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A Time to Rejoice? (Tisha B'av)

Oct 21, 2009 by Rabbi Pesach Siegel

The period between the fasts of Shiva Asar BiTammuz and Tisha B’Av is referred to as “bein hametzarim” – between the narrow straits. There is a link, a process, which began with the first breech in the wall of Yerushalayim and culminated with the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. It is a time of grief, where the customs of mourning gradually increase in their intensity.


   But we don’t just mourn for the sake of mourning. There is a purpose to our mourning. And to discover the purpose we must be aware of what we have lost.


   There is a subtle underlying theme, which may escape notice, obscured by the intense sadness. Prior to the forging of the eigel hazahav,  Aharon HaKohen proclaimed, “Chag laHashem machar” – This act marks a celebratory time, for the sake of Hashem. The Ari z”l reveals to us that although Shiva Asar BiTammuz is a day filled with sadness, ultimately, it will be a day of rejoicing. The numerical value of the word “tov” is shiva asar (17). The eigel hazahav is tov. This is mysterious.


   The Navi Yirmiyahu declares, “Kara alai mo’ed lishbor bachurai” – A celebration was proclaimed to shatter my chosen ones. Tisha B’Av is a mo’ed.


   The P’sikta D’Rav Kahana enlightens us. The months of Tammuz, Av, and Elul are devoid of yamim tovim. This was not the original plan. Hashem had intended these months to be filled with celebrations. We lost them. Due to our sins, we must go through a process, to be worthy of these days of joy.


   So, are we satisfied with this explanation? Shiva Asar BiTammuz and Tisha B’Av are not yamim tovim, for the present. They will only be so, machar, in the future. There is a snag in this approach.  The tachanun prayer is offered daily. We express our regret and our pain over our sins. On shabasos and yamim tovim we refrain from reciting tachanun. It is not in line with the spirit of the day. On Tisha B’Av, tachanun is not recited. It is a mo’ed, and tachanun is not said on mo’adim. This is significant. Tisha B’Av is a mo’ed in the here and now, not just in the “hopefully not too distant future”.


   By delving into the holy words of chazal, the matter will become illuminated.


   The gemora in Mesches Taanis relates how King Menashe defiled the Beis Hamikdash. He inserted a graven image into the sanctuary of the Beis HaMikdash. There were two of them. They were disgusting, and they had the form of winged creatures. What was he attempting to accomplish through this act of wickedness? There is an entity, which we are quite familiar with, two winged entities, ensconced within the confines of the Kodesh HaKodashim, the Keruvim. The idols of Menashe were the anti-Keruvim. The Keruvim embody the relationship between Klal Yisroel and the Creator. It is one of strongly fierce love. The wings of the Keruvim extend upwards, symbolizing our bond with shamayim, and the faces of the Keruvim gaze downwards. What are they gazing at? The Aron HaBris, which contains the Luchos. Our heart and soul, our very life force, are the Luchos HaBris. It is only through the Torah contained in the Luchos that we are bound to our Maker. Menashe sought to sabotage this relationship, to distort it. He left the Luchos intact, but sought to contaminate the light emanating from the Beis HaMikdash, by bringing in a foreign element. He was successful. Our ability to discern truth from falsehood was diminished. We find ourselves in the darkness.


   The gemorah relates; One of the idols of Menashe fell on the other, and severed its hand. On the severed hand it was found written, “You sought to lead the Jews astray and bring about the destruction of the house of G-d with your power. By cutting off your hand, your power is hereby delivered over to Hashem”.  What is the meaning of this? Menashe brought about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. In what way can this be construed as a transferal of power from the forces of avoda zara to Hashem?


   Let us talk about the Luchos. Hopefully, the matter will become clearer. The destruction of the first original Luchos was a tragedy. Yet the gemorah in Meseches Nedarim tells us that were it not for the shattering of the Luchos, the Torah would be comprised of the chamisha chumshei Torah and sefer Yehoshua, and nothing else. The medrash reveals that contained within the second set of Luchos are the medrashos, halachos, and agados.


   Rav Tzadok of Lublin writes, that there are two ways of forging a relationship with our  Creator, in the light and in the darkness. We can relate to Him in an open manner, his message reaching us in a clear fashion, and his love for us revealed for all to see. Open miracles abound, and we are not troubled with doubts. We are secure in the knowledge that we reflect His will on earth.


   This was destroyed with the shattering of the first Luchos. For forty days and nights, Moshe Rabeinu struggled for our lives, for us to retain our unique role as those for whom the creation in its entirety was meant. Hashem, in His infinite kindness acquiesced. We were spared. Moshe Rabeinu underwent an additional period of forty days in order to restore the love, the relationship. He came down on Rosh Chodesh Elul. The month of “Ani liDodi uliDodi li”. The embodiment of the Keruvim. But the relationship was altered. We no longer can grasp reality with clarity. Hashem is hidden. We must pierce the darkness to attain truth. This takes unparalleled effort. We must be prepared even to approach the threshold of death in order to achieve clarity. In the darkness, Rabi Meir perceives Torah in a manner uniquely revealed to his soul, a personal Torah, and Rabi Yehuda imbibes the same truth in another form suited for him. These and these are the words of the living G-d. From the darkness emerges a virtual wellspring of Torah. His truth reaches us even through the challenge of dimness and obscurity.


   It was a process in stages. The Luchos were broken. They still exist, but are unreadable, like deciphering a message contained in an unassembled jigsaw puzzle. On Shiva Asar BiTammuz, the light was taken from us. On Tisha B’Av, the entire generation who witnessed Hashem’s open miracles, who spoke face to face with Hakodesh Baruch, Hu, was taken from the world, to be left in the desert. The people of Moshe Rabeinu, the recipients of the light, left the world.


   Menashe did not destroy the Beis HaMikdash. On Shiva Asar BiTammuz, he left it standing, but shattered its message of truth. This is a parallel to the shattering of the Luchos. Although the Luchos were no longer in their original state, and the Beis HaMikdash was contaminated, there remained those who still retained a connection to the truth of Har Sinai as imbibed by Moshe Rabeinu. They were blessed with sight beyond their power, to bring the clear unadulterated light of Har Sinai to this world. They are the nevi’im, the prophets, the last remnant of the people of Moshe Rabeinu. With the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, this too came to an end. And we descended to Bavel.


   Let us return to Menashe’s idols. The powers of evil were created by Hashem to mask the truth. It is not His will that we succumb to the forces of darkness. We are to overcome, and utilize the very forces of darkness to bring out the light of unsullied truth. Even the forces of evil proclaim Hashem’s majesty and are the vehicles for bringing his light to the world.


   This is the significance of the words inscribed on the hand of the idol. It sought to extinguish the light of the Beis HaMikdash, but instead, it transferred all its power to illuminating the nether depths of darkness.


   The gemora in Meseches Taanis relates how the kohanim, upon being engulfed by the flames, went up to the roof of the Beis HaMikdash and viewing themselves as unworthy guardians, thrust the keys of the Temple towards heaven.  A heavenly hand appeared and took the keys from their hands. The Ben Yehoyada explains the transferal of the keys represents the hidden presence of the Beis Hamikdash, even in its destruction. It is to be found beneath the surface, within the words of Torah shebaal peh – the oral law. We still retain access to the palace of the king. And it is no coincidence that the limb that was extended from heaven was in the form of the hand. It is the same hand as that of the avoda zara of Menashe. The numerical value of the word “yad” (14) is equal to the name of Dovid HaMelech.


   (Chazal tell us that each month relates to a letter of the aleph beis in addition to a limb in the body. The letter of the month of Tammuz is ches. A ches is formed by two zayins attached by an upside down “v”. The numerical value of the two zayins is 14 and the upside down “v” represents the connection between the celestial and the mundane. The corresponding limb is the right yad - hand).



   Within the depths of Menashe’s idolatry was hidden the spark of redemption, the soul of Dovid HaMelech. It was not able to be seen by the naked eye, his father King Chizkiyah was unable to see it through his ruach hakodesh, the prophet Yeshaya referred to it as the deepest secret, even the angels could not detect it. It was known solely to Hashem Yisborach, who carved out a sanctuary for Menashe under his throne of glory, accepting his teshuva at the end of his days.


   Did you ever wonder why some people go to great extremes to go to the edge and intentionally put their lives in danger? (I assume that no examples are necessary). If someone has no “life”, one feels that his very existence is at stake and feels the urge to go up until the point of losing his life, in order to “feel” alive.


   This is the joy deeply buried with these days of tragic mourning. The period of bein hametzarim is one where we lost our connection to sight, clarity, and truth – our very life’s blood. On Tisha B’Av, we experience how cut off we truly are. This should shake us to our very core. It should cause to become in touch with ourselves and connect with our capacity to attain greatness from amidst the darkness. To see the Dovid within the Menashe, the tov within the eigel, the Torah shebiksav within the Torah shebaal peh. This is the secret of the mo’ed of Tisha B’Av.


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