Feeling Good About Tisha B’Av
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.