Introspection on Tisha B’Av

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Drashos on the Three Weeks and Tisha B’Ave

Knowing vs. Feeling

We will try a little, with siyata d’shmaya, to somewhat reach, perhaps, the essence of this day [Tisha B’Av].

We generally know all there is to know [about the Nine Days]. We all know the reasons why we must mourn, and the necessity to mourn. But the distance between what we know, and what we feel is usually a very far distance.

Sometimes the distance between knowledge and feeling is bigger and sometimes it is smaller, but either way, there is always a big difference between what we know with what we feel. If we ask any person if we are supposed to mourn over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, any person will answer, “Yes.” If we ask any person if we should cry over this, the answer is also “Yes.” If we ask a person if he really feels like doing so, though, we will get different answers.

The minimum pain we are supposed to feel is to at least be pained over the fact that we don’t feel the pain we know we are supposed to feel and that we aren’t succeeding in getting ourselves to cry. If even this doesn’t bother the person, this person is very far from the avodah of these days.

We will try here to draw the matters closer to us, so that it is should at least be made possible for us to have somewhat of a degree of mourning and weeping.

Some Introductory Points

However, it is right now the 29th day of Tamuz, and we hope Mashiach will come soon. Therefore, the words here are only relevant if Mashiach isn’t here before the 9th of Av. Additionally, the words here are not only applicable to Tisha B’Av of this year. There is no way for a person to suddenly change in the timespan between the 29th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av. The heart doesn’t suddenly get opened so fast. If someone knows of such a way, I will be very happy to hear of it.

If the words we will say here are indeed helpful to you, at best they might help you for next year Tisha B’Av [because there is no way to change so fast by the time it comes this year’s Tisha B’Av]. Hashem should bring Mashiach by then, and hopefully way before that; he should come today, and then today’s derasha will just be one of the many lectures of history. Our avodah is to try to prepare ourselves [for Tisha B’Av] – and that is what we will try to do here.

Why Do We Have A Hard Time With the Nine Days?

When a person hears good news, does he need to prepare for it? Usually, if it is very good news, you don’t need to prepare for the news in order to enjoy it. You are just happy and excited to hear the good news, whether you expected it or not. The same is true of hearing sad news; it has an intense effect on us even if we didn’t prepare for it. If so, why is it that our soul usually doesn’t feel an intense sadness over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash?

Our Sages already addressed this question, and gave several answers.

(1) “Old mourning”. The mourning is not new to us. We go through this mourning ever year, therefore we have grown used to it, so we’re not as affected by it.

(2) We don’t feel it. Another reason given is because a person simply doesn’t feel that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed. We might know very well that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, but do we feel that it was destroyed? It is a whole different question.

(3) We can’t recognize it. The Beis HaMikdash has been destroyed already for close to 2,000 years. We are only able to know what something is when we know what its opposite is.

For example, we know what light is because we know what darkness is, and we know what the color white is because we know what the color black is. We would be able to relate to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash if we would have seen it standing. But because none of saw it (in the current lifetime we are in), we do not have an actual recognition of the destruction. Because we never saw the Beis HaMikdash, it is hard for us to relate to its destruction.

So there is actually a third reason why it is hard for our soul to relate the destruction, (and on a deeper note, it is really another angle of the second reason, the fact that we don’t feel the destruction): we can only recognize something from its opposite, and since we do not know what it means for the Beis HaMikdash to be standing, we do not recognize its destruction.

A Closed Heart Vs. An Opened Heart

Yet there is another reason why it is hard for us to relate to the destruction, and it precedes all of the above three reasons.

The feelings of joy, pain, and sadness are not intellectual abilities. They do not stem from the daas of our intellect; they stem from the daas of our heart [when it combines with the daas of the intellect]. When one’s heart is alive with spiritual feelings, it is working properly, and it breathes the reality in front of us. When a person isn’t sensitive to spiritual feelings, when he never reflects into the spiritual realities in front of us, he is far from what it means to have joy on the festivals, he is far from improving during the Ten Days of Repentance, and he is far from the pain that we are supposed to feel during the Nine Days through Tisha B’Av.

Thus, if one doesn’t feel the pain over the destruction during the Nine Days, this is only a ‘branch’ of the problem, a symptom of something deeper. The ‘root’ of the problem is the fact that he is not in touch with his spiritual heart. It’s not because he doesn’t know how to feel pain over the Destruction. The problem starts way before that: it is because something is missing from his heart altogether.

By contrast, one whose heart is spiritually alive during the rest of the year doesn’t have to exert himself to feel pain during the Nine Days; it is natural for him. He can cry [as he says the Kinnos] with almost no effort to do so.

To illustrate what we mean, when a woman has just lost her husband, anything that reminds her of her husband causes her to cry and feel pain over his loss. She doesn’t have to think about this all day in order for this to happen (if she would think about it the entire day, this is extreme behavior). As soon as she remembers her husband, she finds her tears natural, because her heart is already active.

If one has to exert himself in order to be able to cry and mourn, if he has to read a sefer that speaks about the tragedies of the destruction, filled with commentaries, and through this he awakens himself and gets himself to feel something, we cannot say that is pointless; it might awaken him a little. But it is like someone whose heart has stopped working and he gets a fake heart placed in him which acts mechanically.

If it needs to explained to him, if he has to read about it in order to strain his mind and think into it so that he can get himself to shed a tear, this is all proof that his heart isn’t activated during the rest of the year. There is something wrong with his heart. It’s not that he has a problem with the Nine Days. His lack of emotion during the Nine Days is simply a sign of his general situation throughout the year, which has much left to be desired.

A heart that is spiritually alive is the kind of heart we need to live with during the entire year. Such a life enables a person to feel the joy of the festivals, to feel the closeness to Hashem that can be attained during the Ten Days of Repentance, and to weep during the Nine Days.

It is clear to anyone that when someone has just lost a parent, when it is right before the funeral and he hasn’t even started yet the seven days of mourning, he is naturally in pain. Imagine if we have a person who is not the type to feel pain or cry, and it is brought to him a book which explains why he should feel pain over the loss of his parent, and it is told to him that he should study it in-depth, so that he can understand why he needs to feel the pain of the loss. We can all understand that something is very wrong here with this person.

So there is no piece of advice that can help you come to feel pain over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and to help you shed tears over it. There is a way, however, for you to open your heart during the course of the rest of the year – and if your heart has been opened during the year, then when the Nine Days arrive, you’ll naturally feel the pain you are supposed to feel and you will find it natural to cry.

Destruction On The Communal Level and On The Individual Level

Let’s go further.

The destruction of the Beis HaMikdash is a very obscure matter from us, something very far from us which we don’t understand. It is something that the Jewish people have been mourning about for thousands of years. But there are two dimensions to the destruction. There was destruction on the communal level, and there was also a destruction on an individual level.

The communal destruction was the fact that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, for all generations to come. There was also an inner and more private destruction that took place to each person on an individual level: the Shechinah [Hashem’s presence] is no longer openly revealed in a person’s life. This is each person’s own private destruction.

If one does not lead a life in which the Beis HaMikdash is built in his heart and he does not feel pain over the absence of his own personal Beis HaMikdash, he won’t be able to suddenly feel the communal destruction of the Beis HaMikdash when Tisha B’Av comes.

If one does not recognize personally in himself what it means to have a Beis HaMikdash in oneself, if one doesn’t feel bad that it’s missing, he can’t suddenly feel pain when the Nine Days arrive. Even if one can get himself to feel pain, it might be because he has gotten emotional, but this is usually not a crying that comes from a deep place in the soul. One of our Gedolim said that just as our ears and nose produce excess fluid, so can our eyes produce excess fluid – in the form of tears. This doesn’t mean that all tears are useless, chas v’shalom; it means that not every tear that a person sheds is truthful.

The deepest place in our heart, its essence, is described in the verse, “The rock of my heart and my portion, is G-d.” The essence of our heart is covered over by many external layers. The external layer of our heart includes our various desires. As long as a person’s extraneous desires fill his heart, he can’t feel Hashem’s presence in his heart. And if he doesn’t feel Hashem’s presence in his heart, he does not know what it means to have a personal Beis HaMikdash within, and he will find it most difficult to feel pain and to cry during the Nine Days and Tisha B’Av.

If it bothers him that he doesn’t feel the pain he knows he should feel, this is a good sign; Baruch Hashem that he at least feels this. But how will he ever be able to cry over it? Can someone cry over something he has never really cared about?

A person cries about something he wanted and desired which he has either lost or hasn’t attained. The less a person wanted something, the less likely he is to cry over it if he loses it. If a person has a ratzon (will) to feel Hashem’s presence in his life, if he has a very deep desire to feel Him within himself, then when Tisha B’Av comes, at least he will be able to feel what he is personally missing in his life.

(This doesn’t yet mean he will feel the communal level of mourning, which is an entirely different matter that we hope to soon explain. But at least he will feel the destruction on a private and inner level.)

One who doesn’t feel Hashem in his heart during the rest of the year won’t suddenly change during the Nine Days. People do not change so fast. There is no way to suddenly change and become sensitive to spiritual feelings in such a short amount of time. The only way is for one to already have an active heart from during the rest of the year: to desire Hashem’s presence. If a person can relate to that during the rest of the year, he is at least connected to the inner world within him, and he will find it natural to feel mourning when the Nine Days arrive.

The Nine Days are a sign of what a person’s level is during the rest of the year. If one’s heart is already a bit open from the rest of the year, he can burst out in tears when he realizes how much he is missing. This, in and of itself, is already commendable.

Joy and Pain At Once

“When Av enters, joy is lessened.”[1] It is brought in Halachah that we do not build things during the month of Av, and we also do not engage in anything that gives us particular joy; additionally, we should not engage in unnecessary acts (There are exceptions according to Halacha when it affects one’s livelihood).

Why is it that a person should only do what’s necessary during Av? It is understandable if it is something that will bring joy. But why must we refrain from doing things during Av that are simply unnecessary?

The simple understanding is because it causes us to take our mind off mourning. But the deeper reason is as follows. When one removes his mind from mourning during the Nine Days, it really means that he is caught up in various pursuits of life.

The destruction of the Beis HaMikdash must cause us to cry, but we know that we cannot be this way during the rest of the year. We can’t go on with sadness for that long. So how does a person survive the Nine Days? We can simply say that a person can get himself to be sad for the duration of the nine days. If one is more spiritual and purified, he can feel sadness every night through reciting Tikkun Chatzos.

But the true perspective is totally different than the above approach.

We are capable of joy, and we are also capable of sadness, pain, and crying. One who has removed his superficial desires is able to feel both joy and sadness at once. We don’t mean that one day the person is sad and the next day he can feel joyous. Rather, there is a deep place in our soul which knows how to feel both joy and sadness at once. Sometimes either joy or sadness will dominate, but in essence, they can both be active at the same time.

When the festivals arrive, a person may be able to imagine that he is happy that the festival here. There are external factors which can give a person a superficial feeling of happiness on the festivals – such as meat and wine. After all, the Sages say that “There is no simcha (happiness) except in meat and wine.”[2] He might be able to get himself to be a little happy with such things. But if a person doesn’t know how to cry on Tisha B’Av, he does not know either how to be happy on Pesach!

The very soul in us which can feel pain is the very same soul in us which can feel joy. They are not separate aspects of our being; they stem from the same place in our soul. This is because each thing is comprised of itself and its opposite (“dovor v’hipucho”). Joy and happiness are opposites; in order to appreciate joy, you must know what sadness is, and in order to know what sadness is, you need to experience joy. Without knowing how to feel simcha, one does not know how to feel pain; if one does not know of pain, he will not know what it means to be truly happy.

David HaMelech said, “My heart is empty within me.” The sefer he wrote, sefer Tehillim, was written after he felt the empty space in his heart. In sefer Tehillim, many kinds of experiences are described. There were times that Dovid HaMelech felt lowly, times where he felt pain, and times where he felt joyous. It is well-known that sefer Tehillim contains all of the experiences that every Jew will ever go through. This was all due to Dovid HaMelech’s achievement of emptying out his heart from all desires, where he was left with nothing in his heart except for the desire for Hashem’s will. In that deep place in the heart, one can feel both joy and sadness there at once, and the contradicting emotions are both truthful.

During the month of Av, we lessen activities that are unnecessary, and the reason for this is not simply because we must not take our mind off the mourning of the Nine Days. Rather, it is because if a person has desires in his heart that are unnecessary, he cannot be connected to the concept of the Nine Days. His heart is far from where it is supposed to be.

From a superficial level, a person observes the halachos of the Nine Days. He opens up the Shulchan Aruch and finds out the halachah and he doesn’t do all the activities he normally does. It is certainly commendable that he follows halachah, but if this is his entire idea of mourning during the Nine Days, he has missed the boat. The whole reason why we refrain from certain activities during the Nine Days is because it is supposed to be used as a means to erase the unnecessary desires from our heart and live a truthful life, of “My heart is empty [from desires] within me.”

The deep place in our heart, which is removed from all unnecessary desires, is the place in us which can feel contradictory emotions at once. It can feel joy and sadness at once, and it is the place in the soul which enables a person to have true tears.

Getting Back Our Simplicity

Why is it that a child cries easily, whereas an adult doesn’t cry so fast? It is because a child lives in a simple reality. He simply has a desire for something, and if he doesn’t get it, he cries. An adult, though, has developed layers upon his soul. He has to dig deep into himself in order to bring out his emotions. If one lives in the simple point in his soul which feels like “an infant in its mother’s lap”, he naturally can feel joy and he can naturally feel pain, just as easily as he feels physical sensation.

The avodah of a person is not to work hard on himself to bring out his emotions in order to get himself to cry. That is not the way. The avodah is for a person to develop his heart in the first place. Once the heart is functioning properly, everything else will follow as a result. There will be natural emotions of joy when appropriate, and there will be natural emotions of sadness where appropriate. He will be a “ben ish chai”, a “living person”.

Thus, as we said in the beginning of the chapter, there is no advice that can guide a person to teach him how to mourn, in the time between the 29th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av. Even if one could teach himself how to cry by the time it comes the 9th of Av, the tears wouldn’t be coming from a truthful place in himself.

Nullifying Our Desires

There is only one way, and it is very simple, fundamental, and true. But it takes time, and it is not developed instantly. It is a way to live life, and it is not just for the Nine Days. It is for a person to remove his extra desires, on a constant basis, throughout the course of the year. The Sages said it: “Nullify your will before His will.”

A person should get used to keep nullifying his desires, one after one. The Chazon Ish says that every time a person breaks his will, it adds a stone to the courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash.

But if a person wants to remain with all of his desires, and he also wants to cry on Tisha B’Av, and he also wants to be happy on the festivals, and he also wants a perfect wife and perfect children and perfect health and perfect livelihood, and honor, and an outpouring of blessing in his life, and _____, then when the Nine Days come, he won’t be able to find himself at all amidst all of these desires.

The issue is very simple and fundamental: How does a person live during the rest of the year? We all have difficulties. But what is the root of all our difficulties? It is always one single reason: our various unfulfilled desires.

The only desire that we must seek to fulfill is the desire to do Hashem’s will! All desires other than this are not desires we need. Sometimes we do need to fulfill a certain desire we have, but even in such situations, it is only a means to a greater end. The only desire we need to have is “Our will is to do Your will.” All other desires need to be eliminated, one by one, slowly and in steps.

If one is motivated to do this throughout the course of the year, he should so with the attitude that this is our life’s task. Thus, each year when it comes Tisha B’Av, this must cause a person to feel a deeper degree of the destruction. The tears will then flow freely and naturally, as an automatic result. But this will only happen when a person realizes that life is all about giving up our desires for Hashem, and to replace all of our desires with one single desire alone: the desire to do Hashem’s will.

Using Suffering To Rid Ourselves of Desires

Now we will try to explain how we can practically work on this.

The Gemara says that when a person puts his hand into his pocket and he doesn’t find money there, this is a form of suffering. If he wanted two coins and he only found one coin, this is a degree of suffering. Let us contemplate what the depth of the suffering is.

The Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of sin. The first Beis HaMikdash was destroyed due to the three cardinal sins of murder, adultery, and idol worship. The second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed due to baseless hatred.[3]

The Sages say that suffering takes away the effect of sin. How does this work? Why does suffering take away the effect of a sin? A sin means that a person has actualized a negative desire. How is a sin rectified? If the person has stole, he must return that which he stole. But with other sins, how does a person undo what he did?

Suffering takes away the root of the problem of the sin. The person had a desire to sin, and that was why he sinned. With suffering, the root of the sin can be uprooted, because the person’s desire for the sin has been removed, through the suffering. Suffering goes against our will; we don’t want it. Accepting suffering with love and with emunah helps us get rid of our desire for the sin.

Therefore, suffering only atones for the sin if the person’s desire for the sin has been removed. Sometimes people go through physical suffering but he remains unchanged. He still has the same desire to sin, and he might even have stronger desires for the sin, because he is waiting for his suffering to pass so that he can go fulfill his desires. Suffering doesn’t always make a person change his desires.

The desires in a person destroy a person’s own “personal Beis HaMikdash”.[4] They are like a strange god living inside the person. This is not an idea that comes from a derasha. It is absolutely a reality. The fact that the Shechinah dwells in each person’s heart is not an idea – it is reality. The only thing that holds back that revelation from a person is his desires. When a person removes the desires, G-dliness is revealed in the person.

How can a person know if he is going on the right path or not? If he sees that he is succeeded in getting rid of some of his desires and he feels that he is closer to doing Hashem’s will, this is a sign that his soul is becoming healthier.

Anything that we seek to acquire needs intention in order to acquire. In order for the heart to be acquired, one must break his desires. But it must be done with the intention that one is trying to reveal his inner will of the soul (the will to do Hashem’s will). When a person succeeds in breaking a desire, he can feel purer afterwards; he can feel like something has been cleared from his system.

Inspiration Vs. Building Our Life

We need to change the root of how we view life; to wonder how we are supposed to live to begin with. Baruch Hashem, when it comes the night of Tisha B’Av, there are lecturers, and sometimes it helps a little. Sometimes the speaker will inspire himself as he is speaking, and then others will be inspired with him, as a result. But it is clear that something is very much missing here. One cannot build his life based upon one derasha!

A derasha does almost nothing for a person. A derasha remains a derasha, and the truth remains the truth. A derasha can only inspire a person minimally. What more do we need to hear\read in order for us to change our perspective in life? Inspiration is gone as soon as it comes. It has a very fleeting effect.

The issue is how to live to begin with, from the very start! We should not be interested in inspiration. The question is how we should live life to begin with – to wonder how a proper life should look like from the very start. [5]

I was once in a place where I spoke to some boys who had become irreligious (may G-d have mercy on them). I said to them whatever it is that I had to say to them, and then one of the boys said to me, “You are giving me solutions that work for me after I’ve fallen. But what is the solution before I fall?”

People want to know why kids are ‘going off the derech’. But nobody ‘went off the derech’. They were never on the derech to begin with! There was never a “derech” that they were on to begin with to fall off of it.

We must have a “derech” (way) in how to live life to begin with! Speeches and inspiring lectures won’t do it for us. What people really need is to make a soul-accounting and get to the root, and wonder: how should we live life from the very start?

Imagine if a man gets married and he finds out that his wife is mentally unstable (G-d forbid). He goes to his Rav and tells him the story. The Rav is in doubt if the marriage was ever valid to begin with. It’s not that there was a marriage here and now he will have to get divorced. There was never a marriage here to begin with!

You are all past the age of 30 already. You’ve all heard many derashos in your life; some of them were very true and some were less true, but the issue really is if you can get to the root of how to live life. We must understand that our life is not about gathering knowledge. Rabbeinu Yonah writes that if one is on a path that is not good, he must get himself off the path and take a new path. If something was wrong in a person’s life from the start, even living 1000 years and hearing derashos and amassing all that much knowledge will be nothing. A person can do many mitzvos yet his heart doesn’t change inside. We see that people have been davening and putting on tefillin for many years yet they don’t feel a thing from it.

Reb Chatzkel Levenstein zt”l would say, “People have been listening to me speak for 20 years, but they haven’t even begun to understand what I mean.” When a person’s heart is closed, nothing he hears will change him.

Utilizing Tisha B’Av To Its Fullest

All of the times of the year Hashem gave to us are here as a reminder to ask ourselves if we are living life in the right way to begin with; if we are living a life of building ourselves. The Nine Days are also such a time. It is a time where we need to bring our life to halt and wonder how we can build our soul. It takes time to build the soul, just like it takes time to build the Beis HaMikdash. In order for a person to build himself, he must bring his life to a halt and make a self-accounting on how to live life to begin with.

On Tisha B’Av, it is forbidden to learn Torah. What does a person do with his free time on Tisha B’Av? Baruch Hashem, there’s Kol HaLashon, or you can go to the speeches that are in town, which is filled with men and women who are all willing to listen to the speaker. But what is the point of Tisha B’Av?? Why was this day given to us? We can’t learn Torah, we can’t do any labor, so what are we supposed to do with ourselves on this day? Think about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash? That is true, but the depth of Tisha B’Av is to bring our life to a halt and empty ourselves out of all desires.

We can’t even learn Torah, which is the most important desire to have (other than the desire to do Hashem’s will). We are supposed to just bring our lives to a halt and we begin to think of a new life for ourselves!

Find a quiet place, and reflect, from a silent place within yourself. The Nine Days, and especially Tisha B’Av, are a time to reflect and to bring the routine of life to a halt, and ask ourselves how to live life from the start. Tisha B’Av is not a time to seek what is ‘permissible’ to do and which parts of Torah are ‘permissible’ to learn. It is a time to bring all of your life to a halt. If one seeks truth, he must wonder, as he reflects, on how he can rebuild his life anew.

Quiet Time Every Day To Reflect

Besides for Tisha B’Av, one needs to have set times every day where one can reflect about the purpose of life. People might think they know what the purpose of life is, but a person can keep uncovering deeper meaning to the purpose of life every day, when he reflects quietly on this each day with inner silence. If one “doesn’t have any time” to do this, this is an inner destruction.

It is not only on Tisha B’Av and the Nine Days that you should do this. Every day, a person needs to have times where he reflects about the purpose of life and to think if he’s going in the right direction[6]. If you come to the conclusion that you are going in the way of Torah and mitzvos, keep going in that direction. But if you discover that this is not the case, you need to wonder how you can come to live a more truthful life.

This is what you need to do, each day, in order to acquire “purity of heart” and rid your heart from desires, which enables you to reach the point of “My heart is empty within me” as Dovid HaMelech said; and when your heart is slowly emptied from all of the desires, you can eventually come to the point where you have only one desire alone in your heart – the desire to do Hashem’s will.

Of course, our heart is purified from learning Torah and doing the mitzvos. But more specifically, it comes from nullifying our desires, until a person only has one desire left: the desire to do Hashem’s will.

Sincere Tears

When a person reaches that inner silence and he is in touch with the inner will of his soul (to do Hashem’s will), he can come to a true and inner crying that comes from the depths of his soul, from the pure point in the soul that only feels Hashem’s will. In that deep place in himself, he can feel how Hashem is mourning over His children who have been exiled from Him, who have “left their father’s table.” He won’t even have to strain himself to cry, because the tears will flow freely and naturally.

In Conclusion

Hashem gave us all bechirah (free will), and the free will was given to us so that we can choose to set aside time every day to reflect on how to live a truthful life. Just like a baal teshuvah changes his entire life when he leaves his world behind and he enters the world of Torah, so must an already frum person raised in the world of Torah go deeper into himself and enter a new world within him.

It might not always be easy and pleasant to make a self-accounting every day, but this is the only way of how we can live a truthful life and come to rebuild the personal Beis HaMikdash within ourselves.

I really hope that these words have been truly understood, not as a derasha, not as inspiration, and not even as preparation for the Nine Days; rather, that they be perceived as a way to live our life from the start.

[1] Taanis 29a

[2] Pesachim 109a

[3] Yoma 9b

[4] See Nefesh HaChaim – Gate I

[5] See Getting To Know Your Happiness #011 – Raising Happy Children

[6] Ramchal in sefer Derech Eretz Chaim. See Bilvavi_ Part_ 4_ Chapter_ 3

The Three Weeks – Building The World

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Drashos on the Three Weeks and Tisha B’Ave

Binah/Binyan – The Power To ‘Build’ Through Our Understandings

ומלמד לאנוש בינה Hashem teaches “binah”, intuition, to us.

The word binah is related to the word binyan, to build. Torah scholars are called “builders” – they are blessed with the power of binah. When a person exerts himself in learning Torah, he is really building the world.

How can we reveal our power of binah to build the world – and to be more specific, to rebuild the Beis HaMikdash?

The Depth Behind ‘Sinas Chinam’ (Baseless Hatred): A Viewpoint of Disparity

Chazal tell us that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam (baseless hatred)6. What is the root of sinas chinam? From where does this negative emotion come from?

Simply, it comes from being egotistical. When a person only cares about himself, he couldn’t care less about others, so he will hate others for no reason.

But the deeper understanding is as follows.

When we build a structure, a brick is placed on top of another. Hashem created many details in Creation; we are all like many bricks that need to get added together, and form the complete structure of Creation. All details in Creation are many parts of one whole which will ultimately have to come together.

When we see the world – inanimate objects, as well as people – from a superficial perspective, we do not see how all these connect. But it is this superficial perspective which actually brought about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash!

We are supposed to see how all the details in Creation are really meant to come together and form a structure. Therefore, the many details going on in Creation are not just a bunch of random details. They are many parts of one whole, which need to come together in a structure. The purpose of everything is always one and the same – to come together, to become unified, and form one structure.

Applying this to our own development, when a person is young, he doesn’t connect outward beyond himself. When he gets a little older, he begins to realize that there is a Creator, and he wants to connect with the Creator, but he does not necessarily see connection with others as part of his connection with the Creator. If a person gets a little wiser, he realizes that his connection with the Creator really depends on how he connects with others.

When a person views Creation through a lens of disparity, this was the perspective which enabled destruction to come to the world. This is the depth behind sinas chinam.

Sinas Chinam – To Be Inwardly Apart From Other Jews

Even more so, sinas chinam means “I can live on my own; I don’t need other Jews in order to exist.”

What about the mitzvah to do chessed? The person rationalizes, “Chessed is like any other mitzvah that is outside of myself, like shaking a lulav. I don’t need chessed to exist.” When a person views Creation with disparity like this, that is sinas chinam – this perspective is what destroyed the Beis HaMikdash.

What was the Beis HaMikdash? It was the place that contained the Shechinah. But what is the Shechinah about? It is about Hashem’s Presence dwelling in Klal Yisrael, when we are in union. When we are not unified and we are instead apart from each other in our hearts, there is no point of having the Shechinah.

“The king is called the heart of the nation”; Hashem called is our “heart”. But if our hearts are full of disparity towards each other, and we each feel like we can survive without other Jews, then our damaged heart will not allow Hashem to be the heart of the nation, and thus the Shechinah will not dwell among us.

Sinas chinam has two layers to it. The outer layer of it is to show signs of hatred, simply speaking. The essence of sinas chinam, though, is that a person feels himself apart from other Jews, that he feels fine without other Jews, that he feels like he can live without other Jews. Sinas chinam, at its core, is to have a perspective of disparity towards Creation, a lack of awareness that Creation is supposed to become unified.

Moving In The Opposite Direction of Sinas Chinam

How do we go in the opposite direction, then, and get ahavas chinam (‘baseless love’)? We know that we have a mitzvah to love other Jews like ourselves but, how do we actually get it?

Simply speaking, we need to get rid of sinas chinam and reveal our deep ahavah for other Jews that we have really deep down. True, but there is more to it.

Ahavas chinam is when we realize, “I cannot exist without another Jew’s existence, for we are all part and parcel with one another.” There is no individual Jew who can live without another Jew’s existence; when we internalize this understanding, we reveal ahavas chinam. Thus, hatred can only exist when a Jew thinks he can exist fine without another Jew.

This perspective of ahavas chinam is the power that can rebuild the Beis HaMikdash, as well as the world as a whole.

Learning Torah To Build The World

As an example, when a person learns Torah, does he realize he is building the world? Or is he learning it all for himself…?

Learning Torah is what unifies the details of the world together. When a person learns Torah, he must be aware that his learning causes unity in Creation, for Torah is the root of all souls. But if a person is learning Torah and he has no love for other Jews, he’s learning Torah all for himself, and such Torah does not build the world.

Uprooting Hatred, and Getting To The Root of Love

The Rambam describes our middos as “daas”. The essence of all our middos and emotions is daas. The depth of ahavas chinam, and removing sinas chinam, is thus not by working with our emotions. Our emotions of love or hatred can only be the result of what perspective we have deep down. If we reveal daas – and we come to actually sense it – then we can reveal love.

We know that doing things for other people can bring love, for “the heart is pulled after the actions”, but at the same time we must realize that we need daas. When we do actions for others, we need to reveal daas with it – to realize that we must unify with others.

To uproot sinas chinam, and to develop ahavas chinam, we need to do good actions for others and help others, but along with this, we also need to reveal our daas – to realize that we need to unify with others. It is a perspective which we need to gain on how we view others. This is the way to access the real emotion of love for other Jews. Destruction comes when we are missing this perspective.

Love For Other Is Not A Novelty

What does it mean to love? It is not simply to shower love upon others. Love is when we reach our daas, when we connect with others, by realizing that all of Creation needs to become unified.

When a person gets married, he believes this is his bashert (soul-mate). He believes the words of Chazal that finding a wife is like finding his lost object. He does not view the love towards his wife as something new; he realizes that he is revealing a reality which is already there, for Chazal say that husband and wife were already destined to be bound together in love.

In the same way, we should view other Jews in Creation – our love for other Jews must not be some novel concept to us. When you meet another Jew, don’t think to yourself that Ahavas Yisrael is some new concept that you have to work on. Rather, it is the reality, and you need to align your way of thinking with that reality. This is because we are all one at our root.

The only reason why we don’t feel that unity is because we are currently living in a world of darkness, which blurs us from seeing the true reality. Therefore, we feel apart from each other, but it’s only because we are not in touch with reality.

What We Cry About on Tisha B’Av

We cry on Tisha B’Av over the ruins of Jerusalem, which lies in disgrace. We are living in a time of hester panim (concealment of Hashem’s revelation). But even more than so, we should cry about an even more painful situation: there are many of our fellow Jews today who are going through all sorts of pain, suffering, and predicament. In our times we live in, our fellow Jews today have both physical suffering as well as suffering of the soul.

We cannot really cry over the destruction of Jerusalem if we do not feel unity with other Jews. Why we do we cry on Tisha B’Av? Is it because we can’t bring our own Korbonos for ourselves? Or are we crying because we don’t have the Korbonos that atone for the entire congregation…? Which of these aspects means more to you…?

In Conclusion

“Whoever mourns Jerusalem, will merit to its rebuilding.” Even if we do not merit the actual rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash, we can each have a part in its rebuilding, when we build the world through the deeper understanding that comes from our “daas”, towards our relationship with the other Jewish souls.

May we all merit to unify with other Jews, as one piece, and come together into one structure, in which “Hashem will be One, and His Name will be one”.

Tisha B’Av Preparation – Preserving Our Prayer Portal – Lessons from Bar Kamtza’s Pain

It’s not often that Bar Kamtza is portrayed as the good guy, but in this shiur by Rabbi Herschel Welcher, titled “Lessons from the Pain of Bar Kamtza“, we take a look at the story from Bar Kamtza’s perspective and see the lessons we can learn and apply today. Please download the shiur here.

In a shiur titled, “The Morning after the Mourning“, Rabbi Moshe Schwerd explains how we were responsible for closing the Prayer Portal of the Beis HaMikdash and how we’re unfortunately repeating the lesson with our distracted approach to prayer today. Please download the shiur here.

Crying From Within on Tisha BAv

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

Download a number of Drashos on the Three Weeks and Tisha B’Ave

Who Is The Redemption About?

At the end of the first berachah of Shemoneh Esrei, we say, למען שמו באהבה, “l’maan Shemo b’ahavah” (For the sake of His Name, with love).

We await the redemption, but besides for this, we await the kind of redemption which is “for the sake of His Name”. Rather than simply bringing the redemption simply for the sake of His children, Hashem will bring the redemption is “for the sake of His Name, with love.”

A Seeming Contradiction

The Three Weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av is a time where we are supposed to feel pain and mourning over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Yet, we also look forward to the redemption. This seems like a contradiction in our Avodas Hashem. How do we integrate these two seemingly contrary feelings – joy due to hope for the future geulah (redemption), but also sadness at the current state of exile, the galus?

Personal Suffering vs. National Suffering

It is natural for humans to want to escape pain. We are creatures of comfort and long to be redeemed from any uncomfortable or painful situations. However, escaping pain is not the purpose of the Redemption. Rather, the purpose of the Redemption will be “for Hashem’s sake”, as we say in Shemoneh Esrei – “l’maan shemo b’ahavah” ,“For the sake of His Name, with love.”

The sole purpose of the Redemption is to reveal Hashem’s name in the world, which is the purpose of Creation.[1] [Thus, we must long for the Redemption not to end our personal suffering but rather to achieve the whole purpose of Creation, for His Shechinah to be able to rest in this World.]

The Root of Exile

What does the passuk mean when it refers to the Redemption being for the sake of the “Name” of Hashem?

A name reveals the nature of something. In the gentile world, a name is meaningless [it is merely an arbitrary string of letters attached to things to enable people to communicate]. Similarly, the name of a gentile does not define his essence. However, in contrast, Jewish names reveal their essence. The names of people and things are intricately woven into their essential nature. Thus, the “Name” of Hashem when it is revealed in the future will reveal Hashem in the world.

Thus, since the entire purpose of Creation is to reveal Hashem in the world, the Redemption will be in His name’s sake. The word for exile in Hebrew is “galus”. The Hebrew word for redemption is “geulah”. Both these words are rooted in the Hebrew word “giluy”, meaning “to reveal”. This hints to the fact that both the exile and the redemption will reveal Hashem.[2]

Exile is essentially Hashem’s concealment of His radiance toward us (otherwise known as “hester panim”).[3] In other words, our current exile is synonymous with the revelation of Hashem concealed from our minds and hearts. In contrast, the redemption will reveal Hashem in our minds and hearts. It will be the time in which we will exclaim, “This is my G-d, and I will glorify Him”, and when all the nations of the world will exclaim, “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu” (Hear, Yisrael, that Hashem is our G-d).

Needless to say, the four periods of exile that the Jewish people have endured (the fourth of which we are still currently enduring) have been rife with suffering and tragedy. However, the sufferings of the exiles are just the external branches. The root of the exile is the hester panim. The fact that Hashem has concealed His radiance from us – that is the true exile.

Chazal state that wherever the nation of Israel is exiled, the Shechinah (Hashem’s Presence) is exiled as well. However, it is important to note that the exile only occurs because the Shechinah has gone into exile. The exile ends when the Shechinah returns and Hashem is again revealed to us.

In other words, all of the exiles – from Egypt until the present exile, which is Edom (Rome and all the nations that have branched out from it) together with Yishmael (the Arab nations) – are merely representative of the true underlying cause of the exile – the absence of Hashem’s radiance toward us.

Why Are We Crying?

Of course, during this time of mourning, we have to think about the suffering of the Jewish people. However, it is important to remember that the suffering and tragedies are not the original cause of our situation but rather the result of our situation. The cause or root of the problem, the root of all the exiles, is hester panim. Without being aware of this, a person just has the “branches” [the consequential effect] without the “root” [original cause].

In summary, there are two layers to our mourning. There is the external layer, crying, which concerns the suffering we experience during our exile. However, these tears are really sourced in the internal, root cause of our sadness – the hester panim.

What Do We Really Want?

In the words ”le’maan Shemo b’ahavah’ of Shemoneh Esrei, why we do we also say the word b’ahavah (“with love”), and not simply l’maan “Shemo” (“for the sake of His Name”)?

[In order to understand this, it is useful to explore the meaning and source of the Hebrew word “ahavah.”] The Hebrew word for father is av, which is rooted in the word ahavah, love. Ahavah also means ratzon, to “want”.[6] This alludes to our Avos (forefathers), who wanted the true ratzon (will) – the desire to do Hashem’s will: “It is our will to do Your will.”

Thus, the ahavah of “l’maan Shemo b’ahavah”, concerns the love that comes from the revelation of our very deepest ratzon. There are other kinds of ahavah, love – including ahavah rabbah (“great love”) and ahavas olam (“eternal” love). However, the love expressed in the words “l’eman Shemo b’ahavah” is greater than both of these. It is a love that comes when the true ratzon, the will of Hashem, is revealed. It is a revelation of “retzoneinu laasos Retzoncha” – “Our will to do Your will.”[7]

Exile thus represents a state whereby we have not achieved this greatest love, where our will is not to do Hashem’s will.There is no revelation of “retzonenu laasos Retzoncha” in exile. Admittedly, even in exile there can still be a revelation of the desire to see Hashem, for “It is our desire to see Our King” (“retzonenu liros es Malkeinu”.)[8] [In other words, we ‘want to want’ to do Hashem’s will. But we have not achieved the level of actually wanting it and incorporating our will into His will.]

Another way of understanding this distinction is to consider the prayer [which we recite later in Shemoneh Esrei], of לישועתך קוינו כל היום, “For Your salvation we await, every day.” This salvation is the true redemption. However, we obviously do not fully have sufficient ratzon for Hashem to save us, otherwise the redemption would have already come. Unfortunately, our ratzon itself is in exile! Our true internal, higher soul and its desires remain hidden from us. And as we explained above, since ratzon forms the basis of this greatest love, the absence of ratzon is the absence of the love.

How To Reach The Real Crying

To truly have pain over the exile, we have to first fire up our ratzon to truly want the redemption. Only when we have uncovered and fired up our true, inner desire for redemption will we truly feel pain over the exile, that we have not yet obtained what our hearts’ desire. This weeping can only be achieved when a person recognizes within himself of what he is truly missing and how discontent we truly are. This realization will bring us to true tears, not just fleeting moments of emotion.

The following scenario may assist us to understand this better, demonstrating how the greater the ahavah, the greater the ratzon and emotion involved with this person.

This is also true of feeling the pain over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the current exile. We do not necessarily feel the pain (and thereby achieve the avodah of the Three Weeks/Nine Days) without work. How, indeed, can we reach this inner source of the crying?

We have to focus on our true ratzon. What do we truly want? Learning Torah and doing the mitzvos only shows what we want on the outside. What do we truly want on the inside? What is a person’s true ratzon in life…?

Hashem will bring the Redemption “for the sake of His Name, with love.” He has a will (ratzon) as well as a love (ahavah) for us. The more we strive to connect ourselves to these middos of Hashem (of ratzon and ahavah), more we reveal our ratzon for the redemption, and the closer we will be to our salvation from this exile.

The Avodah of Tisha B’Av

What is the practical avodah we need to do on Tisha B’Av (I would instead say: What, practically speaking, is the avodah we need to do on Tisha B’Av?)?

Fasting and being forbidden to learn Torah make Tisha B’Av difficult to endure on the outside. To inspire themselves to reach a point of mourning, many people read different statements of Chazal in the Gemara about the destruction or listen to inspiring lectures. However, such mourning is simply an external sadness and pain.

In order to reach a true, inner pain, we must consider and reflect on what the destruction truly represents– the fact that we no longer have the Shechinah is because we do not have the ratzon to bring it here!

This is what we truly have to mourn about on Tisha B’Av. The destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, the many tragedies that took place then, the suffering of all the exiles – these are just the external layer of the destruction. It is the destruction to our soul, and to our soul’s true ratzon to reveal Hashem into the world, that we should really be crying about.

[1] As explained at length by Ramchal in sefer Daas Tevunos

[2] Maharal (Netzach Yisrael: 1)

[3] Ramchal (sefer Daas Tevunos)

[6] Siddur Nusach Arizal, Tefillas Shacharis Shabbos, “b’ahavah u’bratzon”; Kedushas Levi Tehillim 69:14

[7] Berachos 17a

[8] Rashi Shemos 19:9

A Tisha B’av Kinah for Our Times

Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!
Woe for all the heads without Tefillin
After 3700 years from Avraham Avinu
After having survived Holocausts and Inquisitions…
Jewish boys and girls blunder
In the darkness that plagues our generation
And go lost by the millions
With visions of isms and instant pleasures
Rapt in utter ignorance
Bathed in a blue light they may never escape
And generations and giant whole families
Holy congregations have disappeared
For nothing!
And their names dead ended
Now only grace lonely stones
In forgotten cemeteries
Bearing words their children
Those that had- Could never read
Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!

The pervasive angst of isolation!
Microwaves our very beings!
We feel beaten from within.
The continuous waves of psychological pain.
We suffer with a wry smile and a diet coke.
The gnawing insecurity and emptiness.
It brings us to search for things that do not exist.
The sublime is substituted with the virtual.
Pictures and fantasies tickle n’ dissolve like
Cotton candy for the eyes…in a world of lies
Fire works for lonely hearts that only grow lonelier
Noshing on empty calories for an endless soul
And as for the big itch…the really big itch…
That small thin voice is starved…
Portrait of a Holocaust victim!
So we turn up the tempo
Tapping like a blind man
Louder and more frantically
We are lost as never before.
Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!

The Chutzpah around us and within.
The skirts…the so called “styles”…the pressure to conform
The lewdness …the angry language
Rap -rap -rap….bark -bark –bark!
Bitter and desperate…is the new normal
The almost total loss of respect
Nothing and no one is Holy
The good ones are ridiculed-
The object of derision
For framing a G-dly Image
And dressing as humans do
For keeping the Shabbos Holy
Watching our eyes and tongues!
While pictures of the unthinkable
The pop-ups of our lives
Invade constantly
On every bus that passes by
Our brothers and sisters
Drop like fall leaves
Fewer and fewer hang strong
Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!

The inmates are running the asylum.
Clouds of chaos gather all around
Bombs are fashioned for our final solution
And we are lost in the mirror again.
Wondering if we are loved or looking good
70 wolves salivate with teeth like daggers
Aimed to devour our tiny flock!
Where are we?
Busy with our cell phones
Texting our way to oblivion
Dealing with emergencies of little import
Consumed by crumb size concerns
Like Chometz…And the size of our noses
Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!

The Chillul HASHEM
We have lost our luster
Suspicion surrounds us
The Nation of HASHEM
The people of truth
Are ridiculed and considered low
While every sports team and slick politician
Has their stadium…Their edifice their complex
Where their glory is on open display
Where is the place of HASHEM in this world?
Billions speak falsely in His name
Identity theft on the grandest scale
Religion is a rejected and dirty word
We are tagged zealots and bigots
For preserving four cubit of Hallacha
This is our crime
And so we owe the world an apology
HASHEM and we His People
Share all time low approval ratings
For this we truly owe a broken heart
Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!

What can be done when what’s done is done?
Who can rebuild such a wall torn down?
Our Holy Temple is destroyed!
Echoing in the cosmos
Is a muffled scream!
Of unspeakable abuse
A silent crime!
Against our most beautiful daughters
Made to suffer alone
Scarred in a way
No one can say
With more than broken hearts
Shattered Tablets
And bitter memories
Bleed bad blood
And families crumble
With no happy choices
But to seek greatness
And avoid the pit of insanity
There I said it! Without saying it!
Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!

Thousands take to the streets
In a moment’s notice
To look for Leiby
The heart …my heart… where’s my heart?
How can we go up to our father and the youth is not with us?
How can we go up to our Father in Heaven
and the innocence and youthfulness is no longer with us?
HASHEM wants the heart! Where’s the heart? A frantic cry!
It’s been stifled, torn asunder in the heart of our hearts!
In the midst of our midst!
Our innocence is ravaged from within!
We cannot even trust ourselves!
A knife is driven repeatedly into our heart again and again
Where is our heart!
Where are our youth?
HASHEM wants the heart!
If not for the watchful eye of…
A camera …random… nothing is!
We could live in the shadows of doubt…
Postulating and philosophizing
So now we are all mourners …
We are done looking outward
The mirrors are covered…enough…enough
We sit low and quiet
Our eyes turned inward…at last…
We hope to find a heart yet beating…there
from where we can build-
…from where can we build
On this day of brutal truth? We have what to cry about!

How did it happen? Where are you?
Unanswerable questions!
Persist in their asking!
Where a person’s mind is…
Says the Ba’al Shem Tov
That is where he is entirely!
So with a single Holy thought!
One of 60,000 a day!
An apple…a golden apple
Is rescued from the thieves
And goodness is restored
When opening our inner eyes
We begin to realize
The ground we are standing upon
Is not less than the Holy of Holies
The shoes are easily removed
A Burning bush…is revealed
We survived! We survived!
Till this historic moment!
You and I together
With a song …the wail of a longing heart…
Brought history and destiny to meet and embrace
As tearful friends reunited!
After thousands of years!
Moshiach is born!
On this special day! We have what to cry about!

This Tisha B’Av Kinah was Composed August 2011

Tens of Tisha B’Av Mp3s

The laws of mourning on Tisha B’av are modeled after the laws of mourning when a relative passes away. One significant difference is, that by a relative the stringency of the halachos decreases as time passes, while those of Tisha B’av increase as we pass from the three weeks, to the nine days, to Tisha Bav itself.

One explanation is that for a relative we feel the loss immediately and most strongly when they pass away, and the pain of that loss decreases as time goes on. Whereas for Tisha B’av it is difficult for us to mourn for a loss that we never experienced, so we need to work on increasing the feeling of that loss throughout the Three Weeks.

With that said here are some direct downloads and links to other sites to help prepare for the mourning of Tisha B’Av:

Torah Anytime on Tisha B’Av

YU Torah shiurm on Tisha B’Av

Torah Downloads on Tisha B’Av
——————–
Rabbi Akiva Tatz on Tisha B’av – Destruction of The Mind

Rabbi Akiva Tatz on Tisha B’Av – Why Mourning in Afternoon

Rabbi Akiva Tatz on Tisha B’Av – Destruction and Renewal

Rabbi Akiva Tatz on Tisha B’Av – Why We Mourn for the Land

——————–
Rabbi Herschel Welcher on “Eretz Yisroel and Emunah”

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on “Lessons from the Pain of Bar Kamtza”

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on Tisha B’av Directions

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on Tisha B’Av (2011)

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on Tisha B’Av (2009)

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on Tisha B’Av (2007)

Rabbi Herschel Welcher on Tisha B’Av (2006)

——————–
R’ Moshe Schwerd on The Broken Luchos – An Everlasting Gift

R’ Moshe Schwerd on Tefillin, Tisha BAv, and the Bais HaMikdash

R’ Moshe Schwerd on “The Morning after the Mourning”

R’ Moshe Schwerd on How Mourning Brings the Dawn of Moshiach

R’ Moshe Schwerd on Tisha B’Av – Past, Present & Future

R’ Moshe Schwerd on Bringing Korbanos With Our Lips

R’ Moshe Schwerd on “Tisha B’AV Mourning and Consolation”

Eating Cookies at the Kosel on the 17th of Tammuz

Before I became frum, I lit Channukah candles (I miss my purple and gold yarmulke), I didn’t eat bread on Pesach (I was stringent–it had to be bread davka) and I fasted on Yom Kippur. Even in college I fasted the whole day, and as soon as the sun finally went down (behind the administration building), the pepperoni pizza was mine. I deserved it after a day of affliction. Little did I know that other days of affliction dotted the Jewish calendar, too.

Just a few weeks after I joined my friend in his BT yeshiva, it was the 17th of Tammuz. I was given a briefing (very brief), and was told it was a fast day. Being natually respectful (and too shy to protest), I went along with it and during the early afternoon, I found myself sitting by my dirah window overlooking the Kosel while my friend was “praying Minkah” in the yeshiva. My stomach started to rumble. There was no one around, and I did have a stash of wafers under my blanket for emergencies. I glanced at the Wall, then at my cookies, then at the Wall. Do I miss what had been in the airspace above that wall? Ok, whatever, but mourning takes energy, doesn’t it? After all, when I used to go to a shiva in America, there was tons of food there. Wall vs. wafers [rumble!]…the wafers won.
I hid the evidence and dusted off the fingerprints…I still remember how amazed my friend was that I fasted so well.

Just three weeks later, another fast day. I didn’t eat, but I did manage to sneak into a chair every once in a while. I certainly didn’t greet anyone (my shyness came in handy again.) It was more than a little frustrating as it was so new, even though the very basics in yeshiva gave me a general idea. The fact is that as the first few years went by, I felt like I was lacking certain connections in all the holidays and fast days.

One year, I went to hear Rav Shlomo Brevda talk about the three weeks. Like so many others, he acknowledged that it’s very hard to mourn something that we never had. But unlike so many others, he spent much time going into great vivid detail (as he does so well) about what life was like when there was a Beis HaMikdash. (I heard that there are tapes for kids with this theme, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve learned quite a lot from children’s tapes in general!) Oh, really? So many miracles? This is what we lost? It was a step in the right direction, and another piece in the puzzle.

Nineteen years have gone by, and I’ve gained each year more pieces to the puzzle, about every holiday. As I look back, I see every holiday is a little different as I saw it before, (my impressions of Pesach are drastically different than even ten years ago!) and as every year more puzzle pieces are added, I get the sense of a whole picture coming together. Very slowly, but it’s coming. It takes a lifetime, but the satisfaction of looking back a few years and seeing some progress is tremendous chizuk. I’ve come a ways since munching on wafers in front of the Kosel on the 17th of Tammuz (really representative of the state of nonfrum Jewry as a whole). And believe it or not, the fasting even gets easier every year! I have never characterized myself as a spiritual fellow, but I see that the connections do come. What a great feeling!

So if you ever feel down about not growing, know it’s not true. It’s happening and it’s slow, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be–little steps, always little steps which are permanent. May we always continue to grow, and may your fast be even easier than last year.

Reposted from July 2009

Senseless Love and the Key to Redemption

Maimonides offers a formula that has often been referred to as “senseless love.” We must reach out to each other without agendas that corrupt into another form of acquisition. The process is transformative in the way that it changes our focus:

We are obligated to speak well of other people, sharing our joy at having glimpsed his/her inner beauty. The act of speaking positively allies us to each other. It makes us aware that we are on one team.

We are obligated to care for each other’s material needs. By being aware of how frail and needy our bodies make us, we become more forgiving and tolerant.

We are obligated to seek out situations that bring honor to others. By doing so, we give them the precious gift of self-esteem and simultaneously remove ourselves from the egotistical traps of center stage.

This three-step process is deceptively simple. Yet it can change us dramatically. It can change not only our relationship to others, but can lead us to rediscover ourselves. In doing so, the endless mourning for our lost selves, and for our national tragedies, will cease.

From Feeling the Loss by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Kinah for Tisha B’Av

Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!
Woe for all the heads without Tefillin
After 3700 years from Avraham Avinu
After having survived Holocausts and Inquisitions…
Jewish boys and girls blunder
In the darkness that plagues our generation
And go lost by the millions
With visions of isms and instant pleasures
Rapt in utter ignorance
Bathed in a blue light they may never escape
And generations and giant whole families
Holy congregations have disappeared
For nothing!
And their names dead ended
Now only grace lonely stones
In forgotten cemeteries
Bearing words their children
Those that had- Could never read
Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!
 
 

The pervasive angst of isolation!
Microwaves our very beings!
We feel beaten from within.
The continuous waves of psychological pain.
We suffer with a wry smile and a diet coke.
The gnawing insecurity and emptiness.
It brings us to search for things that do not exist.
The sublime is substituted with the virtual.
Pictures and fantasies tickle n’ dissolve like
Cotton candy for the eyes…in a world of lies
Fire works for lonely hearts that only grow lonelier
Noshing on empty calories for an endless soul
And as for the big itch…the really big itch…
That small thin voice is starved…
Portrait of a Holocaust victim!
So we turn up the tempo
Tapping like a blind man
Louder and more frantically
We are lost as never before.
Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!
 
 

The Chutzpah around us and within.
The skirts…the so called “styles”…the pressure to conform
The lewdness …the angry language
Rap -rap -rap….bark -bark –bark!
Bitter and desperate…is the new normal
The almost total loss of respect
Nothing and no one is Holy
The good ones are ridiculed-
The object of derision
For framing a G-dly Image
And dressing as humans do
For keeping the Shabbos Holy
Watching our eyes and tongues!
While pictures of the unthinkable
The pop-ups of our lives
Invade constantly
On every bus that passes by
Our brothers and sisters
Drop like fall leaves
Fewer and fewer hang strong
Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!
 
 

The inmates are running the asylum.
Clouds of chaos gather all around
Bombs are fashioned for our final solution
And we are lost in the mirror again.
Wondering if we are loved or looking good
70 wolves salivate with teeth like daggers
Aimed to devour our tiny flock!
Where are we?
Busy with our cell phones
Texting our way to oblivion
Dealing with emergencies of little import
Consumed by crumb size concerns
Like Chometz…And the size of our noses
Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!
 
 

The Chillul HASHEM
We have lost our luster
Suspicion surrounds us
The Nation of HASHEM
The people of truth
Are ridiculed and considered low
While every sports team and slick politician
Has their stadium…Their edifice their complex
Where their glory is on open display
Where is the place of HASHEM in this world?
Billions speak falsely in His name
Identity theft on the grandest scale
Religion is a rejected and dirty word
We are tagged zealots and bigots
For preserving four cubit of Hallacha
This is our crime
And so we owe the world an apology
HASHEM and we His People
Share all time low approval ratings
For this we truly owe a broken heart
Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!
 
 

What can be done when what’s done is done?
Who can rebuild such a wall torn down?
Our Holy Temple is destroyed!
Echoing in the cosmos
Is a muffled scream!
Of unspeakable abuse
A silent crime!
Against our most beautiful daughters
Made to suffer alone
Scarred in a way
No one can say
With more than broken hearts
Shattered Tablets
And bitter memories
Bleed bad blood
And families crumble
With no happy choices
But to seek greatness
And avoid the pit of insanity
There I said it! Without saying it!
Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!
 
 

Thousands take to the streets
In a moment’s notice
To look for Leiby
The heart …my heart… where’s my heart?
How can we go up to our father and the youth is not with us?
How can we go up to our Father in Heaven
and the innocence and youthfulness is no longer with us?
HASHEM wants the heart! Where’s the heart? A frantic cry!
It’s been stifled, torn asunder in the heart of our hearts!
In the midst of our midst!
Our innocence is ravaged from within!
We cannot even trust ourselves!
A knife is driven repeatedly into our heart again and again
Where is our heart!
Where are our youth?
HASHEM wants the heart!
If not for the watchful eye of…
A camera …random… nothing is!
We could live in the shadows of doubt…
Postulating and philosophizing
So now we are all mourners …
We are done looking outward
The mirrors are covered…enough…enough
We sit low and quiet
Our eyes turned inward…at last…
We hope to find a heart yet beating…there
from where we can build-
…from where can we build
On this day of brutal truth? We have what to cry about!
 
 

How did it happen? Where are you?
Unanswerable questions!
Persist in their asking!
Where a person’s mind is…
Says the Ba’al Shem Tov
That is where he is entirely!
So with a single Holy thought!
One of 60,000 a day!
An apple…a golden apple
Is rescued from the thieves
And goodness is restored
When opening our inner eyes
We begin to realize
The ground we are standing upon
Is not less than the Holy of Holies
The shoes are easily removed
A Burning bush…is revealed
We survived! We survived!
Till this historic moment!
You and I together
With a song …the wail of a longing heart…
Brought history and destiny to meet and embrace
As tearful friends reunited!
After thousands of years!
Moshiach is born!
On this special day! We have what to cry about!

Originally Published August 2011

Unity, Diversity, the 9th of Av

During the summer months we tragically have to contend with the period of the Three Weeks and ט באב, the Ninth of Av. Our mourning centers around the physical and spiritual destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem and of Jewish national life in the Land of Israel. Indeed, we have many customs that mark this throughout the year. It is our custom in the beit midrash to learn about those customs on the afternoon of the Tisha B’av, the Ninth of Av. An additional important focus of our thoughts at this time is, ‘what is the remedy?’

To consider a cure, we must consider the root cause of a malady. The g’mara (יומא ט) discusses why our holy places were destroyed, comparing Shiloh and the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. Our particular concern is the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, since this is the beginning of the exile that we yet struggle with and suffer from today, thousands of years later. Our g’mara tells us, “the second Temple period was a time of occupation with Torah and the commandments, and acts of kindness.

Why was it destroyed? Because of unwarranted enmity.” How are we to understand this?

How is it possible that large numbers of people are occupied with Hashem’s holy Torah, and acts of kindness; and are concurrently characterized by שנאת חינם – unexcused enmity?

This should scare us to the core! Isn’t this the very opposite of what we believe and expect of a Torah society? The very idea, the very possibility that Jews could be engaged in Torah study, in careful observance of the commandments, in acts of חסד/kindness to each other – and still hate each other at the same time? Yet this is precisely what our sages tell us characterized that period, and what we must still address and remedy.

It may be that the Netziv answered our perplexity in a famous responsum in Meshiv Davar (משיב דבר א סימן מד). A prominent Torah journal had published an editorial advocating the complete separation of observant Jews from other Jews in Europe. The Netziv wrote a lengthy response decrying this idea; analyzing and rejecting it as “like swords to the body and existence of the nation.” There the Netziv writes that during the second Temple period our nation was exiled and the Temple destroyed and the land cut off due to the ongoing public struggle between the P’rushim and the Tzadukim (Pharisees and Sadducees). This, he wrote, also brought about unjustified bloodshed because of the unwarranted enmity. When a Parush would see someone act leniently in a matter of Torah, he would judge him to be a Tzaduki (and therefore the enemy), even when this was simply an average Jew who happened to do wrong. But unwarranted enmity would make him judge this person to be an enemy in the great religious and social struggle, and violence would ensue.

The Netziv continues and says that such could certainly occur today, that one of the observant Jews would perceive that another Jew doesn’t behave the same as he in serving God and would judge him to therefore be a heretic and separate from him and they would end up persecuting each other.

We could, indeed, be occupied with Torah and acts of kindness; but still look down or askance at those very people we are helping or learning or davening with. The key to the cure is to first realize and deeply appreciate that the Torah does not require uniformity of us.

Yes, we all have to keep Shabbat and kashrut and give tzedakah. Yes, we all have to work to create individual and societal lives expressive of God’s will as revealed in His Torah. Yet time and again the Torah teaches us how that comes about through elements of diversity and individuality. Not free-for-all, make-it-up-as-we-go-along diversity; but a real diversity within Torah and tradition that comes about because of personality, character, style, and unique insights that result from real investment in Torah.

Consider that the holy menorah, the symbol and channel of Divine wisdom, had seven branches. Not one. Even though all the six peripheral lamps turned towards the center, they remained distinct. Each lamp had to burn on its own. Rav Avigdor Nevenzahl points out how this is a model for how each student eventually has to stand on his own, continuing but independent of what his rav has imparted to him.

Consider that even though we received one Torah as one people at Sinai (‘like one person of one heart’, Rashi to Ex. 19:2); the Torah rigorously preserves the identities (and therefore cultures) of the 12 tribes. Each tribe had its own flag and its own camp in the wilderness – though all centered around the mishkan/Tabernacle. In the Land of Israel each tribe retained its own territory, and through that some of its own customs and halachic behaviors. To create the Torah’s vision of a Torah society, we must maintain individual and distinct contributions that then work together synergistically. But we must realize and believe that the differences indeed lead to synergy. Only then will we not only tolerate differences; but we will value them and make good use of them.

Even with all our common obligations within the Torah, we must each find the particular path and style upon which we will make our particular contribution. What’s more, we must support each other and encourage each other to do so; and to rise ever higher in the heights of Torah. Then, Hashem will bless us to finally remedy the שנאת חינם, the unnecessary enmity which brought about our mourning and exile. Then we will be blessed to create a society in Israel that will be a blessing for all the nations.

כי ביתי בית תפלה יקרא לכל העמים – ‘for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.’ (ישעיה נו:ז/Isaiah 56:7).

It begins with us.

Originally posted August, 2011

We Have What to Cry About!

Kinah for Tisha B’Av
By Rabbi label Lam

Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!
Woe for all the heads without Tefillin
After 3700 years from Avraham Avinu
After having survived Holocausts and Inquisitions…
Jewish boys and girls blunder
In the darkness that plagues our generation
And go lost by the millions
With visions of isms and instant pleasures
Rapt in utter ignorance
Bathed in a blue light they may never escape
And generations and giant whole families
Holy congregations have disappeared
For nothing!
And their names dead ended
Now only grace lonely stones
In forgotten cemeteries
Bearing words their children
Those that had- Could never read
Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!

The pervasive angst of isolation!
Microwaves our very beings!
We feel beaten from within.
The continuous waves of psychological pain.
We suffer with a wry smile and a diet coke.
The gnawing insecurity and emptiness.
It brings us to search for things that do not exist.
The sublime is substituted with the virtual.
Pictures and fantasies tickle n’ dissolve like
Cotton candy for the eyes…in a world of lies
Fire works for lonely hearts that only grow lonelier
Noshing on empty calories for an endless soul
And as for the big itch…the really big itch…
That small thin voice is starved…
Portrait of a Holocaust victim!
So we turn up the tempo
Tapping like a blind man
Louder and more frantically
We are lost as never before.
Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!

Read more We Have What to Cry About!

Dealing With a Tearless Tisha B’Av

“Shmuel” in Eretz Yisroel

I had a pretty strange experience during davening this morning.

It’s erev tisha b’av and as part of my mental preparation for the upcoming fast I cast my mind back to last year – and I remembered how I was unable to cry.

It’s not that I feel disconnected with the suffering of the Jewish people – on the contrary. Most prominent in my mind is the constant war we have been waging in Israel. My heart bleeds at the thought of the suffering of thousands of my borthers and sisters, whose closest relatives have been killed or injured. I think about the grieving families whose lives will never be the same again. I think about the ongoing terror in our homeland and yes my heart bleeds.

And I think about the spiritual destruction wreaking havoc for so much of world Jewry. I think of all the Jewish children growing up without any idea of what it means to be Jewish. I think of the frightening rates of intermarriage and assimilation, and of the spiritual death facing so many thousands more of my brothers and sisters. And again my heart bleeds.

And I think of how in so many ways we have become distant from our Creator and over this too I grieve.

I recall how there had been several times during the course of the year when I had shed tears over our suffering. Yet somehow tisha b’av came along and the tears just wouldn’t flow. I reminded myself again and again of all the suffering we had faced and were still facing. And I reminded myself how all of these things came as a direct result of the churban.

I heard the mournful tones of Eicha and the Kinnot, I was even sitting at the Kotel – the most tangible remnant of our beloved Beit HaMikdash and a poignant reminder of its absence. I tried to cry. I tried as hard as I could to force the tears to flow. Somehow they just didn’t.

So this morning I thought I’d get an early start this year. And as I stood in tefillah before Hashem I began asking Him to help me connect with the essence of the day coming up and to cry.

And then I stopped.

I thought to myself “what have I just done?”
Here I am standing and asking Hashem to make me cry. Could anything be more distorted than that? Hashem doesn’t want me to be shedding tears or to suffer. What was I saying?

So then I changed my prayer – I asked Hashem to bring about a tisha b’av where I wouldn’t have to cry. To bring about a time when, as the Navi promises, tisha b’av would be a day of simcha. Where tears would no longer be necessary.

We have been engulfed in a bitter exile for so long that in a lot of ways we have lost perspective. We’ve gotten so used to our present state that we often forget that this isn’t what normative Jewish living is about! Normal Jewish life is one in which the Beit HaMikdash stands, avodat haKohanim takes place every day, and we have the Sanhedrin leading us as a people. It’s a life in which there’s no argument about whether we really are the chosen people or not, whether the Torah’s true or not, whether the Jewish people have a right to love in Eretz Yisrael or not. It’s a life in which you don’t debate the existence of Hashem – you feel it!
We may not have been experienced it for the past 2000 years but that doesn’t change the fact – that’s what normal Jewish living is about. Our current bitter exile is not.

My experience this morning proved to me how far off the mark I currently am. It proved just how much work I have to do to be at the stage where I can honestly say I await and anticipate the coming of Mashiach every day.

May we be zocheh to see this time of suffering turned into a time of joy, bimherah beyamenu.

First published July 2007

These Canvas Shoes

Growing up in New York City public schools in the 70s and 80s, one would simply just not wear canvas sneakers. These verboten items of apparel were derisively called “skips”. The unaware male student who breached this fashion taboo was subject to jeers and was most likely to suffer the gravest of schoolyard humiliations– being selected last when choosing sports teams.

Looking down at my canvas. sneakers during my father’s shiva awakened me to the fact of how much things had changed over the past twenty-odd years yet how much some things remained very much the same. Back then, wearing canvas sneakers was a clear marker, right or wrong, of a certain schoolyard stereotype. Now, wearing canvas shoes is also a clear marker but of one who is in mourning or in a state of solemnity. Now, as then, the “clothes make the man”. What we wear affects how we feel and how others feel about us. Funny how the world turns in such a way that the very item one would rail against his parent to avoid wearing is the same one he is now obligated to don to mourn that parent. These canvas shoes are heavy… with meaning.

According to Jewish law and custom, the shoe symbolizes our physical existence. Just as the shoe encases and protects the lowest part of the body and allows it to navigate the physical world, so too the physical body encases and protects the lowest level of the soul and allows it to live in and relate to the physical world. It used to be that each of the birchas hashachar (morning prayers),were recited in conjunction with a certain stage of awakening and preparation for the day. For example, after putting on clothing, the bracha of malbish arumim –blessing the One who clothes the naked– was said. The bracha specifically associated with donning shoes is sheasa li kol zarki—blessing the One who has provided me with all of my needs. We see from here that shoes, specifically leather shoes, are the ultimate paradigm of physicality. Our sages teach that one of the reasons that we don’t wear shoes on Yom Kippur is that on that Holy Day, we are considered as angels and angels, since they are purely spiritual beings without physical needs or desires, don’t wear shoes.

When G-d sees that a person needs to relate on a more spiritual and less physical plane, He commands him to remove his shoes. It happened to Moshe at the Burning Bush and Yehoshua when confronted by the angel of G-d. It happens to us on Yom Kippur, during Shiva and on Tisha B’Av. During these times, we need to realize that physicality must be ignored and that spirituality must be emphasized.

As we slowly and solemnly crawl toward another Tisha B’Av, it may make sense to focus on the physical/spiritual lesson that these canvas shoes teach us. We mourn for the loss of the two Holy Temples. But we are not mourning the loss of physical buildings. Remember, on Tisha B’Av we don’t wear shoes, we are ignoring the physical. As the Temples were the crossroads of the spiritual and physical worlds, we are mourning the spiritual loss of our actual proximity to G-d.

With the loss of the First Temple, we also suffered the loss of prophecy, the mechanism by which spiritual reality was voiced in our physical world. Such tragic losses have unfortunately catalyzed us to view the physical as true reality and the spiritual as a murky, irrelevant reverie.

G-d runs the world according to the principle of midda keneged midda. That means that we are punished or rewarded in accordance with the particular actions that we have taken for which we are being either punished or rewarded. If we truly wish to be rewarded with the return of G-d’s proximity, the return of the truly spiritual to our physical world, we must act in a way which begs for such reward. We must take the lesson of these canvas shoes beyond Tisha B’Av. We have to return our everyday focus toward the spiritual and away from the physical. It is not a once a year thing. It is an everyday, every opportunity thing.

May our continuing efforts to turn our focus from the physical to the spiritual lead to the exchange of Tisha B’Av’s shoes of mourning for Yom Kippur’s angelic footwear. Hey, I told you these shoes are heavy!

First published on August 2, 2006

Rabbi Goldson’s Torah Ideals for Tisha B’Av

The insightful Rabbi Yonason Goldson has started his own blog named Torah Ideals. It’s already packed with great articles including Rabbi Goldson’s own odyssey of becoming a BT.

For Tisha B’Av, Rabbi Goldson has penned a piece called Truth and Faithfulness. Here’s an excerpt:

When we become absorbed in our own agendas, our own projects, and our own priorities, we become passive in the sense that we turn ourselves inward with no concern for the world around us. We become resentful of those around us whom we perceive as impediments to our success as they pursue their own individual goals. This leads to the kind of corruption and divisiveness that brought about the destruction of the First and Second Temples respectively.

However, when we look beyond ourselves,…

Read the whole thing here.

All Alone … Again

“Eicha yashva vadad – Alas; she sits in solitude (Eicha 1:1).”

The haunting words of Megilas Eicha resonate in our hearts and minds as we prepare to sit on the ground this coming Tisha B’Av and commemorate the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash 1,939 years ago.

Sadly, history is repeating itself once again. It was only one year ago that our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel were subjected to horrific destruction and terror with thousands of rockets raining down on them for over a month. A sea of enemies sworn to our destruction surrounds us. The leader of Iran repeatedly calls for the eradication (G-d forbid) of Israel, and publicly states that, “Israel’s destruction is the solution [to the conflict]”. The vile, hate-filled, anti-Semitic rhetoric emanating from many leaders in the Arab world – and most of the ‘Arab Street’ – is at least equivalent to that of the Nazi propaganda machine in the late 1930’s. The vast majority of nations would deny us the right to protect our women and children by any means possible.

It is hard to avoid the feeling that Klal Yisroel is isolated and alone … again.

So what does this mean for us? How do we, who live in comfort and security in America, prepare to commemorate Tisha B’Av properly? What are the messages we ought to internalize, and what actions should we be taking?

I guess I would divide the “take-aways” into two groups:

1) Offer material and emotional support to our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel. Purchase items online in Israeli stores. Support the organizations that are helping our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel and daven for the soldiers who are risking their lives to protect them.

Adopt a family, community or school who have been hard-hit by last year’s rocket attacks or is still suffering from the effects of the disengagement. Two years ago, Yeshiva Darchei Noam, where I serve as Menahel, ‘adopted’ the elementary school of Atzmonah, Gush Katif, as they relocated to the Netivot area. We bought them school supplies, sports equipment, and for Pesach, we partnered with a chesed organization and bought each of the children a brand-new bicycle. Our children and theirs exchanged letters and cards throughout the year. It was so much appreciated by them – and so rewarding for my talmidim. Many schools and shuls in North America have conducted similar programs. The need is great and the time for action is now.

2) On a more personal and spiritual note; I think we all ought to read the stirring and timeless words of our nevi’im in the haftoros of Shabbos Chazon and Tisha B’av – and make a sincere cheshbon hanefesh.

There are two recurring themes in these lines. One relates to the Jews of those times serving idols and forsaking Hashem. At least on the surface, this does not seem to be very relevant today. The second theme, on the other hand, is very much germane to our lives. It speaks to the fact that the Jews of those times were concentrating on spiritual trappings (bringing korbanos) and not on the essence of Hashem’s Torah (honesty, integrity, and kindness).

“Why do I need your numerous sacrifices? (Yeshaya 1:11),” asks Hashem. The Navi exclaims that Hashem is “weary of your korbanos (1:14)”, and that He “will not listen to your prayers (1:15).” Why was that so? It was certainly a great mitzvah to purchase and bring karbonos to the Beis Hamikdash. But, as the Navi relates, those mitzvos were mere adornments to the core values of our Torah. And the Navi clearly describes what the Jews needed to do in order to redeem themselves. “Purify yourselves, seek justice, strengthen the victim, and take up the cause of the widow/orphan (1:16-17).

I suggest that we engage in a constructive cheshbon hanefesh regarding the essential elements of the qualities noted by the Navi – honesty, integrity, true ahavas Yisroel, supporting those among us who are weak and unable to conduct their lives with simchas hachayim. We should be asking ourselves if we are doing all we can to make a true kiddush Hashem in our interactions with non-Jews, non-religious Jews, and frum Yidden who may be of different backgrounds. For these qualities is the essence of what Hashem’s Torah produces.

In these troubling times, surrounded by our enemies, isolated and alone, we ought to be striving to fulfill the timeless charge of Yirmiyahu in the closing words of the haftorah of Tisha B’Av, “For only with this may one glorify himself; become wise and [get to] know Me [contemplate how to better emulate the ways of Hashem], for I am Hashem who does kindness, justice and righteousness …” (Yirmiyahu 9:23).

May Hashem dry our tears and comfort us with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash.

All Alone … Again – Reflections on Tisha B’Av 5766

All Alone … Again
Reflections on Tisha B’Av 5766

By: Yakov Horowitz

“Eicha yashva vadad – Alas; she sits in solitude (Eicha 1:1).” The haunting words of Megilas Eicha resonate in our hearts and minds as we sit on the ground commemorating the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash 1,938 years ago.

Sadly, history is repeating itself once again. Our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel are being subjected to horrific destruction and terror with more than 100 rockets on average each day. A sea of enemies sworn to our destruction surrounds us. Today, the leader of Iran once again called for the eradication r’l of Israel, and publicly stated that, “Israel’s destruction is the solution [to the conflict]”. The vile, hate-filled, anti-Semitic rhetoric emanating from many leaders in the Arab world – and most of the ‘Arab Street’ – is at least equivalent to that of the Nazi propaganda machine in the late 1930s. The vast majority of nations would deny us the right to protect our women and children by any means possible.

It is hard to avoid the feeling that Klal Yisroel is isolated and alone … again.

So what does this mean for us? How are we, who live in comfort and security in America, to respond to the unfolding tragedy in Eretz Yisroel? After reading the haftoros of ‘The Three Weeks’ and the poignant words of Megilas Eicha; after reflecting on the kinos we just recited – what are the messages we ought to internalize?

We all know that we ought to increase our tefilos. And we are. We all know that we need to share the burden with our brothers and sister in Eretz Yisroel. And we are; in many ways. This week, I received emails from two parents in Yeshiva Darchei Noam, where I serve as Menahel. They both are members of the local volunteer fire corps and they independently decided to travel to Eretz Yisroel in order to assist the overworked Israeli firefighters battling the many blazes caused by the barrage of rockets.

But how can we honestly relate to the agony of the hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters living in the northern portions of Eretz Yisroel – Tzfas, Haifa, etc. – who have become homeless and unemployed due to the incessant and deadly rocket attacks?

How can we honestly relate to the sheer terror – and bravery – of the parents of Israeli soldiers who are in active combat in Southern Lebanon or Gaza? We, who become anxious when our adult children are driving on the highways in thunderstorms, how can we relate to the sleepless nights that these parents must be undergoing?

Several members of our extended Horowitz family created a family group email list that we use to communicate with each other. We normally use the list to exchange mazel tov notices and occasional requests to daven for a grandchild who is not well. The past few days, we received two emails from our cousins who have children serving in the Israeli army. They speak for themselves. (I included some excerpted lines from their emails at the bottom of this column.)

So; what are we to do?? I guess I would divide the “take-aways” in two groups:

1) Offer material and emotional support to our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel. Especially now, with the advent of the Internet, there is so much you can do. Purchase items online in Israeli stores. Send emails of support to your relatives in Eretz Yisroel. Support the organizations that are helping our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel. Daven for the soldiers who are risking their lives to protect our brothers and sisters. (My chaver Rabbi Pesach Lerner recently created an email partnership to provide the names of soldiers to include in our tefilos. To sign up, go to www.youngisrael.org and click on the large box titled “Israel Crisis” in the upper right-hand corner.)

Adopt a family, community or school. Last September, our yeshiva ‘adopted’ the elementary school of Atzmonah, Gush Katif, as they relocated to the Netivot area. We bought them school supplies, sports equipment, and for Pesach, we partnered with a chesed organization and bought each of the children a brand-new bicycle. Our children and theirs exchanged letters and cards throughout the year. It was so much appreciated by them – and so rewarding for my talmidim.

(Please drop my assistant Esty an email at estyk2@aol.com if you would like more information on the logistics of the program. Here is a link link to an article that I wrote on the subject.)

2) On a more personal and spiritual note; I think we all ought to read the stirring and timeless words of our nevi’im in the haftoros of Shabbos Chazon and Tisha B’av – and make a sincere cheshbon hanefesh.

There are two recurring themes in these lines. One relates to the Jews of those times serving idols and forsaking Hashem. That, however, at least on the surface, is not very relevant today. The second theme, on the other hand, is very much germane to our lives. It speaks to the fact that the Jews of those times were concentrating on spiritual trappings (bringing korbanos) and not on the essence of Hashem’s Torah (honesty, integrity, and kindness).

“Why do I need your numerous sacrifices? (Yeshaya 1:11),” asks Hashem. The Navi exclaims that Hashem is “weary of your korbanos (1:14)”, and that He “will not listen to your prayers (1:15).” Why was that so? It was certainly a great mitzvah to purchase and bring karbonos to the Beis Hamikdash. But, as the Navi relates, those mitzvos were mere adornments to the core values of our Torah. And the Navi clearly describes what the Jews needed to do in order to redeem themselves. “Purify yourselves, seek justice, strengthen the victim, and take up the cause of the widow/orphan (1:16-17).

I suggest that we engage in a constructive cheshbon hanefesh regarding the essential elements of the qualities noted by the Navi – honesty, integrity, true ahavas Yisroel, supporting those among us who are weak and unable to conduct their lives with simchas hachayim.

We should be asking ourselves if we are doing all we can to make a true kiddush Hashem in our interactions with non-Jews, non-religious Jews, and frum Yidden who may be of different backgrounds. For these qualities is the essence of what Hashem’s Torah produces.

In these troubling times, when we are surrounded by our enemies, isolated and alone, we ought to be striving to fulfill the timeless charge of Yirmiyahu in the closing words of today’s haftorah, “For only with this may one glorify himself; become wise and [get to] know Me [contemplate how to better emulate the ways of Hashem], for I am Hashem who does kindness, justice and righteousness …” (Yirmiyahu 9:23).

May Hashem dry our tears and comfort us with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash.

© 2006 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

Excerpted emails from our family email list:

Dear Cousins,

The past 3 weeks have been very difficult ones here in Israel. The fear and terror that residents of the North and the South live with is unfathomable. People’s lives have been disrupted, businesses have come to a standstill and the rhythms that make up the fabric of daily life have ceased to exist for many thousands of Israeli citizens. Living in bomb shelters for 3 weeks is something that we can barely imagine, let alone identify with. Living in a heightened state of anxiety 24/7 sounds like a psychiatric diagnosis, not a fact of life. Yet, Am Yisrael are strong and resilient. Our daughter … just returned from Nahariya where she volunteered to go from bomb shelter to bomb shelter doing anything that needed to be done, i.e. playing with the kids, talking to teenagers, to parents and just letting the residents of that scarred city know that others care. She came back with many stories of courage and bravery in the face of
adversity, along with many invitations to return and visit when things return to normal. We are humbled by her commitment and love for the people of Eretz Yisrael.

Our son Efraim is currently in Lebanon. (Efrayim celebrated his marriage a few short months ago. YH). We last spoke with him on Friday, Shabbat Parshat Devarim. He and his unit entered Lebanon sometime on Shabbat. We do not know his whereabouts or what his mission is… Please keep Efraim Moshe ben Rachel Miriam, along with all the other soldiers, in your tefilot. May they all return home safely to their parents, wives, children and siblings.

With wishes for an easy fast,

Mindy

And, from another cousin of ours:

Dear Cousins,

I too want to add some words to Mindy’s. Our Noam has been in Lebanon on and off almost from the beginning. There are many heroic acts like in the article that Mindy sent in her letter. Noam … said that he must say birkat hagomel (a blessing recited when one miraculously survived a life threatening situation) many times over. He was with the paratroopers that were … serving in Lebanon.

Please daven … for Noam Simcha ben Shprinsa Aviva and for all of our chayalim … who are doing their best for Am Yisrael.

Have a meaningful fast and hopefully we will see this day of Tisha B’av turned into a day of gladness.

Love,

Aviva