Golus. It is all we have ever known. We have been buffeted about, from country to country, sometimes treated better, sometimes treated worse. When things don’t go well, we pray for geulah, but when they do, we tend to forget that we are far from home. We settle in, acclimate, and adopt the mode of thinking, customs and culture of our hosts. We not only forget that we are in exile, we forget where we came from and what we are all about. When we try to remind people of that, we get blank stares, reflecting their concern that we are passé, outdated, outmoded, and so yesterday.
A story is told of an expectant woman who was given a wrenching choice: Either she lives or her child lives, but they could not both survive. She chose to allow the child to live and asked her husband to make sure that while bringing up the child, he would know how much his mother loved him, going so far as paying the ultimate price so that he could survive.
The father would always speak to his son about his mother and of her love for him. Finally, as the boy’s bar mitzvah approached, his father planned a large celebration. He asked one favor of the boy. “Tonight, as we celebrate your bar mitzvah, it is also the yahrtzeit of your mother. We will begin with Maariv and you will lead the davening. When you get to Kaddish at the end, please remember that your mother gave up her life for you. To let everyone know that you appreciate her devotion to you, recite it with much emotion.”
The boy davened Maariv, and at its conclusion, he rushed through the Kaddish, barely mouthing the words. The devastated father confronted him. The boy responded, “What do you want from me? All my life I have been hearing about this mother who loved me and gave me life. But I never met her, I never saw her, and I never knew her. How can you expect me to have feelings for her?”
That is our situation. The Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed some 2,000 years ago. We were chased out of Eretz Yisroel and have bounced around ever since. We have never known anything different. Life has its inevitable ups and downs, but since the Nazis tried to destroy us seventy-five years ago, those of us who ended up in Western countries have fared mostly well. Those whose fate had them in communist countries did not fare as well, and victims of Arab terror and Israel’s wars paid the ultimate price.
Anti-Semitism is picking up in this country and others. Last week, a rabbi was stabbed repeatedly in Boston, a Jew was beaten on Kings Highway in Brooklyn, and another was accosted on a London city bus. Known anti-Semites are promoted in universities and government. Jew-hating members of Congress are pretty open about their thoughts and opinions and face no recriminations for it. Last week, Congress voted down sending Israel support to help it restock on Iron Dome missiles following the recent Gaza war.
So, while we may have forgotten where we came from, we now have regular reminders that our hosts can turn on us at any time. Hashem has sent us several reminders over the past few years. Covid, followed by the tragedies in Meron, Stolin and Surfside, one after the other, should be enough to shake us up and let us know that not everything is well in paradise.
Yet, we continue on as if all is good, going about our routines without giving them much thought.
Golus succeeds when it claims the hearts and souls of its captives.
Something that Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin said when he was in jail illustrates our situation.
He related that as spring arrived and the weather outside began warming, he took the opportunity availed to him of being permitted to leave the jail building and breathe some fresh air. Although inmates are only permitted to walk on a track enclosed on all sides by electric wire, high fences and lookout points, the opportunity to feel the sunshine or a gentle breeze is a welcome break.
Sholom Mordechai recounted that during his initial years behind bars, when he would step outside, he was confronted by a flood of memories. As he strolled, he was reminded of walking to shul with his children, of spending time in his backyard, of Chol Hamoed trips with his wife and family, and of all the normal things we take for granted as we walk outside.
But as time wore on, he recounted, when he would leave the building and walk on the track, he no longer had those memories. As he walked along the guarded, fenced-in path, he thought of walking there the year before and the year prior to that.
Prison had become his reality; it became the world to him. The reality of the outside world faded over time.
We are in exile so long that we can forget where we belong and that we are essentially refugees, far from home. What we see is a mirage. Our senses become dulled as we suppress our longing for home.
We are now in the Bein Hametzorim period and are meant to focus on what we are lacking. The sadness we are meant to experience is not for the lack of music and abstaining from eating meat and swimming during the Nine Days. During these weeks, we are supposed to be suffering from a heightened awareness of our exile status.
The pain during this period should be that of our soul, knowing that we are seriously lacking and can be doing much better. At our core, we should know that we are destined to be in a holier place, living a more sublime existence. These days remind us that we don’t realize what we lack. They cry out in anguish for our callousness to our own plight.
The Three Weeks urge us to remember that it’s not the music that we lack, but life itself. Without the Bais Hamikdosh, we are weak, vulnerable and incomplete. These weeks remind us that we are in danger of becoming so deeply entrenched in golus that we don’t perceive the reality called geulah anymore.
The identity of the Jew in golus is bound up with the knowledge that he is a person without a proper home, lacking spirit and deficient in his very essence. We are a people haunted by sad memories and invigorated by hopeful visions of a bright future.
Walk into any Jewish home and look at the blank space opposite the front door. We are empty, we are lacking, and whatever we have will never replace the home we loved, the holiness we embodied, and the spirit that resided within us.
At every chupah, at the apex of the great joy, poignancy, optimism and elation, the baalei simcha stand surrounded by family and friends, the chosson and kallah enveloped by a cloud of euphoria and good wishes, and then there is a pause. It is quiet and the sound of the chosson breaking a glass is heard. For no matter how good things seem, no matter how happy and safe we appear to be, we must never forget that we are not home. We must remember that what we have is but a faux existence in a fictitious world, far from the real world of our destiny.
These months of Tammuz and Av remind us of our alien status. Between Shivah Assar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’Av is a time when our people have experienced much pain and anguish. During these three weeks, the Soton has the special ability to dominate over Klal Yisroel with the midas hadin (Vilna Gaon, Aderes Eliyohu, Devorim 20:19-20).
During this period, both Botei Mikdosh were destroyed, the first because the people at that time were on a low level, transgressing the halachos pertaining to avodah zorah, gilui arayos and shefichas domim. During the period of the second Bais Hamikdosh, the people were on a much higher level and were proficient in Torah study and punctilious in their observance of mitzvos. However, because they were guilty of sinas chinom, hating each other, the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed, many of them were killed, and the remainder were driven into exile (see Yoma 9b).
The Yerushalmi adds that in every generation in which the Bais Hamikdosh is not rebuilt, it is as if those people destroyed it. Had they been worthy, it would have been rebuilt in their day, and since it wasn’t, it is sign from Heaven that the people have not repented yet from the sin that caused the destruction (Yerushalmi, Yoma 1a).
The Chofetz Chaim quotes these Gemaros and adds that, therefore, we must endeavor to wipe out the sins of lashon hara and sinas chinom from amongst us. He began writing and publishing his seforim to guide people on the importance of refraining from lashon hora, because it leads to sinas chinom and causes us to remain in golus.
Since the publication of the sefer Chofetz Chaim on Shemiras Halashon, our people have come very far. The laws of proper speech are studied across the world and many people are careful about how they speak. We are not there yet, apparently, but we are on the way. There is much awareness and interest in rectifying all manner of illicit speech.
But sinas chinom still lags behind. There are all types of machlokes among us and people hate each other for reasons they have long forgotten. If someone looks different, or davens differently, or comes from a different community, with a different rebbe or rosh yeshiva, or dresses differently, or goes to the wrong school, or thinks differently than we do, that person is despised, looked down at, excluded from “the club.”
If the person is a shomer Torah umitzvos, it makes no difference why we don’t like him. It is still sinas chinom. We tend to view sinas chinom as if it were a just a bad middah, something to aspire to rid ourselves of some day, when we get older, or retire, or have more time and patience. However, quite truthfully, it is sinas chinom that keeps us in golus and causes all the ills that we have, because all we suffer from is an outgrowth of the fact that we don’t have the Bais Hamikdosh. And if we do not have achdus, the Shechinah cannot return.
Achdus is a buzzword. Put it in a headline or an advertisement and it will get people to look. Use it in a speech and everyone will nod along. Oh, such a wonderful idea… But it’s a whole lot more than that. Achdus is what we need to get us where we need to be going. Achdus is our ticket out of the jail of golus. Achdus will cure what ails us. It brings us peace and harmony and makes the world a much better place in the short run. In the long run, it will bring the geulah. It will allow the Shechinah to return and Moshiach to come.
Achdus is our future if we make it our present.