19 Jul 2018 Devarim-Tisha B’Av: Comfort and Hope on the Horizon
This week’s parsha, Parshas Devarim, is always read immediately before Tisha B’Av (this year, it is read on Shabbos day/9 Av itself). Various reasons explaining the connection between Parshas Devarim and Tisha B’Av are given. One of the most well known is that it is in this parsha that Moshe retells the sending, and sin, of the spies, close to forty years prior.
וַתִּקְרְבוּן אֵלַי, כֻּלְּכֶם, וַתֹּאמְרוּ נִשְׁלְחָה אֲנָשִׁים לְפָנֵינוּ, וְיַחְפְּרוּ-לָנוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ; וְיָשִׁבוּ אֹתָנוּ, דָּבָראֶת-הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר נַעֲלֶה-בָּהּ, וְאֵת הֶעָרִים אֲשֶׁר נָבֹא אֲלֵיהֶן – And you all aproached me and said, “Let us send men ahead of us and let them spy out the land, and bring word back to us: the road on which we should ascend and the cities to which we should come.” וַיִּיטַב בְּעֵינַי, הַדָּבָר; וָאֶקַּח מִכֶּם שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר אֲנָשִׁים, אִישׁ אֶחָד לַשָּׁבֶט – And the matter was good in my eyes, so I took from you twelve men, one man for each tribe (Devarim 1:22-23).
The infamous ending we know all too well. The men spied out the land for forty days and returned with a slanderous report: the cities are fortified, there are giants there, Amalek dwells in the south, and the land consumes its inhabitants. We cannot ascend! (See Bamidbar 13).
וְלֹא אֲבִיתֶם, לַעֲלֹת; וַתַּמְרוּ, אֶת-פִּי ה – And you did not want to go up (to the land), and you rebelled against the word of Hashem your G-d (Devarim 1:26).
And on the terrible night of crying, when the nation of Israel rejected the land of Israel, G-d swore that in the future, we would well have what to cry about, R”L.
וַתִּשָּׂא, כָּל-הָעֵדָה, וַיִּתְּנוּ, אֶת-קוֹלָם; וַיִּבְכּוּ הָעָם, בַּלַּיְלָה הַהוּא – and the entire assembly lifted up and raised their voices, and the nation cried on that night (Bamidbar 14:1).
On this verse, Chazal teach:
וכתיב ותשא כל העדה ויתנו את קולם ויבכו העם בלילה ההוא אמר רבה אמר ר’ יוחנן (אותו היום ערב) תשעה באב היה אמר להם הקב”ה אתם בכיתם בכיה של חנם ואני קובע לכם בכיה לדורות
The day the spies returned from the land was erev Tisha B’Av (hence the night they cried was Tisha B’Av itself). Hashem said to them: you cried for no reason, I will establish a crying for you for generations (Taanis 29a).
And so, every Tisha B’Av we once again mourn and cry bitter tears for what we have lost on this yom ha’mar v’ha’nim’har – the bitter day saturated with bitterness.
And yet, R’ Soloveitchik teaches, “There is something very paradoxical about Tisha B’Av and the event of the churban (destruction of the) Beis Ha’Mikdash (BHM”K). On the one hand, Tisha B’Av is a day of bitterness and misfortune. On the other hand, it also has an element of mo’ed (appointed festival time) because Hashem rendered a decision on that day that Knesses Yisrael would be an eternal people and will continue to exist no matter how grave the situation may become. Indeed, as strange as it seems, from a certain perspective, the churban was a benefit to the Jewish people…
“Tisha B’Av was in some ways a day of judgement. There was a problem about what was to be exterminated or destroyed, the physical structure of the BHM”K or Knesses Yisrael. After all, the BHM”K was not responsible; it did not deserve to be destroyed…Rather, we were the sinners! We deserved complete annihilation! We should have perished! The whole Knesses Yisrael should have been erased, completely exterminated! Why should the BHM”K suffer?
“Instead of killing people however, He destroyed the BHM”K. שפך הקב״ה חמתו על העיצים ועל האבנים. He chose a substitute…
“With (the recital of) nachem (in the amidah of Mincha), the whole character, the whole motif, of Tisha B’Av changes. We move from a feeling of hopelessness to one of great hope… At mincha, we forget about the churban, about the middas ha’din (attribute of Divine Judgement), about the enormous distance separating us from Hashem. At that point, all the despair disappears” (The Lord is Righteous in All His Ways, p.32-42).
Within Tisha B’Av lies a great paradox! On the one hand, it is a day of great sadness, despair, destruction and mourning. And on the other hand, it is a day of comfort (nachem), hope, thanks and relief. For on this day, it was decided Above that “Knesses Yisrael would be an eternal people and will continue to exist no matter how grave the situation may become. Indeed, as strange as it seems, from a certain perspective, the churban was a benefit to the Jewish people.”
R’ Yisrael Meir Lau writes: I recall the story of the late Rebetzin Tzila Sorotzkin, my son-in-law’s aunt. She was one of the leading educators of the Beit Ya’akov movement and mainly, an outstanding person. Mrs. Sorotzkin, a Holocaust survivor, told my daughter Miri: “In all the six years of the war, I cried only once. I was in the most horrible of the camps, and lost my entire family. I was left all alone in the world, broken in body and spirit – and I didn’t cry. I returned to our hometown, and found not a living soul – and I still didn’t cry,” said Mrs. Sorotzkin. “They told me: Go to Lodź, that’s where the refugees are gathering, maybe you’ll find a relative or an acquaintance.
“I went to Lodź, totally exhausted. They showed me the area where the Jews were assembling. With my last remaining bit of strength, I walked through the streets in the twilight. Suddenly I recognized sounds coming from one of the windows. As in a trance, as if someone were calling me inside, I opened a gate, entered the courtyard of an ancient building, then opened a door. In the darkness, I made out a row of boys with side-locks sitting along both sides of a long table. At its head sat an elderly Jew wearing a cap. The children were chanting the alef-bet to a tune. I don’t remember anything else… Then I found myself on the floor of the room, with people standing over me and pouring water on me.
“The teacher tried to revive me, and asked in a worried voice, ‘What happened? Can I help you? Sit up. Maybe you’d like something to eat. Who are you? Where did you come from?’ Slowly, I recovered and replied: ‘This is the first time I have cried in the past six years. But I am not crying from pain – I am crying for joy. I wandered far and wide until I reached Lodź, and finally saw Poland as it once was. And if, after all we have been through,’ I said to the teacher, ‘little boys in side-locks are sitting here and an elderly teacher is teaching them the Aleph-Beit, then no one can defeat us. Let me catch my breath; I feel fine. These are tears of joy, not of pain” (Out of the Depths, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, p.353-354).
Halavay (would that it be that) may we welcome the day when the paradox of pain and joy will be no longer, as we merit a time of only moadim l’simcha.
בִּלַּע הַמָּוֶת לָנֶצַח, וּמָחָה ה’ דִּמְעָה מֵעַל כָּל-פָּנִים; וְחֶרְפַּת עַמּוֹ, יָסִיר מֵעַל כָּל-הָאָרֶץ–כִּי ה’ דִּבֵּר – He will swallow up death forever, and Hashem will wipe the tears away from all faces, and the shame of His people he will remove from upon the earth, for Hashem has spoken;
וְאָמַר בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, הִנֵּה אלקינו זֶה קִוִּינוּ לוֹ וְיוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ; זֶה ה’ קִוִּינוּ לוֹ, נָגִילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה בִּישׁוּעָתוֹ – and on that day, they will say: this is our G-d, we hoped to Him and He saved us! This is our G-d, we trusted in Him, let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation! (Yeshayahu 25:8-9).
בברכת נחמת ציון ושבת שלום,