Feeling Good About Tisha B’Av

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Only one voice of optimism carried over last week’s sustained background of sadness and despair. Jonathan Rosenblum, writing in Yated, cobbled together some of the positive consequences that have emerged from the current war in the North. I hope he can be persuaded to post them here.

Jonathan’s approach to current events mirrors that of a giant of the past, the Kozhnitzer Magid in regard to our national day of mourning. While others spent the day in uncontrollable weeping, the Magid used Tisha B’Av to strengthen and uplift his followers. He did not deny the need to emote with the bitterness of the churban and its aftermath, but he spoke of a parallel need at the same time – “to gladden the heart of the King.” The Slonimer Rebbe zt”l (Nesivos Shalom, Bein HaMetzorim pg. 199) explains that mortal kings had subjects who perfected the art of lifting their sovereign from his melancholy or depression, perhaps using music to buoy the monarch’s spirits. The Magid, wrote the Slonimer, was likely from such a group! On the day that commemorates the destruction of His Temple and the exiling of His children, those who love the King and are capable should find a way to dispel the gloom (kevayachol) of Hashem, by fervently proclaiming His lasting Kingship, and pledging fidelity and loyalty no matter what.

Are there optimistic messages sewn into Tisha B’Av’s tapestry of tragedy? There must be, affirms the Slonimer. The Gemara (Yoma 54B) reports that those who despoiled the Temple were shocked upon entering the Holy of Holies to find the cherubs of the Holy Ark intertwined in embrace. Taken aback by the sensuality of the image, it never occurred to them that it symbolized the relationship between G-d and his people. Elsewhere (Bava Basra 99A), however, the Gemara posits that the cherubs only evinced this relationship at times that Jews were faithful to His Will – hardly what we would expect at the moment of the Temple’s destruction. Furthermore, a midrash terms Tisha B’Av a moed, a time of Divine encounter; in fact, according to this midrash, it is the greatest of such encounters. In what ways can Tisha B’Av point to the closeness between Hashem and His people, rather than their unfortunate estrangement? The Rebbe points to at least two, offered here in free translation:

There are two different times of Divine favor, and both can be understood allegorically. The first is comparable to a king whose wise and successful son brought him constant honor. The prince easily brings on periods of his father’s favor. A son who is the polar opposite, however, also inspires the king’s favor. A prince who is handicapped to the point of being completely unable to care for himself in any way is completely dependent upon his father. Without his assistance, he has no hope, no existence. This very helplessness inspires favor in the eyes of his father, who recognizes his son’s complete reliance upon him, and reacts with compassion. This favor is indeed more intense than the kind generated by the successful son, because without it, all is lost. This kind of favor was aroused at the time of the Temple’s destruction, as the Jewish people sank to their nadir, and paradoxically produced the most intense kind of compassion and love. The cherubs’ turning towards each other symbolized the love inspired by that moment.

The Torah calls us Hashem’s children, which yields yet another way of looking at the churban. We can distinguish between three kinds of love that a father has for a child. The most obvious is the intense warmth that the father feels for the child with whom he interacts daily. Even more intense, however, is the love the father feels when he is separated from his beloved child, and the longing across distance adds even more strength to the bond between them. Stronger yet, though, is the love the father feels for the child who has taken deathly ill, and can only be saved through difficult surgery. If the father himself is the surgeon who must cut into his child’s flesh to save him, the emotional power of the relationship between them is of a different order of magnitude. The destruction of the Temple, as catastrophic and tragic as it was, resembles a surgical procedure. It was painful – but necessary to address the damage we inflicted upon ourselves through our sins. When our Father found it to be the only expedient that would work, it aroused great love and compassion Above, demonstrated by the embrace of the cherubs.

May it be His Will that we recognize that love during this national week of mourning, and use its power to rebuild a relationship with Him, leading quickly to the end of our suffering and the ushering in of the universal peace of His Messiah.

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4 Responses

  1. Baruch Horowitz says:

    I agree with the message of the post. If a person doesn’t approach Tishaa B’aav in a positive and hopeful manner, then it becomes difficult to spend Tisha B’aav in any useful way(besides sleeping). I think that for many people, myself included, the reasonable objective would be to at least think about the Beis Hamikdash somewhat.

    However, even regarding feeling as well, there is a difference between aveilus vs. atzvus, mourning vs. depression. The former is at least a feeling, while depression is usually a lack of feeling and is associated with anhedonia(an + hedone= inability to experience pleasure). I don’t think that Rav Yehuda Halevi literally was depressed, even though he speaks of not being able to experience different pleasures in the kinnos.

    I have heard in the past, the analogy mentioned, of Hashem performing surgery on his son, which emphasizes that he is not c’v taking pleasure when the Jewish People suffer, and to the contrary, he is bonding with them. However, people who actually experience the enormity of incomprehensible events like the Holocaust, may have a hard time even with this comparison. The struggle with faith in Hashem is evident in Elie Wiesel’s works, although we can not judge him, just like we can’t judge Eyov, since we didn’t have his experience.

    This is why I am uncomfortable in giving what seem like easy explanations for the Churban in Europe, while someone like Elie Wiesel who actually experienced it, could not relate to the answers. I would imagine that someone who emerged with strong emunah such as the Blushever Rebbe and many others also realized that we ultimately can’t understand Hashem’s thoughts , as the Rambam said, ” If I could understand Hashem’s thoughts, I would be Him”(MN, 3:21).

    Even though there is scar v’onesh in the Tochacha, and some Gedolim may have given explanations for the Churban in Europe, I still think that one can not understand them simplistically, in the sense that we have identified the full picture in Hashem’s mind. One can focus on these explanations in order to do Teshuva, but ultimately, such an enormous event is beyond human comprehension.

  2. HESHY BULMAN says:

    This comment for Yonason Rosenblum – yes, there certainly is more of the same, in the double standard being applied – Olam K’Minhago Nohag – and yet there is something profoundly different going on here vis-a-vis about 50% of the American public and a clear majority of the U.S. congress. Somehow reassuring and vaguely disturbing at the same time. I have yet to come come across any attempt on the part of any of the leading spoksmen of our day to directly address in the light of Hashkofoh and History the issue of our current relationship with both the U.S.Government and a good portion of the American people. Are we simply being tested here by the smiling face of our brother Esav with the distinct possibility of, Heaven forbid, the same calamitous outcome we suffered in our exile from Spain ? Or, (dare we think it?) could our current relationship with the U.S., joining forces to battle a common enemy, be a genuine harbinger of the rapprochement we are destined to have with Esav at the end of days ? Thoughts for an Erev Tisha B’Av.

  3. Baruch Horowitz says:

    The pictures plastered over all the papers are indeed Israel’s worst nightmare. The picture is now changed, and it might mean a U.N. resolution, and a peacekeeping force. Will Hezbollah interpret this as a victory?

    This example of the double standard, indeed points to the Yad Hashem. Those who hold of the standard, of course, put in different(and infuriating) terms. According to Boston Globe’s ombudsman, the double standard regarding not labeling Hamas murderers as terrorists “is a necessary accommodation in a complicated world”

    See here regarding the terrorist label, and regarding collateral damage of the U.S:

    http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=31&x_article=548

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/2079565.stm

    It is gratifying that everyone admits that Israel has a right to defend itself. Perhaps we shouldn’t take this lightly, because before the formation of the State, there was no such admission. Note the comparison between the statement of Jack Straw, British Foreign Secretary, upon the assaination in 2004 of Sheik Yassin, and Koffie Anan’s statement yesterday:

    Jack Straw: “All of us understand Israel’s need to protect itself – and it is fully entitled to do that – against the terrorism which affects it, within international law. But it is not entitled to go in for this kind of unlawful killing and we condemn it. It is unacceptable, it is unjustified and it is very unlikely to achieve its objectives.”

    Kofie Anan: ” …there is strong prima facie evidence that both [sides] have committed grave breaches of international humanitarian law….. No one disputes Israel’s right to defend itself. But, by its manner of doing so, it has caused, and is causing, death and suffering on a wholly unacceptable scale.

    It should be easy to get a job as a speech writer for some of these people!

  4. Jonathan Rosenblum says:

    Though flattered to be linked in any fashion with the Kozhnitzer Maggid, I resisted Yitzchok’s invitation to post my article for the very simple reason that anything written a week ago is inevitably greatly dated. In this case, two major events have intervened: (1) the loss of eight Israeli soldiers at Bint Jbail; and (2) the death of many civilians in the IAF airstrike on Kfar Qana. Neither contained within them any particularly good news.

    As far as I can tell write now, the best news is that Jews are clearly Hashem’s chosen people. The double standard applied by the world to Israel’s efforts to defend itself establishes this beyond any doubt. We have always been singled out in one way or another, a reflection of the fact that the Jewish people at some elemental level can no more mix with the nations of the world than can oil and water. Properly thought about the world’s double standard should be a chizuk to our emunah.