Thursday, July 26, 2007


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The Yalkut Shimoni writes that when Yeshayahu Hanovi spoke the immortal words of this week’s haftorah, “Nachamu nachamu ami,” the Jewish people wanted to kill him. However, when he followed with “yomar Elokeichem,” they calmed down.

The explanation may be that they could not accept that after the utter desolation and destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, someone, even a novi, could offer words of consolation. Such words seemed a mockery, almost as if Yeshayahu were rubbing salt in their wounds. But when they heard that “yomar Elokeichem” - Hashem is saying this - they were able to accept it.

No human being could relieve the unspeakable suffering they were going through. Only Hakadosh Boruch Hu could do that.

Perhaps, the minhag to say Kiddush Levana for Chodesh Av on Motzoei Tisha B’Av, cited by the Rama in Orach Chaim Siman 551:8, can be seen in a similar light, as a message from which we can take consolation.

Tisha B’Av commemorates all the tribulations that have befallen our people through the centuries. Recounting all the misery we have suffered can bring a Jew to melancholy and despair. To counteract that response, as soon as the fast is over, we venture outside and remind ourselves that Am Yisroel is compared to the levana. Just as the moon shrinks and disappears from view, only to regain its full size and completeness, so too Am Yisroel. Though its suffering causes it to diminish and wither, it revives and waxes strong and whole once again.

Our mourning for the churban increases during the Three Weeks and the Nine Days, and peaks on Tisha B’Av, but when the period of mourning is over, we are not to linger in our sorrow and melancholy.

The Gemara in Bava Basra (60b) recounts that at the time of the churban, there were perushim who stopped eating meat and drinking wine. Rabi Yehoshua discussed their custom with them and convinced them to stop their practice because the halacha set limitations to the mitzvah of aveilus.

The Gemara in Moed Koton (27b) expounds on the posuk in Yirmiyahu 22, which states, “Al tivku lemais, v’al tanudu lo.” The Gemara says that one should not cry over a death for more than three days. Mourning has a prescribed limit and the Gemara discusses severe consequences which can result from excessive mourning.

The same holds true for the aveilus of this mourning period we have just completed. Once the period of time that Chazal designated for this extreme form of aveilus for the churbanos has passed, we are to learn the lesson of the levana and the immortal statement of nachamu nachamu of Yeshayahu Hanovi.

On Tisha B’Av, as Jews sit on the floor reading the Kinnos, the words have an amazing resonance. The heartbreaking poetry of the mekoninim speaks to us directly.

There is so much sadness in our community; so many people are sick, so many are just barely holding on. Every week brings news of yet another accident, of yet another korban.

Since our Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed, we have known incessant tragedy. Yes, there was a comfortable break here and there. Through the ages there have been some stations that were more hospitable than others.

Tisha B’Av is the repository of 1900 years of Jewish pain and suffering. It is the day on which we mourn for all that once was and now is no longer, for the hopes and dreams that turned to ashes, for all that our people have lost in the Diaspora.

When we sit on the floor saying Kinnos, the list of tragedies for which we mourn seems endless. The churban of the first Bais Hamikdosh, the second Bais Hamikdosh… the Harugei Beitar… the calamities that befell the Jewish communities of Europe one thousand years later during the First Crusade. We remember the Jews who were ripped apart during the Inquisition, the Gezeiros of Tach V’Tat, and the expulsion from Spain in 1492.

We remember the 24 cartloads of handwritten seforim that were set afire in the streets of Paris in 1242, and the subsequent expulsions from France, England, Germany and other regions.

We sit there and think of the Jews who were shipped all across the world during the ages. Just as they finally got comfortable in one country, they were expelled. Forlorn refugees packing their peklach, trudging forward to find shelter in yet another strange, unwelcoming land.

We mourn on Tisha B’Av for the millions of Jews who were killed and maimed physically and mentally over the previous harrowing century. And we do this all on Tisha B’Av, because our entire history of persecution emanates from this sorry day, the day of the churban.

Along with that tragedy-laden history, we cannot help but think of all the sadness that surrounds us and those we love today.

We take out our Kinnos, so nicely typeset and enriched with fine translations and commentaries, and we read along with our friends and neighbors in shul. We read slowly, taking in each word as we fall further and further behind the group, gaining a new perspective of Jewish life and suffering. Kinah after kinah records so much sorrow… It’s unfathomable that one people can bear so much.

While many of the Kinnos don’t stand out in our memory, the last one does. We all stand up and sing it in unison. The last Kinnah, entitled Eli Tzion, speaks of the anguish of Tzion and compares it to the pain of a woman in childbirth. In his new sefer, Yerushalayim B’Mo’adeha - Bain Hametzorim, Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl explains the metaphor. Childbirth is the most intense pain a person faces, but it is bearable because the woman knows that it will lead to the birth of a child. The pain is an indication that a new life is on the way to being born. We mourn the churban, but we show that we believe that the desolation is part of the process that leads to the ultimate and final redemption of the Jewish people.

Thus, as we finish the Kinnos, we chant Eli Tzion. We get up off the floor, straighten out the chairs and return to our homes. We enter our abodes, read about the churban a little more and wait for the fast to end.

And then, by the time the sun rises the next day, it’s as if it never happened.

Nechama is in the air. Shabbos Nachamu is coming. Everyone is happy and cheerful. Camps are in full swing again. Children all over the Jewish world are hopping into the swimming pool. The music is blaring. Tisha B’Av and all it represents has already faded into distant memory.

On Shabbos Nachamu, we read the haftorah from which the day derives its name and receive a dose of consolation.

Nachamu, be comforted; the torture will soon end. Nachamu, the golus is almost over. Nachamu, be consoled over the calamities of the past. Nachamu, a bright new day is dawning.

What is the consolation? What is there about this Shabbos that rings out with happiness throughout the Jewish world?

How does it work? How can it be that one day we are so sad and the next day so happy?

Rav Moshe Mordechai Chodosh, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon in Yerushalayim, was in Monsey this past Shabbos. As I was walking with him, he told me of the time that Rav Moshe Schapiro of Yerushalayim came to visit the Ohr Elchonon branch in the city of Tiverya.

Rav Moshe Schapiro spoke to the bochurim in the yeshiva and was in a state of ecstasy. He quoted the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (31a-b) that the last place the Sanhedrin of 71 members sat was in Tiverya. Rav Yochanan adds that the geulah will start from Tiverya.

Rav Schapiro explained that the Gemara (ibid) states that Tiverya was “amukah mikulom.” Rashi explains that the people of Tiverya were on the lowest level of the ten places the Sanhedrin exiled to. When the Sanhedrin ended up there, it was the Jews of the Holy Land hitting rock bottom.

When the time of the geulah will arrive, the rebuilding process will begin there. The redemption will begin at the lowest point in Eretz Yisroel and infuse it with kedusha as the land is prepared for the ultimate salvation.

Rav Moshe Schapiro told the bochurim that by returning Torah to the forsaken city of Tiverya, they were contributing to the geulah of Klal Yisroel. For the first time in hundreds of years, Torah pulsates in Tiverya. Witnessing such a rebirth of Torah in the G-d-forsaken city brought Rav Moshe to a state of elation.

The geulah begins at the lowest point and progresses from there.

Remember how it felt to be in school, approaching the end of the year? Even if you don’t like school, you love the last week. Because you know it’s the last week. You dislike taking tests, and though the final exam is the toughest test of the year, you smile through it. Because you know this is the last one. After this test, you are free. It’s summer; it’s time for fun and enjoyment. You skip out of school with a song on your lips…

A person is sick, r”l, and must endure grueling treatments in a desperate attempt to lick the disease and stay alive. The patient dreads the day of the treatment and wishes with all his heart that he could be spared it. But when the doctor tells him that this is the last treatment - this is the last time you will suffer; after this you will go home and recover, your hair will grow back, you’ll get your life back - the patient happily submits to the painful procedure.

People who have suffered a painful experience in their past, try so hard to erase it and the scars it has left on their psyche. They fight to suppress the bitter memories. They yearn for the day when they will know that this is the last day they will be haunted. If only they could rid themselves permanently of the haunting experience, they’d happily endure one last assault from the bad memories.

Shabbos Nachamu proclaims that this year we observed the final Tisha B’Av. It says, “Seek comfort, for that heartrending day will never again be repeated.” The day of Tisha B’Av will no longer symbolize sadness and depression. Next year, Tisha B’Av will be a holiday.

All those who throughout the ages have suffered for being Jewish; all those who were burned at the stake, whose blood flowed at Beitar, who were sent into exile by the Romans, by the English, the French and the Spanish, will finally see justice.

All those who were tortured and killed, who were physically and mentally battered by the Germans; all those young people who were murdered in their prime; all the old people who died as good, ehrliche Jews; all of them, together, will gather in Yerushalayim.

Shabbos Nachamu says that next year, on Tisha B’Av, we will all be in Yerushalayim; we will all be singing and dancing. We will all be healed; suffering will come to an end. There will be no more Kinnos, no need for those uncomfortable makeshift seats, no more sadness, and no more pain. The enemies who wreaked such havoc and caused such anguish will meet their downfall and be obliterated.

Not only will swords be beaten into plowshares, but tears will be twisted into smiles; pained features will come alive with happiness. The sad will be festive and the mournful will be joyous.

It will be the last Tisha B’Av in golus. The last time Kinnos were said. The last time the whole community sat in semi-darkness on the floor, shoeless, chair-less and clueless.

Nachamu nachamu ami. B’meheirah b’yomeinu. Amein.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Experiencing Greatness

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Esteemed rabbonim and Torah leaders, steeped in Torah and middos tovos, eschew the limelight and attempt to live their lives in the background, unheralded and barely noticed.

But we do not let them. There is no vote that decides who is a gadol baTorah and should be a person that gutter Yidden gravitate to. As Bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok, v’Yaakov, we sense it in our neshamos. When we detect a man with true greatness, we flock to him; we are pulled as if by a magnet to bask in the glow of a person steeped in Torah and yiras Shomayim.

We yearn for greatness and seek it out; when it presents itself, we find accomplishment as our quest is fulfilled. We cherish the inspiration that flows from the very being of great people. We examine their actions, learn their divrei Torah and seek to elevate ourselves by emulating their greatness.

Rav Yisroel Elya Weintraub is a man who has toiled in Torah his entire life.

The past 45 years have seen him cloistered in Kollel Chazon Ish in Bnei Brak. His masterful written works and reputation as a true gaon have not diluted his humble way of life.

But when the chance to help save a generation of children in Eretz Yisroel was presented to him, he did not hesitate. The same aged sage whose infirmities prevent him from leaving his house much of the time undertook a trip to America only for that purpose. The same gadol who is rarely seen in public agreed to take part in two very public events. His personal preferences were set aside in his determination to do what he could for the children of Eretz Yisroel.

At the same time, we raise our voices in tefillah for the living embodiment of gadlus baTorah hashoruy b’tzaar and plead on behalf of Moreinu Harav Refoel Shmuel ben Gittel. We beg that the very symbol of ameilus baTorah be spared and that Klal Yisroel benefit from his Torah ad bias goaleinu bekarov.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Lernen, Lernen, Lernen

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Recently, I wrote in the Yated of a tale making the rounds in Eretz Yisroel. The story was printed in many of the religious papers and was passed around by word of mouth among Bnei Torah on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. It related an anecdote in which Rav Chaim Kanievsky was asked by someone how many times the name Moshe is written in the Torah. R’ Kanievsky, the story went, was able to give the precise number.

We tried to track down and verify the background and details of the story, but weren’t successful. We therefore presented it as a story that is being retold and used it to make the point that it is possible for someone even today—in an age of relative mediocrity—to attain a phenomenal range of Torah knowledge reminiscent of earlier generations.

Surprisingly, this simple story unleashed an avalanche of invective in my direction. “How dare you print such a story!” was the gist of most of the complaints. “So-and-So checked with Rav Chaim’s gabbai and he said the story never happened.”

Others took an even more acrimonious tone. “How can I trust anything written in your paper if you print a story which is obviously false?” one person fumed.

“I demand an apology,” the letter concluded.

The complaints piqued my curiosity. There are many stories told of gedolim, of their dikduk hamitzvos, of mofsim attributed to them, and no one gets upset when they read these tales. Why are people so offended by this particular story? What was there in the tale that so antagonized them?

No doubt the people who were upset by the story are all nice, fine people, and they all meant well. Nothing personal was intended and I have no problem with their firing off a letter to the editor about something strongly felt. But I think there was something deeper here that needs to be explored.

We lull ourselves into being satisfied with our achievements by thinking that in our day and age, a Jew can not reach as high as was possible in preceding generations. With the lapse of each year we draw further and further from Sinai and the towering levels in Torah and avodah our ancestors attained. We tell ourselves that we cannot be expected to achieve a proficiency in Shas due to our generation’s diminished abilities. We can no longer be expected to master all the halachos of everyday life, or to thoroughly understand everything we learn. Nobody expects us to be able to achieve world-class greatness in Torah.

We read biographies of tzaddikim of generations gone by and they all seem the same to us. He was born to great yichus and was a genius himself. By the age of six, he knew all of Mishanayos. By the time of his bar mitzvah, he made a siyum on Shas, and at the age of twenty, he was appointed as dayan in a large town. He was kind to the poor, tough on the rich, and all the good people in the country respected him and flocked to him for his pesakim, eitzos and brachos.

We gobble up those articles and books and they warm our hearts as we read of the greatness these great people achieved. But they have little effect on us, because we easily dismiss their accomplishments as part of reality that is far removed from us. You can’t expect me to be like the Chasam Sofer, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, the Chofetz Chaim, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, the Satmar Rebbe, the Belzer Rebbe, and so on.

When the story relates to a moifes, a miracle, performed by a rebbe or a master of Kabbolah from a different era, we have no problem with it. But when someone tells us about a moifes performed by a man living today whom we can approach and speak to, many will react skeptically, “Oh, that can’t be.”

Why is that?

Is it because it punctures our bubble of self-confidence?

If there is someone today in Nahariyah who can heal the sick and to whom thousands of people flock to for blessings, then it means that it is possible, even in the demoralized world we live in, to reach very high levels of kedushah. If that man looks like a normal person and is middle-aged—as opposed to being a one-hundred-year-old ascetic who speaks some foreign tongue and is not conversant in the language of the masses—it makes it all the harder. It means that if we would apply ourselves, perhaps we could also reach those high levels.

If people tell you stories about the phenomenal yedios of the Rogatchover Gaon zt”l, you are amazed by what a person can learn and retain, yet you reason that he lived so long ago—obviously, nobody today can be that great.

Thus, when we read an amazing story about a man who lives, eats, breathes, walks and talks today in Bnei Brak, it bugs us. “If he can do it, maybe I could too; if he can know right off the bat how many times it says Moshe in the Torah, then why can’t I? If he can do it, maybe that means that if I would apply myself to Torah the way he does, I could also be thoroughly conversant in the Dalet Chelkei Shulchan Aruch.”

So we shrug it off as impossible, the story never happened; Lipschutz made it up; the Yated is irresponsible.

Now, while it may very well be true that the story never happened, it certainly could have. How do I know? Let’s take a cursory tour through Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s seforim.

Let’s look in his sefer Taamah Dikrah in Parshas Noach, where he cites 32 instances in Nach, Medrash, Rishonim and Acharonim where individuals were named for people who lived before Avrohom Avinu.

In Parshas Ki Seitzei, on the posuk of “Lo yilbash,” he discusses whether a man may be given the name of a woman or vice versa. He then brings 65 cases of men who had women’s names and women who had men’s names. The list is complied from Nach, Shas, Rishonim and Acharonim.

Let’s take a look at the hakdomah to his peirush on Maseches Kusim, where he lists over 150 places in Shas Bavli and Yerushalmi, as well as Medrash, where kusim is discussed.

Let’s examine his sefer Tashlum Yefei Ainayim, where he lists passages from Yerushalmi, Tosefta, Mechilta, Toras Kohanim, Sifri, Safra, and Medrashim which are missing from the Mesoras HaShas that is printed in our Gemaros.

The gabbai will not deny that Rav Chaim wrote this sefer.

Now, these are but a few lists that come to mind. Look at the very seforim that Rav Chaim has authored. Who cannot be blown away?

Rav Chaim has published several volumes of Derech Emunah, a work akin to the Mishnah Berurah on Hilchos Zeraim, commonly accepted to be the most difficult portion of Shas.

The sefer Derech Sicha is full of answers to questions his gabbai asked him on almost every topic in Torah. The answers were given on the spot.

There is no way to overestimate what Rav Chaim knows and there is no secret to how he did it. It was by learning, and learning, and learning some more. There are no miracle stories of how he attained such vast yedios in Torah; it was through steadfast, incessant learning. There are no shortcuts.

Another true story about ameilus baTorah concerns Rav Chaim’s father-in-law. Someone was watching Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv as he was learning a shtickel Torah in the sefer Tzofnas Poneach from the Rogatchover Gaon. The sefer is basically a listing of marei mekomos and is extremely difficult to study and grasp. Rav Elyashiv was running through it with his finger one line after the next.

The man couldn’t contain himself and asked him, “Rebbe, how can you do that? How can you learn through such a difficult sefer so quickly?” Rav Elyashiv answered that it is “dorch lernen, lernen, lernen.” If you learn and learn and learn some more, you can learn and grasp what the Rogatchover is saying.

I am currently reading the newly published seventh volume of the fascinating work Maaseh Ish on the life of the Chazon Ish, Rav Chaim’s uncle. In the sefer, it is related that a person once visited the Chazon Ish and told him that he had trouble remembering what he was learning and that it bothered him terribly. He asked for a brocha that he should remember his learning. The Chazon Ish asked him how many times he reviewed his studies. The man answered, “Six or seven times.” The Chazon Ish told the man, “That is your problem. In order for me to remember what I learn, I have to review it twenty to twenty-five times. You don’t need a brocha; what you need is to chazer - review – more.”

How many of us review what we learn even six times and then want to know why we aren’t as successful in learning as we would like to be?

There are many people among us who are blessed with brilliance and G-d-given talents. There are even more people who, while not being geniuses, would be able to attain true greatness with the right amount of encouragement and support. We all know people in this situation. It is incumbent upon us to help provide them with the support they require in order to be able to reach their potential. We need to appreciate that there really are giants among us, and to recognize, respect and promote them. We shouldn’t belittle their accomplishments and tear them down with petty jealousy.

Chazal say, “Elef nichnosim v’echod yotzei…one thousand students enter the study hall, but only one of them masters the subject.” The question is asked, if that is indeed the case, why do the other 999 students study? Various answers are offered. I once heard Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l say that the other students are there to create the ruach in the bais medrash that is necessary for the ‘one’ outstanding talmid to reach his potential.

Even if we think that we cannot be that ‘one’, we can at least contribute to the ruach that the person requires. None of us can say that we can’t even do that much!

Chazal accept it as a given: it is characteristic of human nature that only a select few will attain the highest pinnacles of achievement. That reality does not get us off the hook and provide us with an excuse to say that we are not worthy of achieving greatness. If we would set our hearts to it, if we would really concentrate on our learning and not waste our time with silly pursuits, we would be able to rank among those privileged few in our mastery of Torah. If we wouldn’t let ourselves get sidetracked with shtusim and idle away our time, we could become great people.

It requires extraordinary perseverance and dedication to the goal. Though these traits are uncommon in our day, it is possible for every one of us to adopt them if we are sufficiently motivated.

This is no exaggeration. It’s not me saying this; it is the Rambam. He writes that every Jew has the ability to be like Moshe Rabbeinu - if he would only want to and apply all his energy and talent in that direction.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be asking how many times it says Moshe in the Torah, but how many potential Moshes are out there who could use some encouragement from us. We should be asking what we ourselves can do to become like Moshe, as the Rambam writes.

It’s not easy, but it is possible. But how?

Rav Chaim’s son, Rav Shlomo Kanievsky, was in the United States a few months ago and we had the honor of meeting him and speaking to him. My son asked him to relate something peledik - fascinating - about his father. He said that the most fascinating thing about his father is the way he learns and the amount of learning he does.

But then, with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “You probably want to hear a peledikeh story. I’ll tell you one that happens daily. Every day, when he finishes eating his meal, my father asks my mother which brocha acharona to make, because he doesn’t know what he ate!”

There you have it. You want to be a Moshe? You want to achieve greatness in Torah? You want to be a peledikeh mentch? Stop being so areingeton in your food and Olam Hazeh and become more pre-occupied with your Olam Haboh! It won’t happen overnight, but day by day you can grow until one day you won’t realize what it is you are eating. You will then know that you are on the path to netzach.

May we each be zoche to realize our potential and help others realize theirs.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Summer And The Three Weeks

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

As the Three Weeks come upon us, we wonder how to make them meaningful. We observe the mourning-related customs conscientiously, not cutting or trimming hair, nor making weddings or listening to music, but by and large, life continues on as before. The outward customs of mourning which we observe during this period are meant to be manifestations of the emptiness we feel in our souls.

But it is summer time. Everyone wants to be on vacation and having a good time. It’s time to hang loose, chill out and basically switch modes to a more lackadaisical pace of life. Where do the Three Weeks, with their undertones of sadness and mourning, fit in? Why do they have to intrude in middle of the summer, getting in the way of everything?

This past weekend, we spent Shabbos in the beautiful new home of dear friends. Like all good Jewish homes, they have a zeicher l’churban opposite the front door. They have a little something in it which calls attention to it. As I was discussing the Shabbos with my 9-year-old son Ari, the only thing he mentioned about the magnificent home was the zeicher l’churban there. He said to me, “Abba, did you see their zeicher l’churban?” I said, “Of course. But what’s the big deal? We also have one. Everyone has one.”

With the innocence of a child, he said, “Yes, but I never notice ours, and this one I noticed every time I walked into the house.”

I thought to myself, you know what? He’s right. We have a zeicher l’churban right opposite the entrance to our homes, so that when we come home, we should be reminded that the home of the Jewish people is destroyed. But we don’t even notice it.

When we construct a new home, we leave an area unpainted opposite the entrance, to commemorate the destruction of the Botei Mikdosh. Every time we see that blank space on the wall, we are to remind ourselves that we are in golus and our true home has been destroyed. Our homes here in golus, beautiful and luxurious though they may be, are but temporary replacements for the permanent abodes we will build upon the arrival of Moshiach.

I was thinking that maybe we should also put a little something in the ‘zeicher l’churban’ so that little Ari and everyone else should notice it and it should make an indent on our hearts when we walk into the house. We really do need a reminder that we are in exile far away from where we ought to be physically and spiritually.

And then I thought that perhaps the Three Weeks is also not only a mourning period, but sort of a ‘zeicher l’churban’ for life.

Even though we all have our own personal ups and downs, the lives we Jews lead here tend to lull us into thinking that we are in the Promised Land. We forget that we are in exile. The golus here has truly been good to us and we lose sight of the fact that we have been evicted from our homes and land.

The United States of America celebrates its 231st birthday this week. We must recognize the greatness and kindness of this country which has provided such a comfortable home for us. This unprecedented malchus shel chesed endows us with so many freedoms, for which we are grateful. We are permitted to engage in any field of human endeavor we choose. We can live where we want and how we want. We can openly observe our religion without fear. Anti-Semitism, while still present, is not only officially disdained and condemned, it is prosecuted as a crime.

It is so comfortable here that we really need that zeicher l’churban to call out to us as we walk into our homes and tell us that we are not really home.

The Three Weeks serve the same purpose. They are the “blank space,” the zeicher l’churban of our lives. Sometimes we go through life without paying enough attention to all the details, not always behaving exactly as we should. We glide through the months of July and August thinking that the sun will always shine, that life will always be warm and cozy. We silence the voice inside of us reminding us that Jews ought to know better, and that we should not take our blessings for granted.

Throughout the centuries, wherever Jews found themselves, good times were mixed with bad, blissful summer days were swallowed up by days of unbearable suffering.

The Three Weeks remind us not to grow too complacent. During times of plenty, during the days of sunshine, they recall for us the times of hardship, hunger and darkness. And they prompt us to be more cognizant of the lives that we are supposed to lead and the goals we are meant to achieve.

They remind us that during this period of time, Jews encountered more suffering and sadness than any other people in history. They remind us that during these weeks, the Botei Mikdosh were destroyed and untold misery has been our lot throughout the ages. They proclaim that the churbanos happened because of our sins and that we have to mend our ways if we want all our days to be summer-like, peaceful and harmonious.

But sometimes we sail through the period of the Three Weeks simply going through the motions. We pay little heed to the message the signs of mourning are meant to impress on us. We barely take note of them, much as we don’t even see that zeicher l’churban when we walk into the house.

We think catastrophe won’t happen here. We think this century is different; we imagine we are protected here by laws and police. We deceive ourselves into thinking that the government is capable of safeguarding our security. We tell ourselves that we are safer here than we have ever been.

But we are wrong.

When we realize that neither the armies of Western governments nor their police can protect us, when we recognize that only the Yad Hashem can prevent bin Laden from annihilating yet more innocents, we will be immeasurably closer to the time when the Three Weeks will no longer be a period of mourning.

Just last week in London, terrorists attempted several acts of terror. They were all stymied, and the police had nothing to do with stopping them. Miraculously, the bombs did not go off. Security personnel played absolutely no role in preventing the deaths of untold hundreds, which could have resulted if the bombs detonated and the Jeep had made it through into the area of the airport it was aiming for. The media and political leaders described it as “blind luck.” We, however, recognize the hand of G-d.

When we realize that it is not the New York City police nor the London Bobbies who can save us from the evil designs of barbarians bent on our destruction, we will be on the path to redemption.

When we absorb the truth that our actions carry consequences, we will be able to effect the deliverance of the third Bais Hamikdosh.

The Three Weeks caution us to stop putting our faith in men, well intentioned as they may be. The Three Weeks proclaim that we will never be truly safe until we remove malice from our hearts. The Three Weeks tell us that no matter how powerful we think we are, beasts of prey masquerading as humans can fill cars with gas and propane or strap bombs to their bodies and kill innocent people wherever they want.

Chazal spared us from the pain of a continuous Three Week existence. We need summertime to unwind and recharge our batteries, and we don’t take this gift for granted. It is a time to wind down, exercise and enjoy the wonderful world G-d has given us. But we also need the Three Weeks to intervene and remind us of the realities of golus and of churban.

It’s not enough just to leave a blank space opposite the door as a remembrance of what we are lacking. We need to actually look at the space and hear the message it proclaims to us.

The zeicher l’churban and the Three Weeks say to us that we can never feel too safe as the cloud of golus hovers over us, a constant reminder that the grim reality of churban may rain down upon us once again.

We look forward and pray for the day that the sun will break through and fill in all the empty spaces, with the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our day.