In the beautiful piyut for Kabbolas Shabbos composed by Rav Shlomo Alkabetz, we sing, “Hisnaari mei’afar kumi… Shake off the dust – arise! Don your splendid clothes, My people…” It is a call to Klal Yisroel to become redeemed and to resume its noble ways.
The question beckons to be asked: Are we the ones who refuse to become redeemed and insist on remaining in golus? Is it dependent upon us? And what does it mean that our shaking off the dust will bring the geulah?
The answer is that yes, indeed, it is dependent upon us. Hashem wants for us to genuinely desire the geulah, to truly be pained over the long golus, to recognize that this is not where we belong and to beseech Hashem with all of our heart to bring us back to the land of our avos hakedoshim, Eretz Yisroel, and to rebuild the Bais Hamikdosh, the source of all our blessings.
About Golus Mitzrayim, Hashem said, “Vehotzeisi eschem mitachas sivlos Mitzrayim – And I shall take you out from under the burdens of Mitzrayim” (Shemos 6:6). The Chiddushei Harim explains this homiletically. The word sivlos can also be interpreted as savlonus, to tolerate. The Yidden were in golus so long that they forgot their noble ways, their refinement, and their aversion to impurity. They no longer felt the keen spiritual discomfort as they did when they first got there. To this, Hakadosh Baruch Hu promised them that one of the key aspects of redemption would be to restore them to their original stature of nobility, where they will no longer be able to endure living in a land rife with immorality.
In generations past, when the geulah was still distant, the main avodah was to create the catalyst for redemption through teshuvah and maasim tovim. But in the final days, when the end is so near, of paramount importance is our shaking off the dust to thirst for the geulah and to beg Hashem to bring it very soon (Siach Yehudah, Rav Yehuda Aryeh Rapaport).
Not very well-known is a story related by Rav Yaakov Galinsky that he heard from someone who witnessed it. It happened in the later days of the holy Chofetz Chaim’s life, when he was frail and weak. He went to relax in a remote area near the forest were other roshei yeshiva used to go accompanied by a small group of select talmidim. The Chofetz Chaim’s family was careful to protect his health and allowed only an exact minyan to daven together with him. During the summer, Shabbos would end very late. The Chofetz Chaim would say divrei mussar and the talmidim would be allowed entry to hear his holy words.
The holy tzaddik would often speak about the geulah. On this particular evening, he said, “‘Hinei zeh omed achar kosleinu – Behold He is standing behind our wall’(Shir Hashirim 2:9). All of the simanim that the chachomim listed about ikvisa deMeshicha have appeared in abundance. The last perutah has been drained from our pockets and the troubles flow like a river. The son has stood up against his father, a daughter-in-law against her mother, the wisdom of Torah has become loathsome to the generation, and the government has turned to heresy. Why hasn’t Moshiach come yet?”
And he offered the answer:
“It says: ‘As the days when you left the land of Mitzrayim I will show it wonders’ (Micha 7:15). The final redemption will be similar to the exodus from Mitzrayim. And what transpired there? Moshe Rabbeinu, their redeemer, was born. The intensification of work and the hardships helped complete the total of 400 years of bondage. They were ready for geulah, but nothing happened.
“When did their salvation come? As the posuk says: ‘The Bnei Yisroel groaned because of the work and they cried out. Their outcry because of the work went up to Hashem’ (Shemos 2:23). Only then did Hashem appear to Moshe and say, ‘I have indeed seen the affliction of My people in Mitzrayim and I have heard its outcry… And now behold! The outcry of the Bnei Yisroel has come to me’ (ibid. 3:7-9). The redemption came when they cried out.
“Our oppression is great, the time has come to redeem us, but He is waiting for our cries. But we aren’t screaming to Hashem. How do we arouse Klal Yisroel to scream out to Hashem?
“If I travel to Vilna and speak to Rav Chaim Ozer [Grodzensky] and convince him that this is the case, we will together sign a declaration about this topic and motivate all Yidden to cry out to Hashem and to hasten the geulah.”
From that moment, the Chofetz Chaim remained silent and waited for Shabbos to be over. Right after Havdalah, he asked that they summon the wagon driver to take him to Vilna immediately. As is well-known, the pathways through the forest were narrow and muddy, full of mounds and holes. It was very dangerous for the Chofetz Chaim, at his age and his condition, to travel through the forest at night.
So, they quickly called Rav Shimon Shkop, the rosh yeshiva of Grodna, for him to try and calm the emotions of the Chofetz Chaim and dissuade him from his plan. He came quickly and mentioned the Gemara that says that one shouldn’t set out to travel at night (Bava Kamma 60b).
But the Sabba Kadisha answered, “And according to this reasoning, if a house becomes engulfed in flames r”l, should its residents remain there until morning and not flee into the night? Klal Yisroel is suffering in pain. If it is possible to hasten its redemption, should we wait?”
Rav Shimon replied that no harm will be done if the trip waits a few hours. The Chofetz Chaim was upset. “I hoped that his honor would support me. I never thought he would try and hinder my plan.”
Again the Chofetz Chaim asked that they call the baal aggalah. They went to get him, but on the way instructed him on what to say. When the tzaddik told him to get the wagon, he answered that it was dangerous to travel at this late hour on unclear paths. “The axle is likely to break and I am not willing to put my life in danger.”
“Fine, we will wait until the morning.”
The Polish summer nights are very short and the Chofetz Chaim waited anxiously for the morning. Unlike his minhag, he davened b’yechidus at alos hashachar and sent a message to find out why the wagon driver hadn’t arrived yet.
The real reason was because those close to the Chofetz Chaim, concerned about his health, paid the wagon driver for the full trip to the Vilna provided that he doesn’t show up. They returned with a message for the Chofetz Chaim that he is not willing to travel at such an early hour. He first has to feed the horses and prepare the wagon, and he prefers making a few short trips over the long journey to Vilna.
The Chofetz Chaim sighed in disappointment. “The geulah has been pushed off again. We squandered the moment!”
Rav Yaakov Galinsky concluded, “We do not know the hidden ways of Hashem and what the Chofetz Chaim saw at that moment, but he left us this legacy that Hashem is waiting for us to cry out to Him for the geulah.”
After the devastating churban of World War II, with all of the major Jewish communities of Europe destroyed, Hashem did a tremendous chesed for Klal Yisroel. He gave them siyata diShmaya to rebuild despite many having lost their entire families and communities and despite starting life over again with a broken spirit. Look at our communities today, with their yeshivos, girls’ schools, chesed organizations and flourishing Jewish neighborhoods with shuls and successful enterprises that make a community run.
This astounding success of rebuilding from the ashes can only be attributed to the loving Hashgachah of Hashem Yisborach. Which other people has been able to reconstruct itself so successfully both in foreign lands and in Eretz Yisroel surrounded by vicious, antagonistic neighbors? These are unequivocal miracles that Rav Yaakov Emden classifies as being similar to the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim.
But even the greatest brocha, if not used properly, can turn into something detrimental. If we recognize that our amazing success is truly miraculous and can only be attributed to Hashem’s loving-kindness of His children, then it is truly a blessing, for that leads to our using the advantages to help us focus on serving Hashem, to strive for higher levels of dveikus, and the realization that we must implore Him to bring us back to our homeland with the Bais Hamikdosh under the leadership of the Melech HaMoshiach.
However, as the Meshech Chochmah explains so clearly in Parshas Bechukosai, there is a distinct pattern in our history in golus. We are exiled to a foreign land and at first live there as strangers, a people apart, focused on rebuilding and serving Hashem. Slowly, but surely, though, we become accustomed to the new environment, feel comfortable in golus, and forget that this is not our makom. We are a different breed that gets its nourishment through kedusha. We have a unique tzurah distinct from the umos ha’olam. It is when we become comfortable that we forget that we must cry out to Hashem to redeem us and bring us back to our home in Eretz Yisroel under a rulership that is focused not on politics, not on self-aggrandizement, but solely on one matter: kiddush sheim Shomayim.
There is a clear halacha (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 554) that one does not greet his friend on Tisha B’Av, and if someone is greeted by a friend who is unaware of this halacha, he returns the greeting in an abrupt and serious manner. It is also prohibited to read Torah, Nevi’im or Kesuvim, and to learn Mishnah, Gemara, halachos and aggados, because it says, “The orders of Hashem are upright, gladdening the heart” (Tehillim 19:9), and on this day of mourning we must be sad.
One would think that since the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because of sinas chinom, then, to the contrary, we should be busy with ahavas chinom on this day, greeting people in a friendly manner, helping them, and strengthening friendships in general. And with regard to Torah, since the churban also came about because of our forsaking the Torah, we should rectify this by being totally immersed in Torah on that day.
The seforim say that it is possible to learn Torah and keep mitzvos and still pursue crooked ways. If one fulfills his obligations but lives a life of indulgence in olam hazeh and personal selfish pursuits, then his entire essence is off the mark. For this reason, there had to be a total churban and, during Bayis Rishoni, an exile from Eretz Yisroel. Why couldn’t the Yidden just remain in Eretz Yisroel and repent for their sins? Because life as they knew it before had to totally cease. They needed a wake-up call, an extreme shakeup, a move to an alien land where things are drastically different, and a sudden halt to life as they experienced it until now. Only then could they realize that amidst all of their avodah, they were headed in the wrong direction. They therefore had to completely stop, rethink their ways, and refocus their lives.
This is the idea of Tisha B’Av. It isn’t just any day for doing teshuvah and drawing close to Hashem. It is a day when just like in the times of the churban, we relive the stoppage of life as we know it. It is meant to awaken us, to change our tzurah. It is meant to get us to think of what we represent. We are not merely physical creatures who happen to keep the Torah. We are an entirely different metzius, sons of the avos hakedoshim upon whom Hashem rested the Shechinah.
The golus, living in an alien land with ideas so contrary to what we must strive for, deters us from realizing our full potential. It is a hindrance to our enjoying the ultimate pleasure of basking in Hashem’s light. The more we think about our nobility, what it represents and the eternal benefits it will bring us, the greater our angst will be over our prolonged stay in exile. And the greater will be our motivation to cry out to Hashem, “Enough already. Please, please redeem us!”
May we merit that this Tisha B’Av become a day of the celebration of geulah.