There are countless stories of Jews of all backgrounds who start sobbing uncontrollably upon first seeing the Kotel. Most don’t even know what overcame them and have difficulty articulating their feelings. Two weeks ago, I went to Eretz Yisrael for the first time in fourteen years. When I reached that pivotal moment of seeing the stones of the Kotel, my eyes welled up with tears. I sensed the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash at my very core.
Tears are deeply interwoven with the day of Tisha B’Av. The origin of Tisha B’Av is the tragic day when the meraglim – spies – returned from spying out the land of Eretz Yisrael and presented their slanderous report to B’nei Yisrael. The nation accepted their words and refused to enter the land. As a punishment, Hashem said, “You, Yisrael, cried tears for naught. I will designate this day (ninth of Av) as a day of crying for generations.” (Gemara Taanis)
This is a very troubling Gemara. Just because B’nei Yisrael cried for nothing, is Hashem, our loving father, going to make us cry generation after generation? Hashem is not interested in causing us needless pain. Furthermore, the crime of B’nei Yisrael was believing the unfavorable report of the spies which showed their lack of trust in Hashem. Why the emphasis on crying as the reason for punishment?
Rav Hirsch notes that the word bechi – crying – has the numerical value of thirty-two, as does the word “lev” – heart. Crying comes from something deep within us and, in effect, is the window into one’s heart. If the B’nei Yisrael cried, it means that deep down they did not have faith in Hashem to lead them into Eretz Yisrael and conquer it. Therefore, Hashem punished B’nei Yisrael measure for measure by making each generation cry.
This precise form of punishment serves to correct the area at fault. Our current tears have the ability to fix the sin of the original tears! Hashem wants us to cry not as punishment, but rather to fix the root of the problem. If we cry, it shows we really care about correcting our faults. The Hebrew word for a teardrop is “demah.” The Sfas Emes notes that if we formulate the Hebrew letters differently, it spells moed – which means a designated time or place of meeting. A teardrop represents a connection to something deep inside of ourselves.
Let’s probe even deeper. The first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because the Jews were involved in the three cardinal sins of idolatry, adultery and murder. It’s hard to imagine that having the Beis Hamikdash, they could commit such horrible crimes. In the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash, the Gemara reveals that the crime was baseless hatred. Even though there were hundreds of yeshivos and incredible chesed everywhere, that fatal flaw overshadowed it all. Why couldn’t they figure it out and correct themselves?
In the Haftarah reading for Shabbos Chazon (this Shabbos), we read a section in Yeshaya, whichRav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk translates as follows: “If your sins will be like crimson wool, I will clean them to be white like snow. And if they’re red like a worm, I will make them white like wool like snow.” He explains that the two analogies are referring to the sins of the time periods. During the first Beis Hamikdash, the sins were like crimson wool. Crimson wool is inherently white, but is dyed red. The sins of that time period were external. The second analogy refers to the second Beis Hamikdash. A worm is white, but inside its blood is red. The people looked great on the surface; they were learning Torah and doing great acts of kindness, but their inside was different. The sins were concealed; they were not in touch with their core and therefore did not recognize their major fault.
This year on Tisha B’Av, we will be sitting and eating a delicious meal, as the ninth of Av coincides with Shabbos and the fast is pushed off to motzei Shabbos and Sunday. How is it possible to eat, drink and act as if today is not the saddest and most tragic day of the Jewish year?
The Apter Rav says this Shabbos is really the greatest Shabbos of the year. On Shabbos, all public displays of mourning are lifted. Indeed, Shabbos can fix the relationship with Hashem even without the crying. Let’s utilize this Shabbos to review and repair our midos (character traits) so in the future we will not need to sit on the floor and cry on motzei Shabbos. Rather, it will be within our reach to be singing and dancing in Yerushalayim, with the coming of the Moshiach.
The Shabbos preceding Tisha B’Av is known as Shabbos Chazon, called after the Haftorah of the day. Though it contains harsh words criticizing the Jews’ errors, it contains even greater optimism. The Gemara (Brochos 12a) states “hakol holeich achar hachitum,” everything follows the ending. And the end of this haftorah? “Tzion bamishpat tipade veshiveha betzidaka,” the redemption will come. Rabbi Akiva saw foxes running on temple mount and laughed. In that moment he saw the promised future as well. From the darkest places comes the greatest light.
Chazon means vision. The Maggid of Mezritch explains that on this Shabbos, Hashem shows every Jew a vision of the Beis Hamikdash. We may not see it with our eyes, but you see it nonetheless. How? In Daniel it says, “and I alone Daniel saw the vision…” says the Talmud (Megillah 3a) “even though those that were with him did not see, their mazal saw.” Likewise, our mazal, our souls, see this vision of the Beis Hamikdash.
The Magid gives a moshol: A father gave his son a beautiful suit which the son soils. The father gave him a second suit, which the son likewise soils. The father makes a third suit, but this one he does not give to his son. Every now and then he shows it to him as a reminder to continue improving his ways.
Why does the Magid give an example of a garment for the Beis Hamikdash? Though both a house and a garment surround a person, the garment is tailored to fit. On the posuk “machon leshvtecha paalta hashem” our Chachomim explain that the Mikdash below reflects a parallel one above. Just as the Mikdash above contains varied levels of holiness, so too the Mikdash below is built to house all those differences. In that regard, the Mikdash is likened to a garment, tailor made.
Being that the first two Batei Mikdash were built by man, their reflecting of the Mikdash above was not as apparent. The final Beis Hamikdash will be built by Hashem and the different levels of holiness will radiate.
We are told that if only the nations of the world would know the benefit the House of G-d brings to the world, they would send their armies to protect it, rather than destroy. The Beis Hamikdash acts like the soul of the world. Much like the soul that is present in the head of a person which gives clarity and direction to the whole body.
During golus, the world is asleep. We may know of G-d’s presence on some level, but we can choose to do something against His Will. Much like the thief who prays to G-d that he should be successful in his robbery. Such a paradox exists only when asleep, when reality is distorted. “And every entity of flesh will see that the mouth of Hashem speaks” (Isaiah 40, 5). Everyone will see clearly how the word of Hashem creates each and every being. This will be with the coming of Moshiach and the Beis Hamikdash Hashlishi.
Not only will we see the Kovod Hashem but also how Hashem has a specific purpose for everything he creates.
When we consider the essence of golus, we realize that it is not natural for the Jewish people. Generally, people wish for a time of world peace. Interestingly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a time in history, in which there was complete peace world-wide.
Yet we all still believe.
Shabbos Chazon is the time to take this belief that we haven’t worked for -its embedded in our beings- and bring it into our daily lives and reality.
In this last century we have endured physical persecution like no other time, all the while singing the words of the Rambam, Ani Ma’amin.
I don’t know another period in history where basics of humanity is attacked. The very idea of a soul, G-d, is mocked. Yet despite these challenges Moshiach is on our lips constantly.
Achdus Yisroel and Ahavas Yisroel are being demonstrated more than ever.
It’s high time that this year the 9th of Av we should be with our final Beis Hamikdash.
Rabbi Mendel Kessler is the Director of the Chabad of Sedona in Sedona, Arizona.
I had the great zechus (privilege) to live in Eretz Yisrael for eleven years, both as a single person in yeshiva and for six years as a “young married” with four children, including twins! Fourteen years ago, we moved to America, dreaming one day to return to our beloved land…but we’re still here. This past week, I experienced a slice of the dream, as I spent an amazing week in Eretz Yisrael with my son, who becomes a bar mitzvah after the summer.
It was beyond incredible – a walk back in time. I was able to visit all the places of my early married years. We roamed through Maalot Dafna, where we lived and sent our children to gan (nursery). We walked the streets of Har Nof, where I spent many a Shabbos with relatives, rabbis and friends. We met with many of my close Rebbeim. We also toured various parts of the country.
This trip coincided with Parshas Maasei, which lists all the different journeys of Bnei Yisrael from the time they left Egypt until they were to enter the Chosen Land. The Torah even commands us to remember the entire journey – forty-two stages in total. The Sfas Emes says all individuals in their own lives, also have forty-two different stages through which they must journey. As it says in the second sentence of Parshas Maasei, “…v’eileh maaseihem – …” …and these are their travels. The numerical value of “v’eileh” is forty two, indicating there will be forty-two legs in every individual’s life journey.
The forty-two legs of a person’s life are also alluded to in the first paragraph of Shema, which contains forty-two words and directs us to be close to Hashem and His Torah. From this we learn that throughout our life’s journeys, we must always remember it is Hashem Who is directing our path. This paragraph of Shema also says, “… vedibarta bam,” – “…you shall speak concerning them.” The word “bam” equals forty-two. The Gemara tells us this mitzvah is specifically referring to Torah learning. One must instruct and teach his children in the ways of the Torah. It can also mean one must teach his children about the forty-two different stages of life.
The Imrei Emes says there is a constant mitzvah to remember the Bnei Yisrael’s travels, as the Torah tells us, “Vezacharta es kol haderech,” – “You shall remember your entire journey.” There are different challenges in life and each one is a book in itself, as illustrated in Parshas Beha’alosecha, with the upside-down letter “Nun” bracketing the journey away from Har Sinai.
On my first day of this trip to Eretz Yisrael, I was going to the Koteland Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim, where I learned for ten years. But where would I go first? The answer should be the Kotel, but my inner self led me to Mir Yerushalayim. I realized the Kotel represents the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the exile of the Jewish People. For me, the Mir Yerushalayim, where I spent ten years immersed in Torah study, day and night, represented a place of incredible personal growth for me. This was my foundation stone for everything else I have since accomplished in life. Before I could confront the immeasurable destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the exile of the Jewish People, I first needed to connect with my own inner source of direction and strength. I realized that rebuilding requires tools, and the Mir served as my inner toolbox.
We all have different stages and phases in our lives. In fact, as mentioned above, we have forty-two of them. Within these stages and phases, we have experienced various challenges that contributed to our development. In some cases we triumphed and in some cases we may have failed, but we learned from that failure. Wherever we find ourselves in our journey, it’s important to remember our accomplishments so far — they will give us the fortitude to move forward. Any failures, on the other hand, serve as a necessary pause for reflection, redirection and rededication, to move to the next leg.
As we mourn the loss of the Beis Hamikdash in this period of the Three Weeks, let’s not forget to tap into our inner reserves, review lessons we have learned from our experiences and goals we have accomplished on our journeys. This will help prepare us for the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, may it happen speedily in our days.