HaRav Zohn at around the age of 100
This essay was originally published in 1995.
Yet Another Tisha B'Av
It was the night of Tisha B'Av a couple of years ago. Thousands of Yidden were assembled in Kikar Shabbos — the intersection between Geula and Meah Shearim in Yerushalayim. Annually on the night of Tisha B'Av, droshos used to take place at this venue, lamenting the churban of the Beis Hamikdash and the desecration of Jewish graves that continues, and exhorting the participants to rectify those sins which had caused the destruction then, and are blocking its reconstruction today.
The famous maggid Rav Yaakov Galinsky began his speech with the timely words of the novi Yirmiyahu (Chapter 8:20): "Ovar kotzir, coloh kayitz, ve'adaiyen lo noshonu" — The harvest season has passed, the summer has finished, and our salvation has still not arrived." His sweet voice and unique maggid-niggun blended together with the stillness of the night to make a deep impression on his audience. "Who would have believed a year ago, that this year we would be assembled here yet again on Tisha B'Av!" cried Reb Yaakov.
Since that moving episode, a few years have passed and we are still impatiently waiting for our salvation — Moshiach, the rebuilding of the Mikdosh and the avodas hakorbanos with all the divine closeness it brings. Close to two thousand years Klal Yisroel has annually mourned the Churban, and taken solace from the fact, that Moshiach, born on Tisha B'Av, is surely on our doorstep.
Reb Avrohom of Chechnov zt'l, one of the great Chassidic Masters, would even stow away his kinos in the Genizah annually, confident that he would find no further use for it. HaRav Ruderman zt'l, rosh yeshiva of Ner Israel in America, used to say that in Slobodka they always used to dispose of the kinos every year. He was not happy to see people using kinos with a hard cover.
Many of our tefillos throughout the year and especially during the yomim noraim express our fervent wish for Moshiach's arrival and the reconstruction of the Mikdosh. Millions have been davening these tefillos throughout the generations. Why has the Moshiach not come yet? Why have our tefillos not been answered?
Neglecting The Churban
Rav Yaakov Emden zt'l in the Yaavetz Siddur, answers this difficulty. In his preface to the laws of Tisha B'Av he writes "... If Klal Yisroel would only be guilty of this one sin — neglect in mourning the Churban sufficiently — this would be a satisfactory reason for the lengthening of our golus...
"And especially on that sorrowful day of Tisha B'Av, how many of us sigh over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, and our land lying in desolation? How many tears do we shed over these tragedies? Not to even mention the rest of the year when the Churban is neither remembered, nor spoken about. It doesn't even enter our minds, as if it were a mere coincidence!"
The Yaavetz speaks clearly. Our indifference to the Churban in itself would be sufficient reason to explain our long golus.
But this in itself requires an explanation. Why is being indifferent such a grievous transgression that it justifies our lengthy stay in exile?
Perhaps the explanation is as follows: Mourning over the Churban shows an appreciation of the enormity of our loss. It demonstrates a yearning for Divine closeness. It exhibits deep respect towards what the Mikdosh stood for. It proves that we haven't severed our spiritual ties even after almost two thousand years in golus amongst the gentiles. Hashem says (so to speak): "If my children desire a closeness with me, they are worthy of having a Mikdosh once again with all its holiness and purity."
If however we are indifferent, we fail to mourn the Mikdosh, in effect we are saying: "We don't view spirituality or divinity to be of great importance. We're content with our situation."
Then, choliloh, Hashem says: "If my children are incapable of appreciating ruchniyus, then they are undeserving of Moshiach who will bring times of high standards of spirituality." With this in mind, we can understand the Yaavetz.
Our belief that Moshiach can come at any time is not refuted by this. These two points do not contradict each other. We believe wholeheartedly that Moshiach can come at any time in the future. The Yaavetz is merely explaining our long stay in golus up to now. We must do teshuva for the great transgression of not mourning the Churban, and anticipate the coming of Moshiach imminently.
Half An Hour: Minimum or Maximum?!
The Mishna Berurah in Hilchos Tisha B'Av (551:102) writes: "... It is written in the name of the Arizal, that every day at midday, during the three weeks, one should grieve over the Churban, and shed tears for approximately half an hour."
HaRav Don Segal, speaking at a his'orerus for the Three Weeks, offered the following explanation.
"The intent," said R' Don, "is not to have to strain oneself, toiling to extract some tears for half an hour and thereafter the ordeal is over. No, not at all. The true meaning is the opposite. One should confine one's weeping to a half-hour period. "Normally," a person may feel a desire to cry continuously, for a number of hours, out of deep distress over the Churban." Half an hour, says the Arizal, is enough, for there are other avodos to be carried out in the day."
Are we not far removed from genuine aveilus haChurban?
It is related that a young man once complained to HaRav Wosner, the rav of Zichron Meir in Bnei Brak, concerning the difficulty caused by the restrictions against washing during the Nine Days before Tisha B'Av. HaRav Wosner replied: "Never has an ovel mourning a close relative ever voiced such a complaint."
That's precisely the problem. We don't treat aveilus haChurban as a personal tragedy.
Seuda Hamafsekes: Hot and Salty
Gedolim and tzadikim grieved over the Churban throughout the generations. Night after night, throughout the year, they said Tikkun Chatzos with great fervor and intensity. Rivers of tears flowed freely from their eyes; nostalgic feelings for Yerushalayim welled up in their broken hearts. The memory of Zion never faded in their minds. The suffering of the Shechina swallowed up all personal tragedy!
Rav Avrohom Shmuel Binyomin Sofer, in his sefer Zichron Moshe, relates a most moving story concerning the Chasam Sofer zt'l. He heard the story from HaRav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt'l, the saintly rov of Yerushalayim, who in turn had heard it from an eyewitness, HaRav Moshe Novomesta zt'l, a member of the household of the Chasam Sofer.
"Once on the afternoon of erev Tisha B'Av, the Chasam Sofer entered his study alone, and closed the door behind him. I was most curious to know the reason for his solitary meditation, for I knew well that on Erev Tisha B'Av in the afternoon, he neither studies halocho, nor does he write responsa. I plucked up courage and peeped in through the keyhole. My eyes beheld a wondrous sight: the holy tzaddik was mourning over the churban habayis. Resting on his hand was a sefer, whilst in his hands he held a cup. Tears flowed steadily into the cup, until it was full. When he later sat down to the seuda hamafsekes, he drank from that cup, in line with the Scripture (Tehillim 80:6), `You have fed them the bread of tears, and you have made them drink tears in large measures.' "
In Our Day And Age Too!
Some readers may suggest that stories and anecdotes like the one just mentioned, are history. They belong to an era of yesteryear. "People just don't possess such a capacity for spirituality nowadays," they say. Although it is true that the world is sliding on a slippery slope downhill; nevertheless, those who have not drowned in the sea of materialism are still possessed of spiritualism on a high level. The following proves this point.
Yerushalayim the holy city was always famous for the modesty and humility of her inhabitants. Mingling anonymously among the masses, could be found veritable Torah Giants. One such Yid was Reb Velvel Chetchik zt'l, who passed away in 5740 (1980). Many stories of his tremendous yiras Shomayim were compiled posthumously by his nephew, Rav Moshe Mordechai Shulsinger of Bnei Brak. One such anecdote, teaches us a great deal about genuine aveilus haChurban even in our generation.
"While still a young man in the days of British rule in Eretz Yisroel, Reb Velvel was accustomed to visit the Kosel during the Bein Hametzorim period. There he would recite the Tikkun Chatzos. He once remarked that he felt that his eyes had weakened as a result of the copious tears that he shed over the Shechina in golus."
Let our weakened hearts be strengthened, from Reb Velvel's weakened eyes!
The Orphan Who Never Knew His Father
In a pre-Tisha B'Av speech to a group of bochurim from the Mir Yeshiva, HaRav Binyomin Finkel used the following parable. Full of wisdom and insight it vividly depicts our sad position.
"Extremely sad, but unfortunately not rare enough, are the shiva visits which have to be paid — Rachmono litzlan! Sometimes upon entering the shiva house, one's eyes meet a heart-rending sight. Seated on low stools, in a row, are the yesomim of the late niftar, whose untimely passing is the cause of the sorrow. Their eyes settle shyly on the visitor, yearning for some much needed comfort. The pain is tangible; the destitute situation could melt even the hardest of hearts.
"In the midst of all the sadness and solemnity, a little five year old Moishele comes crashing his way through the door, laughing playfully. Clamorously tripping over people's legs, he continues his ball game most contentedly.
"Moishele, the youngest of the orphans, is really the biggest rachmonus, for he doesn't even remember his father. Nonetheless, he is oblivious to all the sadness — the petiroh, the levaya and the shiva. Too young to appreciate the enormity of the loss, his games continue as usual. Moishele's sad situation evokes deep pity in the hearts of those witnessing the sight, and their eyes begin to redden.
"We are the Moisheles," concluded Reb Binyomin. "We are to be pitied most of all. We are so far removed from all the holiness — the Beis Hamikdash, the avoda, the closeness to Hashem — yet we are so content with our games!"