The Incredible Power of a Tishah B’Av Nidcheh

We know that all great events are embedded somewhere in the Torah. Tisha B’Av is most famously found in the “unnecessary” crying of Klal Yisroel on the ninth of Av, when the meraglim delivered their terrifying report about the dangers of Eretz Yisroel (Bamidbar 14:1). Chazal (Taanis 29a) explain that Hashem declared, “You cried for no valid reason. I will establish for you an eternal weeping.”

There is clearly a direct link between the meraglim’s toxic report and the churban Bais Hamikdosh centuries later. However, there is another lesser-known source that reflects a maaseh avos siman labonim connection to Yaakov Avinu.

Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 66:13; 69:7) understand Parshas Vayeitzei to represent Klal Yisroel’s leaving Eretz Yisroel to descend into golus. One of the Rishonim (Mordechai, Moed Koton 934) cites the source of the halacha to place a stone near our head instead of a pillow on Tishah B’Av from Yaakov Avinu (28:11) taking a stone as his pillow when he went to sleep on his journey. The Medrashim explain that Yaakov Avinu did not at first realize that this was the location of the future Bais Hamikdosh, since he had just been told of its eventual destruction. At the same time, the pesukim that speak of Yaakov’s return to his father’s home hint at our own eventual return to our ancestral home with the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh.

The Klausenberger Rebbe zt”l (Shefa Chaim, Chumash Rashi Drashos 5742, page 94) shares with us that this source for Tisha B’Av amongst the avos sheds new light on this tragic but uplifting day on our calendar. He notes that it is well known throughout the Torah (e.g., Sotah 49b, Sanhedrin 97a, Zohar, Naso 3:125a) that the generation of Moshiach will be on a spiritually inferior level. As he points out, the Gemara (Shabbos 138b) describes that the situation will be as if the Torah has, G-d forbid, been completely forgotten, as Bilam had predicted (see Rashbam to Bamidbar 24:23). The rebbe records a tradition in his family from one of his ancestors, the rebbe of Shinov, that the Apter Rebbe had been shown a vision of the generation of Moshiach. In it, he saw that people were not dressed properly and had become degenerate to an extreme condition.

The Klausenberger Rebbe quoted from Rav Nachman of Breslov that these facts about the era of Moshiach are not meant to be depressing. On the contrary, we have been notified of this in advance so that when we encounter what appear to be disheartening conditions, we should be encouraged that salvation is not far away.

The rebbe added a wonderful metaphor. A doctor has prescribed an important medicine for an extremely sick patient. However, he warns the family that there will be some frightening side-effects. Their relative will sweat profusely all night and may vomit violently and display other scary symptoms. However, he reassures them that these are all positive signs that the medication is taking effect and he will soon recover completely. Had the physician not had the foresight to warn them about these phenomena, the concerned family might have thought that their husband and father was, G-d forbid, dying and prepared for the worst. This way, they looked favorably upon the cure being implemented and just helped him through his ordeal.

Our nevi’im and chachomim, too, described the Messianic era in literally apocalyptic terms so that we would not lose heart, knowing that the chevlei Moshiach and ikvesa d’Meshicha were actually harbingers of the coming geulah.

The Klausenberger Rebbe, one of the most courageous examples in our time of accepting the worst in life and moving on with faith and hope, teaches us how to approach Tisha B’Av properly. It is a difficult day on many levels. We are fasting both night and day, sitting uncomfortably and crying over ancient tragedies. Yet, if we orient ourselves properly, the cure to our illness is in hand and at hand as well. The very act of mourning is rebuilding as well. Our very suffering is what puts the bricks of rebuilding into our eager hands.

Yaakov Avinu’s chagrin at having missed the kedusha of the Bais Hamikdosh (28:16, according to Sifri, Devorim 354) is the key to his return to the holy home of his ancestors, Avrohom and Yitzchok (28:21). We, too, must feel the pain of the ages when reciting Eicha and the Kinnos, so that the powerful medicine of Tisha B’Av will take effect. But we dare not be dismayed by the temporary optics of how low we are sitting or the frailty of our current condition. We dare not forget for a moment that we are engaged in the remedy, not just reenacting the disorder. The rebbe adds that Yaakov Avinu could have been thrown into the lowest of dejection. Here he is, armed with his father’s brachos, yet not only is his evil brother approaching menacingly with an army of 400, but he must bow down to this representative of all that is defiled in the world. Yet, Yaakov pushes on, knowing that this stage is only temporary, leading to triumph and geulah.

The Sheim MiShmuel (Devorim, page 25) adds an important aspect especially relevant to this Tisha B’Av nidcheh. The Gemara (Megillah 5b) relates that Rav Yehudah Hanosi wanted to cancel Tisha B’Av entirely the year it fell on Shabbos, but the other rabbis did not accept his suggestion. What exactly was the point of their argument?

The Sheim MiShmuel quotes his father, the Avnei Neizer. He had cited a posuk (Nochum 1:9), “Lo sakum pamayim tzarah – Misfortune will not arise twice.” The elder Sochatchover Rebbe explained that this is a favorable promise from Hashem about the difference between Yomim Tovim and days of tragedy. On the anniversary of every Yom Tov, the powers of that miraculous day return. Thus, on Pesach, we are annually granted tremendous abilities to free ourselves of all sorts of shackles. On Sukkos, we can obtain the happiness and joy we so desperately seek. However, the catastrophes that gave birth to fast days do not return, meaning that no impression is left for the ages of a day of sadness.

The Sheim MiShmuel raises the obvious question: If so, why do we fast annually at all?

He answers that our ancestors obtained such a level of forgiveness and expiation that they actually became accepted and endeared once again to Hashem. This answers the ancient question of why the Babylonians found the Keruvim entwined one in the other when they entered the Holy of Holies (Yoma 54b). We know (Bava Basra 99a) that when Hashem was pleased with us , the Keruvim faced each other. When He was displeased, they were turned away from each other. Surely, since Hashem was allowing the Bais Hamikdosh to be brutally destroyed, He was angry with us, so why did the Keruvim apparently reflect Hashem’s love?

The Sheim MiShmuel answers that the punishment itself and our acceptance of its rebuke made us merutzah, acceptable, once again in our Father’s eyes. This suffering and its resultant forgiveness was indeed passed on to future generations. However, in order to benefit from that incredible kapparah, we must do some act that places us in direct line with their ancient travail. That is why we must fast and do even more as well.

Now, building upon his father’s chiddush, the Sheim MiShmuel explains the rabbinic disagreement about Tisha B’Av that falls on Shabbos. We know that the difference between Shabbos and Yom Tov is that Shabbos arrives on its own without human intervention. Yom Tov, on the other hand, is a function of a declaration by bais din, representing Klal Yisroel. Thus, Shabbos does not usually require a kli, a receptacle, to bring us blessings. Therefore, Rebbi was of the opinion that if Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbos, all the ancient brachos obtained by the sufferings we endured on this day will accrue to us automatically, with no action of our own. On the other hand, the sages were of the opinion that Shabbos indeed grants us many gifts, but after Shabbos, they leave us, just as the neshamah yeseirah, the enhanced Shabbos soul, leaves after Shabbos as well. Therefore, if we want to maintain the powerful gifts of Tisha B’Av, we must fast, sit, cry and engage in all the other prohibitions so that we can lock in the Tisha B’Av cure forever.

If we want to take note of a clear halachic sign of this aspect of Tisha B’Av, we need only quote the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (428:3) that Tisha B’Av always falls on the same day as the beginning of Pesach. The day we sit on the floor wailing may seem sad, but its inner energy is that of Pesach, when we can readily see and rejoice in its results. On Tisha B’Av, also, we revel in the ancient closeness we established with our Creator despite the fact that we appear to be in an abject state of mourning and near dejection. Perhaps for this reason, Tisha B’Av is always called a moed, with the attendant rules of no Tachanun, etc. However, when Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbos, we have the additional satisfaction of knowing that we have automatically become vastly closer to Hashem than before the fast.

May this Tisha B’Av indeed transport us back into the waiting embrace of our Father in Heaven.