Yacov Nordlicht – Parsha Tetzaveh – Experiencing G-d

In this week’s parsha, the pasuk once again talks about HaShem resting His presence amongst klal Yisrael. The pasuk says “…I shall rest among the children of Israel…they shall know that I am HaShem their G-d who took them out of the land of Mitzrayim…” The Ramban explains this pasuk to mean that as a result of knowing that HaShem rests among us, we can properly come to the Emunah that HaShem took us out of Mitzrayim.

On a basic level, this idea is very difficult to understand. HaShem was talking to klal Yisrael at this time. This was the every same klal Yisrael which saw the miracles in Egypt! Why did they need to  “know that HaShem is among us”, in order to know that “HaShem took us out of Mitzrayim”? Rav Yitzchak Isaac Sher asks this same question in last week’s parsha. What was introduced with this knowledge which wasn’t already a part of klal Yisrael? They witnessed kriyas yam suf! The ten plagues! How could this knowledge that HaShem is within in our midst add anything to the emunah that He took us out of Mitzrayim?

There’s a very big yesod from the baalei Mussar which is very relevant. There are different levels of emunah. Rav Avigdor Miller would give a mashal of a small child. If you tell the child that the element of a stove is very hot and that he shouldn’t touch it, the child will believe you. However, even though he can know that the stove is hot, he’s never experienced the heat from the stove. On the other hand, if there’s a child who touched the stove top and got burnt, his level of knowledge that the stove is hot is on a much higher level of understanding than the first child.

The same is true with our emunah. A person can know intellectually that there exists a Ribbono shel Olam. That person’s emunah is within the realm of knowing. However, his emunah is limited, for he never experienced it. Feeling HaShem’s presence creates a much higher level of emunah than simply knowing it to be true.

The baalei mussar say that this is what the Ramban is alluding to. A person could intellectually know HaShem. He could have even seen open miracles proving what he knows! However, if a person wants to make emunah a part of him, to take with him the root of emunah which is yetzias mitzrayim, it’s not enough to just know it; one has to feel it. He needs that higher level of emunah called emunah chushis; not just an intellectual emunah, but an experiential one.

This yesod is a major yesod which I personally take much mussar from. The Torah isn’t just telling us to know HaShem, the Torah is telling us to live with HaShem. To feel His presence among us. How many times do we forget this? How many times do we act in a way which is against His will? Or furthermore, how many times do we justify our own agendas by misconstruing His will? If we felt Him in our midst, could we do such things? Would we be able to act in such a way?

The yesod is penetrating. If we want to become people who serve HaShem, who connect to yetzias Mitzrayim, HaShem has to become our reality. And the only way for us to make Him a reality is to feel His presence. To try as hard as we can to focus on Him and to put Him in front of us always. In this way, with this high level of emunah, we don’t just exist as people who know of HaShem, rather we experience HaShem.





Yacov Nordlicht – The Half Shekel

The shekalim in parshas shekalim which talks about the machzis hashekel used to count klal Yisrael has a specific tikkun for Haman and Amalek.

The question is simply what’s the connection between the two? How does the idea of the machsitz hashekel relate to the defeating of Amalek?

Chazal tell us that the machsitz hashekel was one of the few things that Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t quite grasp the first time it was told to him. Tosafos in Menachos (39a) asks, how is it possible that Moshe didn’t understand what a machsitz hashekel was? Its a simple half-shekel?! Tosafos says that surely Moshe knew the physical coin that each person was required to give. Rather, Moshe didn’t understand how such a thing could be a kapparah. The idea behind the machsitz hashekel was something which escaped Moshe. In order to further explain the idea, HaShem showed Moshe Rabbeinu a “matbeiah shel aish”, a “coin on fire”, and from that Moshe understood the yesod of the machsitz hashekel.

What does this mean? How did a flaming coin further explain to Moshe Rabbeinu the kapparah of the machsitz hashekel?

I heard an explanation from my previous Rebbe at the Mir, Rav Vagshal. Rav Vagshal explained: Whats the sin that the machsitz hashekel was coming to fix? It’s clarified in chazal that there’s a certain issur to count people. We see this by Dovid hamelech who sinned by counting people and a plague resulted. In order to have a kapparah for such a sin, HaShem gave the mitzvah of the machsitz hashekel. Why? Where’s the Takkana of the sin? Rav Vagshal explained that if a person would take a bag of coins, it would exists as a bag full of coins. Even though the bag may hold them all, they each will always exist as a separate coin. Fire, however, is different. If a person joins together two flames, they don’t continue to exist as two separate flames, rather they combine and become one.

This is what HaShem showed Moshe. That when the coins are given l’shma, they’re not just coins which exist separate from one another, rather they come together like fire. It results in an achdus, one people with one goal; to serve HaShem. This fire could be a tikkun for the sin of counting- for counting by definition separates each person as an individual. The machsitz hashekel is what united us after such a separation.

This is also the reason why chazal instituted to read shekalim before Purim. When adar begins is when shekalim were used in the Purim story. But theses shekalim aren’t just any shekalim. They’re a direct tikkun to Amalek. One of the foundations of Amalek was to create a separation. The yesod of the machsitz hashekel is the fire. There are no separate flames, only one fire.

The Zohar says that before the days of moshiach, five types of Eirev rav will present themselves. The Zohar explains that the first type of people come from the root of Amalek. They try to uproot klal yisrael from Torah, our definition, our fire which connects us. In such a time when people seek to separate us from Torah and each other, the only way to combat it is with the yesod of the machsitz hashekel. To enforce our fire and join it with our fellows. Only then can we become one and conquer the yesod of Amalek.

 

Yacov Nordlicht – Parsha Beshalach – Real Redemption

These weeks we read form the Torah the Exodus of klal Yisrael from Egypt. Hundreds of years of slavery and persecution come to a climax where God himself takes us out of Egypt. However, before the actual Exodus, we find something puzzling. HaShem told Moshe that he would be the one to take Klal Yisrael out of Egypt. He gave Moshe certain signs so that when he would approach the Jews, they would realize that he was telling the truth about himself.

At first, Moshe was received warmly. The Jews were ecstatic! Finally, it’s over, this suffering is over! However, when Moshe approached Pharaoh, he wasn’t met with the same excitement. Instead of sending out the Jews, Pharaoh increased their suffering. He forced them to make the same amount of bricks, but he withheld the necessary ingredients to make them. Instead of the redemption that all the Jews were waiting for, they were met with greater suffering.

Why did this happen? God could have brought the plagues right away without increasing their suffering! He could have begun the redemption without making their lives even more miserable! So why would he set up the redemption in a way where they experienced even greater suffering first?
I think the answer could be explained with a parable. A very wealthy individual won a raffle which allowed him to spend a night in the nicest luxury suite in the most expensive hotel in town. It was nice for this man to spend his little vacation, but since he was so wealthy he had already frequented this particular hotel numerous times. He enjoyed his stay, but afterwards he didn’t think much of it. The next week, however, a poor beggar won the same raffle. In contrast to the wealthy man, when he showed up to the hotel he couldn’t believe his eyes! Such magnificence and grandeur! To that poor beggar, that night was one he would remember and cherish for the rest of his life.  

The same basic psychology is true with us. Although the Jews didn’t understand why their torment was increasing, it was specifically because their pain increased that they were able to experience and enjoy the redemption in a way which would last millennia. Until this day we remember the Exodus every morning when we wake up and every night before we go to sleep. It’s become a part of us, a deeply embedded niche in our Jewish conscience. But it only became that way because we knew how hard the other side felt. We knew what suffering felt like. We knew what it meant to be a real slave. So when we finally experienced the Redemption, the memory stuck and will remain with us until the end of days. The suffering of slavery and persecution forced Klal Yisrael to have a deep and unshakable appreciation for the freedom of redemption.

Yacov Nordlicht – Parsha Vayechi – The Yissachar Zevulun Relationship – Evaluating Action Within Mitzvos

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In this week’s parsha, the medrash relates to us the unique relationship shared by יששבר  and זבולון. It’s the first mention in the Torah of an agreement where one brother would learn Torah and the other would support him financially, and they would “split” the שכר.

The אמרי שפר  is bothered by a fascinating question. Many ראשונים imply that if one were to support another financially, even if the learner doesn’t learn לשמה, the שכר  received by the supporter is still a לשמה-type of שכר. There are two glaring difficulties with these ראשונים. The first problem is simply in the mechanics. How could such a thing be? How could a supporter receive an equal שכר than the person who actually did the learning? And furthermore, in the end of the day, תורה wasn’t learned לשמה! How then could he receive a שכר for something which never actually happened?

In order to understand the answer to this question, we have to be able to properly define the different parts of any given מעשה. On a superficial level, there exists two different parts of a מעשה; the action itself and the result of the action. In reality, however, there must exist another part of a מעשה  which isn’t immediately recognizable to the naked eye, yet must exist in the world of the abstract.

To illustrate this point, we have to explore a different הלכה, the פטור of an אונס. If a person does an עבירה באונס, he isn’t held accountable because of the famous dictum אונס דרחמנא פטריה. There exists quite a famous חקירה in how to understand this דין. Rav Elchonon Wasserman in his famous work קובץ הערות elucidates two distinct ways of understanding this פטור. Is it like other פטורים where a person physically performed the action but isn’t held accountable for what he did, or is the פשט of an אונס somewhat more radical, that it isn’t just a פטור rather it’s viewed as if the perpetrator didn’t even perform the action in the first place! (These two opinions could be the subject of a מחלוקת between the רמב”ם and רמב”ן in regards to the מצוה of קידוש ה’).

However, we find a massive difficulty with this second way of understanding אונס. It’s well known in הלכות נזיקין that אדם המזיק is held accountable and liable to pay for damages whether or not he performed the act באונס or ברצון. Now if we understand like the second way of understanding, that it’s as if the perpetrator never even performed the action, then how could he be held accountable for something which he never did?

We’re forced to say in lumdus that there exists another part of a מעשה which isn’t immediately distinguishable. Certain אחרונים called this the “עשייה”. The proper definition in English is what the person invests into his action. For example, even though a person physically performed an action, how personally invested into his action was he? This could be the proper understanding of why a person is held accountable in דיני נזקין by an אונס, yet פטור in other areas במקום אונס. In other areas of the תורה, for example, in the majority of עבירות, the תורה doesn’t hold us accountable for the action itself, rather for what we invest into the עבירה. Therefore, if a person was באונס he isn’t personally invested in the עבירה at all, and therefore there would be no reason to hold him accountable. On the other hand, in דיני נזקין, the תורה is מחדש that a person isn’t liable for what he invests into the action, rather the action itself has the ability to make him liable to pay.

I think with this understanding, we can properly understand how a supporter of תורה could receive שכר for תורה לשמה even though the actual learning which took place was שלא לשמה. The reason is that when a person supports another in learning, it isn’t the learner’s עשייה which is reflected back on the supporter, thereby giving him שכר, rather it’s the actual מעשה of לימוד התורה itself which is reflected back on the supporter! Therefore, it doesn’t have the specific “investment” of the learner, namely the aspect of “לא לשמה”. Therefore, when it’s reflected to give the supporter שכר, it remains a מעשה לימוד התורה in its purest form, without the blemish of the learner.

 

Yacov Nordlicht – Vayetze – Yaakov’s “Light”

In this week’s parsha, we find a pasuk which is difficult to understand on a superficial level. The pasuk tells us that when Yaakov Avinu went to the house of Lavan, he wished to take Rachel as his wife. The Torah relates how the shidduch was made, and how  Yaakov Avinu agreed to work for Lavan for seven years in order to obtain Rachel as his wife. The difficulty is that the pasuk says that these seven years felt like a mere few days in the eyes of Yaakov Avinu. I always had a problem with this. When a person wants something and is waiting for it, the time spent waiting usually feels longer than normal, not shorter! L’mashal, if a person is sitting through a lecture and he can’t wait until it ends to run out to go to the bathroom, the lecture feels interminable! So what’s pshat that by Yaakov Avinu the time felt shorter?

The Chizkuni gives one answer which is a chiddush in how to learn the pasuk. He says that in reality, it did feel like forever to Yaakov Avinu. What the pasuk means is that Yaakov Avinu was able to look at it after the fact in a positive light and say, “Wow, that felt like fifty years, but it was only really a few days!” That is, even though it really did feel like a very long time, he was able to revel at the fact that the perceived long time was fit into such a short time.

I would like to offer a different answer, perhaps a hargasha. Really, the pasuk is meant to be taken literally. It did only feel like a few days in the eyes of Yaakov. Avinu, then what’s pshat – according to the human intellect, something like this usually feels much longer? I think the answer lies in a Sfas Emes on this week’s parsha.

The Sfas Emes says that as we know, Yaakov Avinu was mesaken (instituted) Maariv. Why? The Sfas Emes says, that the yesod of Maariv is to bring Hashem’s light into the darkness. It’s essentially a chiddush. Why would we think that a person could always have a connection to Hashem, even if he’s involved himself in the most lowly disgusting darkness this world has to offer? That was the Maariv that Yaakov Avinu was mechadesh. That even amidst the darkest night, there’s always an availability for a connection to Hashem. Yaakov was an embodiment of this yesod. He lived a life of strife and pain! Yet nevertheless, within that dark night, there was always light.

That’s the pshat behind Yaakov being mesaken maariv, and I think that’s also the pshat in the pasuk. The pasuk is teaching us a chiddush! In reality, it should’ve felt like a long time to Yaakov Avinu! All he wanted to do was marry Rachel, not to work for his father-in-law who epitomized everything Yaakov opposed! Yet even so, for a person who always finds that connection to Hashem, for someone who’s always connected to a higher level of existence – for that person, he’ll always have simcha. And because of that simcha, even a span of seven years will only feel like a few days.

This yesod is very nogeiah to all of us, each on our own level. Everyone experiences darkness in their life. It may be with their frumkeit, their jobs, family, etc… And within that darkness, it may sometimes seem as if there’s no end! Yet its specifically while experiencing that darkness that a person can come to a deep sense of simcha. For when a person is in pain, he calls out to Hashem, he connects to Hashem, and from that connection comes fulfillment and happiness. With that, one can overcome his obstacles and live a happy life, even amidst the darkness which one encounters.

Yacov Nordlicht – The Need To Change Ourselves In Addition To Doing Teshuva

In this week’s parsha, we read about Klal Yisrael entering into a bris with Hashem. In perek 29 pasuk 15-16, Moshe Rabbeinu says a reason as to why it was to have klal Yisrael take an oath. The reason he gives is because “You have seen the other nations’ abominations and idol-worship”.

Rav Yitzchak Isaac Sher asks a very simple question on this. Why was it that they needed to take an oath just because they saw idol worship? This was a nation which witnessed the miracles of the Midbar!? They saw yad Hashem almost every day! Why is this a valid reason to warrant the necessity for an oath not to stray off the path of Hashem?

Rav Sher explains that the answer lies in the following pasuk. “Perhaps there is among you a man or woman whose heart turns from being with Hashem”. That is, as the Ramban explains, that there could exist some small inkling of evil and bitterness inside the person. And that little inkling of bitterness could be the seed which could grow until it ultimately destroys the human being.

I think we see a very powerful point here which is very related to the upcoming yom tov of Rosh Hashana. The Gemara in Rosh Hashana 16b says that four things warrant a negative judgement to be ripped up; tefilla, tzedakah, shinui sheim (the changing of one’s name), and shinui maisov (the changing of one’s actions). The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva writes that the way of teshuva is to cry out to Hashem, then to give tzedakah, and then separate himself from the actual sin, then to “change his name”, meaning that the person should say to himself, “I am a different person”, and to change his ways for the good. The problem, is that the Rambam implies that all these are necessary stages towards a correct teshuva and to tear up a negative judgement. However, as the Lechem Mishna asks, each one is enough to tear up a negative judgement?! And furthermore, its made clear in many different places that a person doesn’t even need one of these things to tear up a bad judgement, rather its enough to feel bad, be mekabel for the future, and do a verbal confession!? SO what’s the explanation in the Rambam?

Rav Ahron Leib Shteinman answers that in reality, to achieve teshuva all one needs is to feel bad, accept upon himself to no longer sin, and to do a verbal confession. However, even after a person does this, there could remain inside of him small inklings of evil which resulted from the sin. These little “roots” of evil was what the Rambam was pinpointing. It’s true, one doesn’t need to go through the Rambam’s whole process to attain teshuva; but he does need to go through that to change himself.

The point is penetrating. We see from this week’s parsha and from this Rambam that if a person wants to walk on the path of teshuva, it’s not enough to attack the sin itself, rather one needs to attack the root of the problem. Rosh Hashana always warrants introspection. But instead of looking at our actions and deciding what we need to change, the real focus should be within. “What do I need to change about myself” is the correct question. Hopefully, armed with our heightened sense of self and what “roots” need changing, we can successfully daven  to Hashem and warrant a successful year.

Yacov Nordlict – Bikkurim And Rosh Hashana

In this week’s parsha, we come across the Mitzvah of Bikkurim. Chazal comment in Breishis Rabbah on the pasuk of “Breishis Bara Elokim”that the world was created solely for the Mitzvah of Bikkurim. The question is, why? What ‘s so special about the Mitzvah of bikkurim? And furthermore, nowadays we don’t have the Bikkurim of the Beis Hamikdash, so is this saying that we’re currently unable to fulfill the purpose of creation?

Furthermore, it says in Sifri that Klal Yisrael was zocheh to enter Eretz Yisrael because of the Mitzvah of Bikkurim. Again, why was this Mitzvah so special, and what’s the specific connection between this Mitzvah and entering into Eretz Yisrael?

The answer to these questions can be discovered if we investigate the foundation of the Mitzvah of Bikkurim. The Mitzvah wasn’t just to give fruit to the Ribbono Shel Olam, rather the Mitzvah was to give the first fruit. Why? Chazal tell us that a person would spend his whole year working on these fruit, putting so much time and effort into growing them and sustaining them. One morning he would walk past them and finally see the fruits of his labor. The desire to pluck off that fruit and take a bite would be so great. This fruit, its his baby! And yet it’s specifically this fruit which he’s commanded to bring as Bikkurim. We see that the yesod behind Bikkurim isn’t just giving something you own. Rather, it’s giving the thing you cherish most. When a person pours so much effort into something, it becomes a part of him. That desire to then reap the benefits of his labor is so strong and powerful. That desire is all funneled into that first fruit. And it’s specifically this fruit he brings for Hashem.

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos says that a goal of a person is to nullify his desires in favor of HaShem’s. We’re here to do HaShem’s will, to become closer to Him through serving Him. That may sometimes mean that we have to do things which we don’t want. But nevertheless, just as a servant would do anything a king would request, so too we do everything HaShem commands us, even if it runs contrary to our desires. This concept is the yesod of the Bikkurim. The Mitzvah was a representation that even though one may have his own desires, at the end of the day he gives up everything to serve HaShem.

Bikkurim aren’t physically around today. We can’t go and offer up our first fruits at the Beis Hamikdash. However, the underlying principle of nullifying our desire to serve Hashem will always exist. The ability to put all our efforts into something, to desire it so much, yet to give it away for Hashem, that does still exist.

That’s the yesod behind Bikkurim and that’s the explanation of Chazal. This world wasn’t just created for the actual giving of the Bikkurim at the Beis Hamikdash; rather it was created for us to funnel all of our desires into serving our Creator. This is also the pshat in the Sifri. Klal Yisrael only entered Eretz Yisrael because of this Mitzvah, for at that time they were about to experience the “eretz zavas chalav u’dvash” and acquire many things of Gashmius and Olam Hazeh. For this Hashem needed to give the mitzvah of Bikkurim, so we would recognize and realize that even amidst the pleasures of this world, we can never lose sight of what’s really important. As a result, we were given the Mitzvah to channel our desire into a gift for Hashem.

Rosh Hashana is nearly here. Chazal say that when klal Yisrael would bring Bikkurim, they would bow in front of HaShem and in that moment there was no separation between HaShem and Yisrael, as it is a time when one would give himself to HaShem in such a way, that he would connect to HaShem on the highest plateau imaginable. Elul and the climax of Rosh Hashana is all about connecting. We want to show HaShem that we deserve another year of life, health and wealth (in every category). But why do we deserve such a thing? Who says we should have these things?

We answer these questions with our actions. By showing HaShem that everything we have is for Him. From our most cherished possessions to what we barely care about, everything we use for a connection. If we really care, and we really work on showing HaShem that we try as hard as we can to grow closer to Him, we can hopefully merit a good judgement and have a successful year.

Yacov Nordlict – Parsha Ki Teitzei – What To Learn From The Ben Sorer U’Moreh For Rosh Hashana

This week’s parsha deals with the laws of the Ben Sorer u’Moreh which is loosely translated as a wayward and rebellious son. In such a case where the son exhibits certain traits required to be a ben soreh u’moreh, the Torah says that he’s given the death penalty. However, none of his actions warrant such a penalty. Rather, the reason he’s put to death isn’t because of what he has done, but because of what he will do in the future.

This is seemingly very difficult to understand. We learn in Sefer Breishis by the Parsha of Yishmael that a person is only judged by his present actions. How is it then justifiable to kill a young teen based on what we perceive he’ll do?

The Ibn Ezra gives an explanation to the ben sorer u’moreh which seemingly answers the question. He says that a ben sorer u’moreh’s biggest problem isn’t the sins he’s committed in the past, rather there’s a much deeper and fundamental issue. All the requirements the Torah gives are just ways to reveal to us the ben sorer u’moreh‘s outlook on life. He doesn’t care at all about good deeds, or service to HaShem; his sole drive and motivation for his actions comes from a belief that the focal point of life is to derive as much enjoyment as possible from Olam Hazeh. A person like this will do whatever he can to give himself just as few more drops of enjoyment. It could be the desire to be licentious, or to experience the thrill of murder. This person doesn’t differentiate between right and wrong, nothing matters besides for his personal pleasure. Such a person, the Torah says to be killed now, because a person with such an outlook has no hope in the future.

I think there’s a very big mussar to be learnt out of this issue. Often times, the worst things about a person aren’t the actual sins he commits, but the deep seeded roots where those actions came from.

We’re now in the month of Elul, a time for some much needed reflection about the past year.  I don’t know with a certainty about everyone else, but every year at around this time I try to make a few resolutions to change for the better. And although I almost unilaterally start off strong, over time the “yamim noraim” inspiration fades and the resolutions become more infrequent, until the point where I reflect a year later, wondering “what happened?” What’s pshat? Why is it so hard to keep a simple resolution to be better?

I think the answer is what we learn from the ben sorer u’moreh. When someone does something which isn’t entirely appropriate, it’s normally not an isolated incident. Normally, there’s a deep seeded root inside the person which caused him to act that way. And without ever changing the root, no matter how many resolutions one makes, they’ll never stick.

In order to be able to build on something, it requires a strong foundation. If a person tries to build a house on foundations of playdoh, the house probably won’t last very long. In order to build a building, the foundation needs to be even stronger. The same is true with all of us. In order to really grow and build ourselves, the deep seeded foundation of our Emunah in HaShem needs to be strong. It’s the most important thing to strengthen. When a person sins, it isn’t merely because he felt a desire which he succumbed to, rather because at that precise moment, he forgot HaShem was watching. He forgot he was standing in front of his Father, his King.

We learn from the ben sorer u’moreh how bad it can be when someone’s roots are polluted. The real lesson to us, which is increasingly relevant as we approach Rosh Hashana, is to look deep down and asses what our essence is. What do we attribute importance to? What’s our outlook on life? Only when we’re able to say with confidence that we truly want to get closer to HaShem can we begin to change. Only when we know which way our heart really points can we be confident we’re heading in the right direction.

Yaacov Nordlicht – The Cry Of Tisha B’Av

As we finish up the summer zman, the stark realization begins to sink 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 B’Av. On the one hand, we have an obligation to mourn. The numerous Halachos which pertain specifically to this day were enacted to appropriate a method to properly grieve. It’s a day of utter 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 day of celebration? 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 being that it’s hard to feel the pain over losing something we never experienced personally. 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. With this mashal in mind, we can properly cry.

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 in 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 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.

With 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 is what 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.