By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin
This week’s parshah, Devarim, is always read on the Shabbos preceding Tisha B’Av. We know that there are no coincidences… If so, what’s the connection?
“Devarim” means “words”. It is the parshah of Moshe’s words to Bnei Yisroel. Words of recollection. Words of admonishment. Moshe recounts the episode of cheit hamiraglim, the sin of the scouts. They returned from their mission to Eretz Yisroel with a frightening report, describing the land as “Eretz ocheles yoshvehah, a land that swallows its inhabitants.”
The miraglim’s slanderous report was based on the fear that they didn’t merit HaShem’s help and protection in settling the land. They planted seeds of doubt and trepidation amongst the nation. The Talmud teaches that Bnei Yisroel wept the entire night, which was the Ninth of Av. Whereupon, Hashem said, “You cried a b’chiyah shel chinam, unnecessary and unwarranted weeping. It will become a b’chiyah l’doros, a night of weeping for generations.” Thus, Tisha B’Av was destined to be a day of tragedy for all time. One Tisha B’Av after another became a day of calamity.
The destruction of both the First and the Second Bais HaMikdash occurred on Tisha B’Av. The fall of Beitar, and the massacre that ensued took place on Tisha B’Av. The expulsion of the Jewish community from England in 1290, and from France in 1306, both occurred on Tisha B’Av. During the Inquisition, Tisha B’Av was the deadline for the Jews of Spain to leave their country or convert to Christianity. Those who defied the Inquisitors suffered terrible torture and even death. World War I broke out on Tisha B’Av. The Nazi’s Final Solution was approved on Tisha B’Av 1941. A year later, on Tisha B’Av, marked the beginning of the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto.
B’chiyah l’doros – a cry for generations.
The Talmud teaches that the Second Bais HaMikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam, baseless hatred. Unwarranted feelings of animosity one to another. At the same time, we learn of the miraglim, and the consequences of crying for an unwarranted cause.
Was it unwarranted crying or baseless hatred? In essence, the two are connected. If one fails to see the purpose and value of his own life (as in the case of the miraglim), how difficult it is to recognize and appreciate the value and meaning of the lives of his fellow man. An individual’s lack of self-worth can slowly but steadily evolve into jealousy, envy, and ultimately hatred of others.
Now is the time to feel the pain of Yerushalayim. A time to feel the anguish of another Jew. To rid ourselves of whatever sinas chinam, anger, resentment, bitterness or negativity that we may harbor.
The Sefas Emes teaches that one should begin by caring for himself. From there, one should extend himself to his family, his community, until his circle extends and he feels the pain of his fellow Jew.
This Motzoei Shabbos, we will sit on our stools and say Megillas Eichah. We will hear the words recited in a haunting, chilling tune. A melody that enters our neshamos.
“Eichah yash’vah va’dad, How does the city (Yerushalayim) sit in solitude…”
I recall many a Tisha B’Av in camp. We would sit on the floor of our (camp) shul. The room was dark. We read Eichah by flashlight. The mournful melody of Eichah touching each of us.
Eichah? How is it? The question remains. Years have passed, and we are still asking, Eichah? How could it be? So many tragedies, so much suffering. When will it stop?
We not only ask Eichah on Tisha B’Av. In Parshas Devarim, Moshe also asks Eichah, “Eichah esah l’vahdee, How can I alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels? (Devarim 1:12). In fact, these words are read in the same somber tune as Megillas Eichah on Tisha B’Av.
This Shabbos, is known as “Shabbos Chazon”. “Chazon” is the Hebrew word for vision, and is taken from the opening words of the haftorah – “Chazon Yeshayahu, The Vision of the Prophet Yeshayahu”. Yeshayahu too asks, “Eichah hayesah l’zonah, How has it (Yerushalayim) gone so astray from HaShem?” (Yeshayahu 1:21)?
Yeshayahu laments the loss of the Bais HaMikdash and the destruction of Yerushalayim. “Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire.” There is a Midrash that tells us of Yeshayahu being asked as to why he is crying over the loss of wood and stone. Yeshayahu replies that the wood and stone of the Bais HaMikdash is the heart and soul, the strength and source of Torah for the Jewish people.
Yeshayahu admonishes the people for worshipping without heart, of just going through the motions, and allowing the mitzvos to become routine. His message is timeless. It is a message that even many generations later, still speaks to us.
So often, my mother, the Rebbetzin a”h would be approached with the age-old question of “Where was G-d”, especially when it came to understanding the Holocaust. Eichah? How could it have happened is asked time and time again.
I remember my mother responding that the question is misdirected. The better question is “Where was man?” What did man do to stop the horrific from happening?
The Rebbetzin would quote HaShem’s question to Adam and Chava after they partook of the Eitz HaDaas, the Tree of Knowledge. Ayekah? Where are you? Where are you, Man? What are you doing?”
The word Eichah is spelled in Hebrew exactly as the word Ayekah. The question we must ask ourselves this Tisha B’Av is “Ayekah”? What are we doing to make this world a better place?
It was sinas chinam that destroyed the Bais HaMikdash and led us to a two thousand year exile that we are still suffering in. Rav Kook taught that in order to bring the geulah, to end all our pain and suffering, we must fill the world with avahas chinam, unconditional love. To show kindness and compassion to others.
Rav Kook was once asked how he can befriend those who are difficult, those who give him a hard time, who had views that were anti-religious. The rav answered that he would rather be guilty of ahavas chinam than sinas chinam.
This Tisha B’Av, let’s not only ask “Eichah – How”, but also asks “Ayekah – Where are we? What can we do?”
While we may not understand and have answers to all the “How’s and why’s” of life, we can step up to the plate and do our best to answer HaShem’s question of “Ayekah.”
Wishing all a meaningful fast.
Chaya Sora can be reached at email@example.com
This article was written L’zecher Nishmas / In Memory Of HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi, zt”l and Rebbetzin Esther bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, zt”l