Tisha B’Av: For Whom Do We Mourn?

How the city still sits solitary! Some two thousand years later, transformed into a bustling metropolis, the city and her people still sit and mourn alone.

Many revile her today more intensely than the Roman conquerors of antiquity. Many do not, but that does not relieve the loneliness of her mourning on the night of Tisha B’Av. Who can encompass a fraction of her sustained pain of two millennia of isolation, contempt, wandering, insecurity, savagery, auto-da-fes, ghettos, and gas chambers? Her friends might offer sympathy, but only those who experienced the consequences of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdosh and the exiling of the Shechinah, who chronicled her suffering with quills dipped in blood, can understand.

And so it will be until the Temple is restored and the Divine Presence returns to its appointed place.

Tisha B’Av must remain an intensely private day of mourning, not to be shared with anyone else. It flows from Jewish aspirations, and Jewish disappointments.

Or so it would seem. Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch, however, thought differently. If we comprehended the purpose and function of the Beis HaMikdosh, the world would be mourning with us.

It is for this “Galus Shechinah,” this “Exile of the Majesty of God,” as our ancestors with true insight called it, it is for this sad disfigurement of the Torah that Jewish tears are shed and Jewish hearts grieve. Not for his own galus, but for the galus of the Torah does the Jew mourn.

In the darkest centuries of the galus, when the Roman sword rent the curtain of the Temple and the Shechinah left the Jewish state and with it this Jewish state itself vanished from the earth, the majesty of God and the holiness of the Torah found refuge in the Jewish family life, the Jewish home, and every Jewish dwelling remained a sanctuary and every Jewish table remained an altar and every Jewish breast preserved like a priest the “light of God” and the striving for “Divine perfection.” The barriers are falling, the chains are being struck off, Jewish homes are emerging from night and shadow into the light of open day, the children of Israel are being received into the bosom of the nations. Will Israel be able to carry over its intimacy with God from the ghetto into the court, from the hovels into the mansions, from the cheder into the salon, from the corner-shop into the bureau, from the shuls into the “Temple?”

Fools! Does Israel alone scan the future for a sorely needed deliverance? Does only the Jewish salvation depend on the revival of Zion? Ask the states themselves whose jealously guarded interests you think it your duty to defend: ask these very states if they consider themselves to have reached the summit of human attainment, if they feel themselves already in possession of the magical charm which will preserve for ever the welfare and joy and peace of Paradise on earth? Ask them how much consolation they are able to bring to their hovels, how much joy to their poor, how much comfort to their down-cast, how much sorrow and misery, how much crime and vice they can banish from their cottages and their palaces, how much strength they can bring to their weak, how much love to their strong, how much humility to their proud, how much self-respect to their lowly, how much curse they can scare away from this earth which God has meant to be blessed? Ask them if they know for certain the very first letters of a political system which will unite justice with love and sanctifications with joy on earth.

Are the messages which the electric telegraph carries over the earth only or even mostly those of peace and joy? …Has the formula yet been discovered for utilizing this triumph of the human mind, the light of science, the magic of discovery, in such a way as to consummate the happiness of man? … Has the formula been discovered for transforming the manufactured bread of man into the Divinely blessed shew-bread, so that each one should be at peace with himself and at the same time harbor brotherly feelings towards his neighbor and forthwith obtain his share of the incense of contentment and of cheerfulness? Has the formula been discovered which could impose on the discordant members of the body politic a higher power outside of themselves, inviolable and superior to them, able to inspire and justify them all alike and link them all together, so as at last to bring to human society the true olive leaf of freedom and of bliss even here below?

The persecuted, despised, misrepresented Jewish people is not the most unfortunate on earth, the one most in need of deliverance on earth. The whole earth is thirsting for deliverance…Once before the world had thirsted for deliverance; it was the time when Zion fell. The heathen world was falling into decay….Tyrants and slaves enjoyed themselves on earth—but men groaned and starved. Humanity had lost its divinity, men sighed for a new God. If only Zion had stood then, Zion in its thousand-year-old freshness, in its thousand-year-old blissfulness, in its perpetual youth, and if then already “the peoples had gone to the house of Jacob and had said, Come, let us walk with you in your light.” But, alas, it was not so.

Zion fell.[1]

R Hirsch’s vision, as expected, is of a Torah Judaism that ultimately redeems the world. It is a Torah Judaism whose statutes are meant for the people of His covenant alone, but whose message that lives and thrives within those statutes is the healing balm of all humanity.

The fact that many of us have no idea what he means, who do not sense what relevance our Torah has for a mankind adrift without moorings, is itself grounds for mourning

[1] Collected Writings, vol. 1, Av I  pgs. 345-347

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2 Responses

  1. Nachum says:

    If nothing else, it should be pointed out that (to take 19th Century examples) Greece, Bulgaria, or Serbia didn’t have to be independent to protect members of those ethnic groups. Whereas German Jews…well.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    The world doesn’t realize yet how it suffers from our dislocation and our incomplete devotion to our mission. The US, for example, has generally thought of itself as Israel’s senior partner or patron. However, the US is in a moral tailspin, which, I’m convinced, only the Jewish people’s full restoration can reverse. Thus, we Jews become primary to America’s survival or revival as a republic.

    People like Mark Levin speak of restoring Constitutional government. That won’t happen unless the religious-moral-ethical bases of our Constitutional government, such as a moral and responsible citizenry, are restored. These are more rooted in the Jewish world concept than most people realize. Dr. Paul Eidelberg, for example, has written extensively on this topic.

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