Tisha B’Av: A Day of Introspection
There is a fascinating historical observation to be made. I believe that this point brings out one of the most powerful themes of the day. Let us examine it and see what we can learn as we struggle to find hope and inspiration on this nationally sad day.
Why The Ninth?
We fast for the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash on Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av. However, this is difficult to understand. The Gemara in Taanis (29a) states that the enemy only began the fire upon the Mikdash at late evening of the 9th of Av. The fire caught on and burned down the holy site throughout the entire 10th of Av, night and day. In fact, Rebbe Yochanan says that had the decision been his, he would have made the 10th of Av the day of mourning and not the 9th! Why was this not followed? The Rabbis answered him, that although the majority of the destruction took place on the 10th, we must note the beginning of the trouble and mourn starting from then. This explanation is very significant.
Evil Inclination’s Appearance
The Gemara (Sukka 52a) tells us that when Mashiach will come, Hashem will slaughter the yetzer hara, Evil Inclination. The tzaddikim, rightous people, and risha’im, evil doers, will watch and each will cry. The righteous people will perceive the yetzer hara as a mountain. They will cry in disbelief that they were able to overcome such a great challenge. The evil people will perceive him as a small hair. They will weep in retrospect that such a small thing distracted them from living their lives productively. The question is, whose perspective is correct? Is the Yetzer Hara a mountain or is he a hair?
The answer is that the sinners are correct. In truth, he really is a small and worthless creature. So what is the mountain? The answer is that it refers to foresight. The yetzer hara tries to get us by means of a gradual buildup. He doesn’t come to tempt us with the greatest sins first. We would never listen. Rather, he begins his lure with small things, gradually expanding the victim’s horizon. Slowly but surely he gets one to sin until one day he is able to escalate the gravity of the sins and persuade one to indulge in something that in the past he would have never dared to commit (based on Niddah 13b).
A fool does not think ahead. He justifies his actions by stating that, “it’s not a big deal”. Slowly and daily he gets more deeply sucked into the clutches of failure. The wise man understands the ramifications of his actions and knows that if he gives in to one temptation, the next time it will only be harder. The yetzer hara will keep building from today’s small hair, to his ultimate large mountain! Hence, the risha’im are correct in seeing him only as a small hair. Sins are worthless and begin small. However, the tzaddikim have the wisdom and foresight to realize that small sins only lead to a large mountain of destruction. This is the foresight of life. In order to succeed we must train ourselves to think ahead. We should not make light of our choices before us. We must see that the actions we take have significant ramifications.
Call To Repent
Before Hashem sent us into exile, he sent prophet after prophet to warn us to mend our ways. The Jews were too stubborn to listen; they hid behind the fact that that their actions were only insignificant “hairs”, small sins. However, their permissiveness build up to the point that they began committing “mountainous” sins of murder, adultery, avoda zarah and destructive speech. They were out of control. Hashem now had to put them in their place and stir them from their illusion.
If we go back to the original sin that happened on the first Tisha B’Av ever, we will find the same concept. Hashem told the Jews that He would bring them into Eretz Yisrael and take care of them. They however, did not trust Him and insisted on sending spies to check out the land. The spies came back with their slanderous report and the Jews spent the night crying. Hashem was enraged and decreed that because of their distrust He would now give them something to cry for. A “small” act that had terrible ramifications.
The Rabbis specifically instruct us to fast on the 9th of Av. This is to show us the significance of foresight. They are training us to see a small fire and the end result of destruction that it could bring. The entire day begs us to accept the message of effective thought. We are taught to see the ramifications of our actions. May we all use the day to its fullest.
Source of Suffering; Source of Hope
Tisha B’Av has the potential to be a most inspirational and powerful day. How can we get the most out of it?
The Midrash Aicha (1:24) states a riveting story. There was a woman who lived next door to Rabban Gamliel. She had a very young child who passed away tragically. She could be heard crying throughout the night. When the cries reached Rabban Gamliel’s ears, he cried and cried along with her and said that he was reminded of the mourning of the Beis HaMikdash.
When Rabbi Mordechai Gifter zt”l visited Eretz Yisrael, he went to Kever Rachel to daven. There he poured out his heart. When he got to the Kosel and tore his garment, his emotions were even stronger. He stood at the Kosel crying like an inconsolable baby. His students later asked him why he was so much more emotional at the Kosel than at Kever Rachel. It was very common for people to get more teary at Kever Rachel, the tomb of one of the dear mother’s of Klal Yisrael.
Rabbi Gifter explained that true, Kever Rachel has significance and is a very moving place, however, the sight of the Beis HaMikdash destroyed is more powerful. I see more than a destroyed wall and a nation in exile, I see all of the collective pains and sufferings of Klal Yisrael brought about because of the destruction. The Beis HaMikdash being destroyed means that we don’t have Hashem directly with us, thus we have pain, death and suffering! This is why I cry so hard at the Kosel, I begged Hashem to reveal Himself and to thereby end all suffering.
Rabban Gamliel taught us this exact point, the woman suffered such a terrible tragedy, because the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed. Rabban Gamliel saw to the core of the issue. He cried and begged Hashem to solve it all.
Tisha B’Av can be a meaningful and inspirational day when we connect with its lesson. Any trouble that we have is directly related to the fact that Hashem does not dwell in our midst. The only solution to our troubles is when Hashem sends Mashiach, may we merit to see this Tisha B’Av turn into a true holiday of redemption.
The Word “Aicha”
Chazal (Midrash Aicha 1:1) state that the word “איכה” summarizes the sins of the Jews at the time. They denied and desecrated the holy aspects of Torah.
א stands for אחד, the Unity of Hashem which they did not denied,
י stands for י’ דברות, the Ten Commandments, which they desecrated,
כ stands for כ’ דורות, twenty generations from Adam until Avraham who performed Milah, circumcision,
but now the Jews stopped.
ה stands for ה’ ספרי התורה, the five books of the Torah, which they did not follow.
The Jews got a wakeup call in the form of “איכה, where are you?!” in order to spell out to them the necessity to turn back to Hashem. When we passionately pursue Hashem and the fundamentals of His Torah, we bring the redemption closer.