Matos/Masei – Tisha B’Av

As Sefer Bamidbar closes, in its final two parshios of Mattos and Masei, we read of two narratives centered around the chashivus (importance) of Eretz Yisrael. 

At the end of Mattos, the tribes of Reuven and Gad request their portion of land on the eastern side of the Jordan River, outside of Eretz Yisrael proper.  Arguing that the pasture land is plentiful on the eastern side of the Jordan for their many flocks, they approach Moshe with their request.  וַיֹּאמְרוּ, אִם-מָצָאנוּ חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ–יֻתַּן אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת לַעֲבָדֶיךָ, לַאֲחֻזָּה:  אַל-תַּעֲבִרֵנוּ, אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן, And they said (to Moshe), If we have found favor in your eyes, let this land be given to your servants as a heritage; do not bring us across the Jordan (Bamidbar 32:5).  Moshe is vehemently opposed – Moshe who is banned forever from Eretz Yisrael is forced to hear a request, by choice (!), to not enter the Land, after so many years of desert wanderings!  After negotiation, the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half Menashe will remain on the other side of the Jordan (see Bamidbar 32).

And at the end of Masei, we read the narrative of the Bnos Tzelafchad; the five righteous daughters of Tzelafchad, from the tribe of Menashe, whose father died without leaving a son, and they desire and request his portion in the Land instead.  In response, G-d grants their request (see Bamidbar 27:1-11 & Ch.36).

As we usher in the mournful month of Av, and we read these narratives during Bein Ha’Mitzarim (‘Between the Straits’) we recall that our existence as a nation is inexplicably tied to Eretz Yisrael.  Due to the Churban Beis Ha’Mikdash oh so long ago, and our sins that destroyed the Holy Temples (see Yoma 9b), we have been forced to wander to the four corners of the earth.  But let us never forget that our one true desire is to be returned to the Land of our forefathers.  The land that speaks to our souls more than our bodies, the land whose rocks and hills contain the greatest measure of beauty, the land where our patriarchs prayed and our prophets walked.  The land over which our grandparents and great-grandparents cried from their lands of exile. 

In commenting on the kinnos (lamentation poems recited on Tisha B’Av), Rav Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “Why were the piyutim beginning with ‘Tzion’ introduced here, at the end of the Kinnos?  Because on the day of Tisha B’Av we have two duties, two obligations.  We remember Tzion b’churbanah, Tzion in its destruction, and we remember Tzion b’vin’yanah, while it was still fully intact.  Until now, the Kinnos have portrayed the terrible scenes of destruction during the churban Beis Ha’Mikdash (BHM”K).  Kalir’s Kinnos, with which we began, describe the persecution, the horrors, the cruelty of the churban.  They describe how the beautiful cities of yesteryear were devastated and destroyed.  We mourn for the churban BHM”K and churban ha’ir, for the chillul Hashem and for the desecration of the Divine Name.  We remember what happened to Jerusalem on the day of the churban – the bloodshed and destruction, the ridicule and homelessness, the exile and persecution.  The book of Eichah is devoted to that purpose, to the suffering of Jerusalem on the day it was destroyed.  This duty we have already fulfilled.

“And now we are going to fulfill a second duty, to describe and portray the beauty of the land of Israel, Tzion and Jerusalem before the churban, what it was like when it was at peace.  The piyutim of Tzion do not speak about suffering or murder.  They do not proclaim the martyrdom of the Ten Martyrs.  There is nothing there about the churban.  On the contrary, it is shevacho shel Yerushalaim, a description of how beautiful Tzion and Jerusalem were before the churban. 

“The verse in Eichah (1:7) says, זָכְרָה יְרוּשָׁלִַם, יְמֵי עָנְיָהּ וּמְרוּדֶיהָ–כֹּל מַחֲמֻדֶיהָ, אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ מִימֵי קֶדֶם – Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and her miseries all her treasures that she had in the days of old.  In times of churban, Jerusalem should remember the beauty and glory of her olden days, before she was destroyed.  In the piyutim beginning with Tzion, R’ Yehudah ha’Levi and the paytanim who followed him changed the motif from destruction to the beauty before the destruction.  It changes from pachad ha’avar, fear of the past, to yofi shel ha’avar, beauty of the past.  Their piyutim tell us in glorious colors how beautiful Jerusalem was, her magnificence, the wisdom of her people, the inner qualities of Tzion and the BHM”K, and the special holiness that prevailed there before the churban, before it was destroyed.  I would say that these are no longer to be considered kinnos, but are to be seen as odes to Tzion, as hymns to Tzion.

“This is necessary because, in order to appreciate the extent of the catastrophe and the disaster, we have to emphasize and have some knowledge of the great beauty of Jerusalem, of the BHM”K, before the disaster occurred.  By remembering what Jerusalem was like in normal times, before the churban, one is in a better position to appreciate the magnitude of the churban, the magnitude of what was lost, and to cry for it.  If one has no standard of comparison, if one does not describe Jerusalem before the churban as מְשׂוֹשׂ כָּל-הָאָרֶץ, the joy of the whole earth (Ps.48:3), then the question of אֵיכָה יָשְׁבָה בָדָד, הָעִיר רַבָּתִי עָם (Eicha 1:1) poses no problem.  Perhaps it has always been isolated, lonely, bleak and dreary? 

“Yes, people know that it was very bad, but they cannot appreciate how bad, the full magnitude of the churban and the extent of the destruction, disaster and catastrophe, because they never saw the cities while they were standing.  So, these poets say, let us tell them how beautiful, how wonderful, and how precious the cities were, particularly Jerusalem, so they will understand much better why they should mourn for and share in the great terrible loss that was suffered when they and the BHM”K were destroyed” (The Lord is Righteous in All His Ways, p.305-306).

Chazal teach that ten measures of beauty descended to the world, and Yerushalayim took nine, while the rest of the world in its entirety took one (Kiddushin 49b).  When we appreciate what we have lost, when we mourn for her destruction, when we yearn for her redemption, perhaps then we will merit to see her beauty restored and our exile will end.

כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה – Whoever mourns over J’lem, will merit to see her in her redemption (lit. gladness) (Taanis 30b).

בברכת מנחם אב ושבת שלום,

Michal

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