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A Message For Tisha B’Av

On such a dark day is there room for consolation?

Starting with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz (July 16, 2020), the Jewish Calendar commemorates a three-week period of mourning culminating with the 9th of Av (July 30) – the anniversary of the destruction of the first and second Temples. R. David Silverberg (http://gush.net/archive/salt-devarim/44-12devarim.htm) cites Tractate Sanhedrin (104b) which famously links the tragic events of cheit ha-meragelim – the sin of the spies – to the Temple's destruction.The Talmud relates that it was on the eighth of Av that the spies returned from their excursion and reported negatively about the Land of Israel, and it was on that night, the eve of Tisha B'Av, that people wept for their pending fate. They lamented ever having left Egypt, ignoring God's promise to protect their well-being. The Lord is reported to have said, "You wept for naught this evening; I will, therefore, designate it as a night of crying in the future." How are we to understand this association?

A simple reading would suggest that it was a punishment. Like a parent who admonishes a child for needless silly crying, "I'll give you something to cry about." R. Dov Weinberger, in his Shemen Ha-tov (vol. 1, p. 263), suggests that the Talmud viewed the weeping on Tisha B'Av not as a punishment for the nation's weeping, but rather as a chance to rectify their mistakes.The Children of Israel committed two sins that night: Firstly, they wept that night in rejection of their destiny to establish a nation in the Land of Israel. Each year, on Tisha B'Av, we weep for the precisely opposite reason.We mourn the loss of what Bnei Yisrael feared in the wilderness – our nation's sovereign existence in Eretz Yisrael with the Divine Presence in its midst.Our crying on Tisha B'Av is, in essence, the reversal of the crying of our ancestors in the desert.They cried because they did not want to establish a nation in Eretz Yisrael, and we cry because we were driven from Eretz Yisrael.We mourn the loss of precisely what our ancestors rejected.

R. Weinberger adds that our annual weeping on Tisha B'Av rectifies the second mistake of the cheit ha-meragelim in yet another sense, as well.In recounting this incident, Moshe (Deut. 1:27) records the people's accusation that God hates them, leading them out of Egypt to destroy them in the desert. The people transformed God's greatest expression of love and grace – the Exodus – into an expression of contempt.God took them from Egypt out of compassion, but they accused Him of acting out of cruelty.

On Tisha B'Av, we lower our heads and humbly accept God's justice.We acknowledge that what might appear as an expression of His hatred and disgust for us is, in truth, but a natural consequence of our wrongdoing.Whereas our ancestors misinterpreted God's love for hate, we reflect upon God's anger and view it as a justified response to our betrayal.

But more than that, we realize in retrospect that the way God punished us was in fact an act of love. That itself is a source of some comfort. You see, despite our mourning on Tisha B'Av, after midday, we rise from the floor, and recite the Nachem prayer, asking the God of History to console us in the rebuilding of Jerusalem. But, where is there room for consolation, you ask, on such a dark day?

R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik explained that our comfort lies in the fact that God took out his wrath on "the wood and stone" of the Temple - and not on the Jewish people (see Tosafot, Kiddushin 31a). Paradoxically, it is precisely at the time of the afternoon prayer, when the Beit HaMikdash started to burn (Ta'anit 29a), that we feel comforted because that act of destruction was really a demonstration of love. It showed that God wants the Jewish people to survive; he wants them to flourish and ultimately to reunite with Him. If He punishes us only out of love, like a father disciplines his child, then there is hope for the future. We can look forward to the day of reconciliation when He will return to us and reveal His glory to the entire world. 

 

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Tuesday, 02 March 2021

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