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.


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