has repented. He feels the joy of the oleh regel who offers bikkurim. He enjoys the sights and sounds of the Korban Pesach roasting. He feels the kedushah. He sees the Sanhedrin in their diyunim, the kohein gadol doing his avodah, and the Leviim singing shirah.
He experiences the joy – zocheh veroeh besimchasah – and then he looks around and sees what we have now. He values the loss. He is truly misabeil al Yerushalayim. He is living in a state of “ro’eh,” looking at what we have and feeling what he lacks.
Rav Moshe Mordechai Shulsinger wrote that the Brisker Rov was not prone to overt displays of emotion or passion. He davened quietly, with intense kavonah, but rarely cried in prayer.
There was one time a year when he would become emotional during tefillah. This transpired during the recital of the avodah during Mussaf of Yom Kippur. The Rov would wail audibly, unable to control himself while reciting the piyut of “Ashrei ayin ro’asoh kol eileh – Praised is the eye that witnessed the avodas kohanim, the korbanos, the zerikos, the kapporah and simcha.”
The Brisker Rov, who studied the masechtos of Kodshim and the sugyos of kabbolah, holachah, zerikah, kemitzah, terumas hadeshen and all the other holy avodos, and lived each diyuk in the Rambam while dissecting each discrepancy in the Rishonim, was always ro’eh the avodah and uniquely attuned to what was missing in our world.
In light of our understanding of this Chazal, these words, “ashrei ayin ro’asoh,” likely highlighted the loss for the Brisker Rov. Each day, he envisioned the Bais Hamikdosh, but he understood that with all the imagination he possessed, he was seeing nothing at all. He longed to really see the Bais Hamikdosh and to be exposed to the full glory and splendor of that reality.
On Tisha B’Av, we read the posuk which states, “Alah movess bechaloneinu – Death has risen in our window.” At the levayah of Rebbetzin Kotler, her son-in-law, Rav Uren Reich, explained the posuk by describing a man who sits in a small house, unaware of the grandeur and beauty of the world outside. He’s surrounded by mountains, rivers and a blue sky, but he doesn’t know it. Were he to construct a window, he would be exposed to all the majesty of creation.
Our world is like that small house. We are unable to connect to what was. A few neshamos from the past are gifted to us as examples of the type of life that was wiped out. They are our windows to what was.
When those precious few people pass on, our windows become obscured and we can no longer see. “Alah movess bechaloneinu.”
We can only imagine what was. We can only review what we heard from them and saw through the window.
Now is the time of year when we work at piecing together memories, feelings and teachings; creating an image of what was in order to properly mourn Yerushalayim.
The Nine Days are not some rote camp activity. They mean more than wearing the same shirt for a week. They are about appreciating what we are and what we could be. They are about recognizing our potential, seeing how far we are from reaching it, and mourning that gap.
It’s interesting that the root of our mourning at this time of year comes from the meraglim, who had an ayin ra’ah, a poor perspective of their abilities. They were intimidated by the backward inhabitants of Eretz Yisroel. They felt small and insignificant in front of them and feared for their safety.
Their sin was the inability to perceive their true greatness. Ever since then, we mourn the loss they caused and seek to repair the breach by appreciating who we are, what we stand for, what our reality is, what we can become, what we once had and what we lost. To be mesakein their failing, we work on the re’iyah, trying to find our way back to that exalted plane.
The wedge was first driven between Hashem and His chosen people during these months at the time of the chet ha’eigel.
The Bais Haleivi explains the severity of that sin and the horrible downward spiral it caused. He cites the Medrash Tanchumah which states that at the time of Kabbolas HaTorah, when the Bnei Yisroel proclaimed, “Naaseh venishma,” they were declaring that they would each observe the mitzvos and accept responsibility to ensure that others do so as well. At the chet ha’eigel, they broke that promise.
To restore Klal Yisroel to our previous position, the first thing we have to do is undo that aveirah. We have to act as a single group, responsible for each other.
Perhaps this is the avodah of these frightful times. When we are connected to each other, as brothers and sisters, we earn for ourselves an extra measure of Divine mercy.
The Arizal, whose yahrtzeit was marked this week, revealed that one of the ways to open the Heavenly gates is to begin tefillas Shacharis with a statement: “Hareini mekabel alai mitzvas asei shel ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha.”
In order to bring about the geulah, we have to be united. We have to return to the moment of “Naaseh venishma.” We must rid ourselves of rancor and hatred. We must view each other with warmth, care, concern and love.
On a simple level, people who appreciate the value of being connected as part of Klal Yisroel benefit from the zechuyos of the masses and their tefillah is more endearing. We don’t rush to misjudge good people; we empathize with them. People who love each other are forgiving. People who take responsibility for each other prevent mistakes and tragedies from occurring.
The seforim teach us that the name of this month, Av, is derived from the posuk which states, “Ki ka’asher yeyaser ish es bno Hashem Elokecha meyasreka – Just as a father will discipline his son, so does Hashem, your G-d, discipline the Jewish people” (Devorim 8:5).
If a stranger slaps a child, it is seen as an act of anger and injustice. If the man who does the punishing is the child’s father, we judge it as an act of love. Even though the act is the same and involves the same amount of pain, we assume that when a father is the one punishing, there is a reason and cheshbon for his act. We know that it is an act of love.
During the month of Av, we have been slapped around repeatedly, but those smacks emanate from an “Av,” a loving Father.
The posuk in Tehillim (133) states, “Hinei mah tov umah no’im sheves achim gam yochad.” Parents are happy when they see their children living together peacefully.
Chazal teach that the second Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because of sinas chinom, baseless hatred between Jews. They were steeped in Torah and punctilious in their observance of mitzvos, but their middos were lacking. They were argumentative and spiteful. They didn’t love each other. Sinas chinom was symptomatic of the fact that the people weren’t feeling brotherly connections, as they had stopped deriving their chiyus from the house of Hashem. They therefore lost it.
We can bring it back. By strengthening our bonds with each other, living with chessed and achrayus, and working on and developing our love for everyone, we can return Hashem’s presence.
Life is not a straight projection. In order to make it, you have to work hard and give it all you have. Sometimes, you make mistakes and fall backwards, but you come back. You work at it and eventually you triumph. Never become too depressed to bounce back from failure. Never feel that you are a failure. Always hold out hope for the future. Pick yourself up and begin again from where you left off. Believe in yourself and you will achieve your goals.
At Yetzias Mitzrayim, the Jews reached a historic apex. At the height of prophecy, they recited shirah al hayom. They then sinned and fell back, but they expressed remorse and returned to their unprecedented levels, meriting to recite “Naaseh venishma” and receive the Torah. They then sinned and were punished, repented and sinned and repented, eventually meriting to enter the Promised Land.
Their sins of sinas chinom caused the Bais Hamikdosh to be destroyed. If we would properly repent for that sin, we would merit returning to the lofty level we previously occupied and the return of the Bais Hamikdosh.
Venizkeh venichyeh venireh. May we merit seeing and living it, bekarov.
This article first appeared in Yated Ne’eman.