As we finish up the month of Taamuz, the stark realization sinks in that perhaps the most misunderstood and difficult day of Tisha B’Av (the ninth of Av) is rapidly approaching. Being the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, Jews around the world will sit on the floor in mourning, crying over the Beis HaMikdash which was destroyed on this day many years ago.
We find an alarming point repeatedly stressed in the texts describing the essence of Tisha HaMikdash. On the one hand, we have an obligation to mourn. The numerous Halachos which pertain specifically to this day were enacted to allow us to properly grieve. It’s a day of grief and despair. However, on the other hand, the Medrash tells us that Tisha B’Av is called a “mo’ed”, a holiday. It seems like the opposite of how we commonly perceive Tisha B’Av, perhaps even a contradiction! How can Tisha B’Av be a day whose essence is the expression of anguish while at the same time be a mo’ed which is a celebratory day? It must mean that there is an aspect of Tisha B’Av which is likened to a mo’ed, however this requires further explanation, for at least on the outside there seems to be two completely different areas of our Avodah – the Moadim which are set aside for celebrating, and days like Tisha B’Av which is set aside for mourning.
As a preface to understanding the essence of the day, it may be worthwhile to delve into the practical mourning we know we’re supposed to experience on Tisha B’Av. This is one area I always found to be quite difficult. We sit on the floor and we know we’re supposed to feel broken and lost. But at the same time, it’s hard not to feel disingenuous. Are we really so grief-stricken? Even the most sincere looking people may have less than noble intentions. The reason for this is that it’s hard to feel the pain over losing something we never personally merited to experience. Sure, we heard about the greatness of the Beis HaMikdash. To a certain extent we’ve even been granted a window by Chazal to observe what Jewish life was like when the Beis HaMikdash stood. However we never personally experienced it. We have an intellectual knowledge of what life was like. But to know what we lost and to feel what we lost are two completely different things. So how do we mourn sincerely? Having never experienced that type of life, how can we mourn the lack thereof?
The Peleh Yoetz was sensitive to this issue. And in response he gave a point of advice. Instead of trying to picture the Beis HaMikdash burning, one should create a mashal for himself. Perhaps a loved one (for example his mother) sitting on the floor dressed in black rags and weeping loud heartfelt cries. Each individual has to create his own picture for what will work for him, but it should be in the area of one mourning for the loss of another.
The question I was always bothered by, is why is this itself not the epitome of disingenuity? How is this cry in any way related to the cry of Tisha B’Av? And furthermore, it’s not true! My mother isn’t sitting and weeping on a floor somewhere. She’s sitting at home in America, probably struggling with the same struggles that I myself am dealing with on Tisha B’Av. How then is this cry honest? What does the Peleh Yoetz mean?
The Gemara (Ta’anis 20a) recounts a drasha from R’ Yehuda. We read in the beginning of megillas Eicha that Yerushalayim sits in solitude like a widow. R’ Yehuda would expound that the pasuk doesn’t say that Yerushalayim (and Klal Yisrael) is a widow, rather we’re like a widow. That is, we aren’t like a woman who’s lost her husband completely, rather like a woman whose husband has gone overseas with the intention of returning. We’re like a widow in the sense that we’re presently alone, but not because we lost our partner, but rather because we’re separated from Him.
This Gemara offers a unique insight into the essence of the cry of Tisha B’Av. It isn’t a cry over what we lost. It’s a cry of longing. It’s a cry of a woman wanting to see her husband. Of a mother separated from her children. This is our cry on Tisha B’Av.
This was the intention of the Peleh Yoetz. The way we get to this cry may not be true. It may be a mashal, a fantasy. But the cry itself is sincere. The cry of longing, of a relationship which wants so badly to achieve its potential, yet can’t. That’s the cry of Tisha B’Av. It’s a cry of recognizing that we should have a deeper and more meaningful relationship with HaShem. That ideally, we should be more connected to him. And we desire this relationship with every fiber of our being. It’s a cry of mourning, for each year we’re reminded that the closeness of this relationship hasn’t come to fruition.
We this understanding, we can explain why Tisha B’Av is called a mo’ed. The Nesivos Shalom used to say a parable. A father has two children. One child grew up, went to medical school and became a successful doctor. He was able to pay back all of his student debts and was able to build himself a nice house with his newfound income. Being the loyal son that he was, every Friday, before Shabbos, he would call his father to see how the week had went and to wish him a gut shabbos. The other son wasn’t as fortunate. After getting into some trouble in high school, he found himself in one difficult situation after another. He grew up, scrimping and saving to pay off his debts, but it never seemed to be enough. He would also call his father every week before Shabbos, but his conversation would be vastly different than that of his brother’s. Instead of calling and saying, “hi, how are you?… How was your week? Have a gut Shabbos..”, this brother would call his father and say “Tatte, I’m sorry to ask you again. But I need help. I can’t do it by myself. I feel like I’m drowning… please, Tatte, please help….”
Who does the father feels more love towards? Sure, he’s probably much prouder of the first son. But to which son does he constantly worry about? Which son occupies his thoughts, and gives him a longing to just be with that son, and make everything all right? To which does he feel closer? To me, it seems obvious that the answer is the second son.
Our relationship with HaShem is oft-times likened to the relationship between a father and a son. On Tisha B’Av, we sit and we cry because we’re so far from HaShem. Because our relationship isn’t what it should be. But that itself brings us closer to Him. At the times where we feel like we just can’t do it anymore, like we can’t function by ourselves without Him- those are the times where HaShem feels closest to us. Just like a father, when the son calls out for help, the father is always there.
That’s the reason why the day is considered both a day of mourning, but also a mo’ed. We mourn because the relationship isn’t what it should be. But within our mourning and sadness we come closer to HaShem. Our grief at being apart expresses our unshakable and perpetual desire to be closer.
I think the lesson here goes even a step further. When are the times that HaShem is close to us? When we mourn and cry because we’re so far away from Him. The lesson here isn’t just in a theoretical sense. It’s practical as well. How many of us fail to mourn? How many of us come to a day like Tisha B’Av without being able to cry? HaShem wants to be close to us. But how can it be if we’re not even the son who calls up the father to say “Tatte, I need help”. How can it be if we’re the son who neglects to call the father at all? The lesson here isn’t just that HaShem is closest to us in our times of despair. It’s that we need to look to Him within that sadness and use it to draw closer to Him. It means being the son who calls his father and says “please, Tatte, please help me…”
The first step is to know the father. To not be an estranged son who neglects his father’s desire for a relationship. Only after that can we use the tools at our disposal to draw ever closer to Him and his Heavenly presence.