Tuesday, Jun 11, 2024

Happy Birthday, Moshiach

There are two days on our calendar that seem very similar. Both Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av share being a fast day and a number of other prohibitions. Yet, every Jew knows instinctively that there is a profound difference between the two. How do we define this distinction? My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l, put it succinctly: “Tisha B'Av, ver ken essen, who can eat? Yom Kippur, ver darf essen, who needs to eat?” Clearly, Tisha B'Av seems to be the worst day of the Jewish year. On Yom Kippur, we are like angels; on Tisha B'Av, we seem lower than the rest of humanity. Yet, there is a mystery hidden inside the misery: “On Tisha B'Av, Moshiach is born” (Yerushalmi, Brachos 2:4; Aggadas Bereishis 68; Pesichah to Esther Rabbah 11). How can this be? Is it the worst of days or the best of days? Let us explore.

We know that we live in a world of illusion. Nothing is what it seems. Indeed, the Hebrew word for world, “olam,” comes from the root which means hidden. When Hashem was assuring Moshe Rabbeinu that the Jewish people would listen to him, he was told to use the formula pakod pokadeti, because it was the time-honored phrase designated for redemption (Shemos 3:18, with Rashi). Almost all the meforshim ask the obvious question: If everyone knew the secret, what was to stop imposters and charlatans from uttering the magic words improperly?


Rav Elya Meir Bloch zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Telshe, in Peninei Daas, offers a seminal answer. There was no secret password. The true go’el would be the one who could persuade his listeners that even the suffering and pain had been part of the geulah. Pakod pokadeti are not magic words. They signify that geulah is a process. It comes with anguish and miraculous deliverance, distress and ecstasy, martyrdom and victory. The job of the go’el is to implant such emunah into his people that the times of hester ponim are no less a challenge to faith than the miraculous splitting of the sea. The rosh yeshiva explains that this is the significance of Moshiach’s birth on Tisha B’Av. The seeds of salvation are planted in the darkness of destruction. Whoever has truly been chosen for this sacred task — and no other — will be able convince his people that redemption is a long, arduous journey, replete with ups and downs, all leading to the joyous culmination.


On the Chassidic side, Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin is the great teacher of this truth. He cites (Pri Tzaddik, Pinchos and Resisei Laylah 24) the well-known fact that the first day of Pesach always corresponds to both the first and last days of the Three Weeks. He explains that the determination of the Bnei Yisroel as the Chosen Nation, the breaking of the Luchos and the double destruction of the Botei Mikdosh were necessary for the “later revelation of the Great Light of the Final Geulah.” This, explains Rav Tzadok, is the significance of the birth of Moshiach on Tishah B’Av. He quotes the Gemara (Shabbos 77a) that from creation onward, “darkness precedes light,” meaning that the suffering and despair eventually lead to the birth of hope and joy. Rav Nosson Wachtfogel zt”l, mashgiach of Bais Medrash Govoah in Lakewood, put it poetically: “For two thousand years of exile and affliction, we cried oceans of tears, accompanied by the groans and sighs of our national tragedies. We must know that those tears themselves irrigated the entire future of the nation. The glory and the monarchy, the eternal joy and exaltation will blossom forth from that river of misery” (Leket Reshimos, Bais Hamikdosh, page 110).


Rav Yonasan Shteif zt”l (commentary on the Haggadah, page 193) sees the connection between Tisha B’Av and Pesach in the bitter herbs of the Seder. The posuk says, “Hisbi’ani vamerorim – He filled me with bitterness” (Eichah 3:15). This reflects the fact that it is always the maror, the depths of the pain, that hastens the end of the exile. The pattern Rav Shteif reveals follows the timeless words of the novi (Michah 7:15) that Pesach is the prototype of all future exiles and redemptions. Just as Hashem hastened the geulah from Mitzrayim by temporarily deepening the golus, so will it be in the great geulah of the future. It is up to us to accept and believe that indeed it is the birth pangs themselves (chevlei leidah/chevlei Moshiach) that produce the “fresh new world” (Maharal, Bava Kamma 38) of Moshiach.


We are sometimes accustomed to thinking that the shoelessness of Yom Kippur flows from the holiness of the day, but that of Tishah B’Av comes from mourning. Rav Shamai Ginzberg (Imrei Shammai, page 108) demonstrates that on Yom Kippur there is actually no curse that separates man from the earth. Therefore, on Tishah B’Av we need not be alienated from the earth, because the birth of Moshiach indicates that soon all will be brachah, not, G-d forbid, klalah.


Our attitude toward communal and personal suffering is deeply informed by this understanding of the relationship between golus and geulah. Both the Gemara (Kiddushin 31b) and Medrash (Eichah Rabbah 4) are troubled by a word in Tehillim. Dovid Hamelech says, “Mizmor L’Asaf – A Song of Asaf. O G-d! The nations have entered into Your inheritance, they have defiled the Sanctuary” (79:1). Chazal ask, “A song? It should have said a lament!” As Rashi explains in both sources, the tragedy is depicted as a song of triumph because “He has poured out His wrath upon the sticks and the stones.” The Midrashic version of this Chazal relates a lengthy moshol that indicates that “as long as we remain alive,” no tragedy — even one as profound as the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh — is beyond our singing for joy. The Medrash even concludes with the astounding words that on one level, our rescue at the expense of the physical building constitutes “a simcha gedolah, a profound joy.”


This concept would also seem to explain the surprising source for the halachah that we do not recite Tachanun on Tisha B’Av. The posuk says (Eichah 1:15), “Kara alai mo’ed – He proclaimed a set time,” referring to Tishah B’Av as a mo’ed, a kind of Yom Tov. Yet, when one looks at the next few words, the drashah does not seem to make sense. The “set time” was “lishbor bachuroi – to crush my young men.” How could a Yom Tov, when Tachanun is not recited, result from such devastating words? The answer is that we now realize that this, too, was part of the process of geulah and we thereby cancel Tachanun on this special day.


Rav Shimshon Pincus zt”l (Sichos, Golus Unechamah, page 181) concretizes for us the Tisha B’Av birthday of Moshiach with a contemporary parable: “A child begs his parents for a bicycle, explaining that with such a vehicle he would able to help with the shopping. This does not help. Nor does the fact that ‘everyone else has one’ or a number of other arguments. Nothing works until the child begins to cry. For us, as well, even all the supplications we utter on Pesach, Shavuos, Sukkos, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are not effective until Tisha B’Av arrives with Jewish tears pouring down our faces… The heavenly gates, which are lubricated by tears (Bava Metzia 59a), then open to our prayers.” Rav Pincus understands this to mean the birth of Moshiach.


None of this is meant to mitigate the tragic sadness of the day. As the Telsher Rov, Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch Hy”d, taught, the word “mo’ed” primarily means an appointment. When the boss announces on Friday, “Come to my office Monday at 9 a.m.,” you don’t know if you are getting a promotion or being fired, but you do know that you have a boss and he is deciding your fate. Klal Yisroel, Rav Bloch explained, has two types of appointments with Hashem. One is to leave Mitzrayim with miracles and glory. The other is, tragically, to be evicted from Eretz Yisroel, the Bais Hamikdosh behind us in flames. Radically different scenes, but in both we know that we have a Father in heaven who is in charge of our lives. May we be zocheh soon to wish Moshiach the happy birthday we all await with great hope and anticipation.



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