Yacov Nordlicht – Why Does Tisha B’Av Have The Potential To Be A Holiday

This coming Sunday will be Tisha b’Av (the ninth of Av), 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 many years ago on this day.

We find something somewhat alarming in the texts describing the essence of Tisha b’Av. On the one hand, we have an obligation to mourn. As our Sages have explained, the mourning isn’t merely over the physical building of the Beis HaMikdash which was destroyed, rather we mourn the disconnect which resulted between us and HaShem. We cry because we realize how far away we are from HaShem and how far we’ve strayed from His presence. On the other hand, the Medrash tells us that Tisha b’Av is called a “mo’ed”, a holiday. Yet in Jewish consciousness, holidays were given to represent a connection to HaShem! Their sole purpose is to celebrate the closeness of our eternal relationship with our Creator! This is seemingly a contradiction. How can Tisha b’Av be a day whose essence is the expression of the great distance we feel between us and HaShem while also being a day where we celebrate our closeness with Him?

The previous Slonimer Rebbe of Yerushalayim answered this question with 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 the other. 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 look vastly different then his brother’s. Instead of calling and saying, “Hey, Dad, how are you?… How was your week?… Have a gut Shabbos..”, this brother would call his dad and say “Dad, 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, dad, please help….”

Who do you think the father feels more love towards? Sure, he’s probably much prouder of the first son. But to which son does he think and 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. 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 holiday. Because within our mourning and sadness we come closer to HaShem.

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, “Dad, I need help”. How can it be if we’re the son who neglects to call his 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, dad, please help me…”

The first step is to know the father. That’s really what it’s all about. To not be the estranged son who neglects his father’s. Only after that can we use the tools at our disposal to draw closer and closer to Him.

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Matot-Massei – Chasing Peace – A Goal Worth Pursuing

One night, as I was davening Maariv, I saw two professionals who have the same type of medical practice sitting at a table learning Torah together. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “this is very special. Two competing professionals learning together as chavrusa.” The next time I met Dr. Z., I remarked how beautiful it was to see the two of them learning together. He told me their story.

“We’ve been chavrusos now for over three years! My practice was running for a while, when one day, Dr. B. walked into my office. After we exchanged greetings, Dr. B. said, ‘I came here to tell you personally that I am opening my own practice this year locally. I didn’t want you to hear this from someone else. I also want you to know that I intentionally chose a location in the next town so I don’t infringe on your practice and your clientele.’

“I was floored. I told Dr. B. he was so considerate to open his office in the next town and to come speak with me personally. We both live here, so he’s entitled to practice here as much as I am. I was really touched by his consideration. Later, when I joined a night learning group and was looking for a chavrusa, the rabbi in charge told me Dr. B. was also looking. I jumped at the chance to have such a caring individual as my chavrusa.

“We’re not in competition,” said Dr. Z. “Rabbi Singer told me that Hashem has a lot of money. He will give me what I need and will give Dr. B. what he needs.”

Parshas Masei mentions the death of Aharon Hakohen, which occurred on Rosh Chodesh Av. We know that Rosh Chodesh Av starts the Nine Days—the period when the mourning for the loss of the Beis Hamikdash intensifies. What is the connection between the death of Aharon Hakohen and Rosh Chodesh Av?

The Gemara Rosh Hashana tells us the loss of a tzadik is equal to the loss of the Beis Hamikdash. This is alluded to in Parshas Masei (33:49), in the way the Torah describes the last place the Bnei Yisrael encamped in the desert—between Beit Hayeshimos and Avel Hashittim. Instead of the Torah listing the name of the actual place, as it does with the 41 other locations, here the Torah lists two surrounding markers. Why?

The Kli Yakar explains the word hayeshimos is from the word shmama, which means desolation—referring to the loss of the Beis Hamikdash. The word avel is from the word aveilus—which means mourning [for the loss of Aharon Hakohen]. The Torah juxtaposes these losses to teach us that the loss of a tzadik is comparable to the loss of the Beis Hamikdash, since we are left bereft, without the direction we had been receiving.

That’s one reason for citing the losses, but there’s more. Rav Avrohom Schorr quotes the Mishna in Avos: Hillel says be like the students of Aharon Hakohen: love peace and pursue peace. He points out from Eicha that the “pursuers” of klal Yisrael won when we did not “pursue” peace. Pursuit implies action and passion. The second Temple was destroyed because of sinas chinam, baseless hatred (Gemara Yoma). Clearly, there was a lack of active pursuit for peace. This, more than anything, made our enemies successful in attacking klal Yisrael and destroying the Beis Hamikdash.

People have many pursuits in life: happiness, pleasure, financial success… Aharon Hakohen taught that peace must be a primary pursuit. Interpersonal harmony doesn’t happen naturally; we need to pursue it.

We may get along well with some people easily, but others take work. This is even more important with regard to family: parents, children, spouses, siblings and in-laws. Achieving true harmony in our relationships takes continuous work on our part.

On Rosh Chodesh Av, the Jewish people lost their spiritual guide to pursuing peace, and intense mourning began. Still, the day of a yahrzeit of a tzadik serves as a time when we can make an effort to connect to the positive qualities he manifested in his lifetime. Hashem orchestrated the death of Aharon precisely at this time so we can all focus on the quality of Aharon as the pursuer of peace. Being more like Aharon can improve all of our relationships.

Let’s learn from Dr. Z. and Dr. B.—potential competitors who went out of their way to be peaceful and harmonious toward each other. They became friends and chavrusos. Let us each choose at least one additional person with whom we will actively pursue a harmonious relationship. Such a sincere effort will change us and signal to Hashem that we want to work toward the final redemption.