Tishah B’Av: The Loving Sound of Hashem’s Silence

In light of the difficulties of the past four months or so, I did not have the heart to dwell on the usual tragic aspects of this day. There have already been many tears, many losses and much mourning. I thought that this was the year to delve into the positive message of Tishah B’Av. Positive? What could possibly be positive about the churban Bais Hamikdosh, the loss of our national glory and the source of our hope for redemption?

The answer would seem to be embedded in the posuk we will be singing mournfully aloud on Wednesday night: “He proclaimed a moed (set time) to crush my young men” (Eichah 1:15). The Shulchan Aruch (552:12) quotes this to indicate that we do not recite Tachanun – a sad prayer – on Tishah B’Av because, after all, it is called a moed.

Now, this statement in and of itself seems incongruous. First of all, how can anything be called a moed “to crush” the young men of Klal Yisroel? Secondly, isn’t Tishah B’Av essentially a day for crying? When Shlomo Hamelech assigns a special time for everything, he states “eis livkos – a time to cry” (Koheles 3:4), which Rashi understands to mean Tishah B’Av. So where’s the Yom Tov?

The great maggid of Yerushalayim, Rav Bentzion Yadler, as quoted by Rav Moshe Mordechai Shulsinger (Drashos Mishmar Halevi, 1:392) explains that the secular world looks at a holiday as a day for hiking, travel and various physical pleasures. However, for us, a moed is a day of avodas Hashem. Some moadim indeed do take the form of meals and even dancing. Others, such as Tishah B’Av, dwell upon our losses. But all of them relate to the form of serving Hashem properly.

Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch, who was brutally murdered by the Nazis ymsh, put it even more sharply. He declared that the word moed does not actually mean only a holiday. It comes from the word vaad, which means an appointment. If I may modernize his metaphor a bit, a man receives a message to be in his bosses’ office on Monday morning. He has no idea why. He may be fired or perhaps he may be receiving a raise. Perhaps he is receiving a promotion. He has no idea. But the one thing he does know is that he has a boss and something is about to change.

The same is true of Klal Yisroel. We have two types of appointments with Hashem. One is celebrated with gratitude and joy, such as the three Yomim Tovim when we visit the Bais Hamikdosh. This is also true of Chanukah and Purim. However, Tishah B’Av is also an appointment. We heard the news from Hashem that we will be losing the Bais Hamikdosh. We cry and we pray. We are far from happy, but we do know that we have a Heavenly Father (heard from both his talmid, Rav Mordechai Gifter, and Rav Bloch’s daughter, the late Rebbetzin Chaya Ausband).

A famous metaphor is offered from an imagined scene in a shul. A cute little boy is being mischievous. Many people smile at him benignly; others pinch his cheek gently. The candy man gives him a lollypop. One person gives him a stern look and favors him with a solid slap on the same cheek. The first group could be anyone, but the second must be his father. The lesson is that we can sometimes recognize the father more from a punishment than from a reward.

Another parable is derived by Chazal (Yoma 54b) from the situation of the first Bais Hamikdosh at the actual horrific moment of the churban: “When the enemies entered the Heichal, they saw that the Keruvim were entwined in an embrace. They sacrilegiously took them outside, making fun of Klal Yisroel the entire time.” The Rishonim (Ri Migash, Ramban, Ritvah, Maharshah and others) ask the obvious question. We know (Bava Basra 99a) that at any given time, the Keruvim miraculously mirrored our status with Hashem. If we were in His favor, they were facing each other. If G-d forbid not, these inanimate objects moved away from each other. Now, at the moment when the Bais Hamikdosh was being destroyed, we were quite obviously in major disfavor with our Creator. Why, then, would the Keruvim display a sense of His love toward us?

There is one answer that is presented in many ways. The maggid of Mezeritch (quoted by the Bnei Yissoschor, Tammuz/Av 3:1) taught that this was Hashem’s way of demonstrating His love for us, following the halacha that a man is obligated to “visit” his wife when he leaves for a long journey. Since one of the metaphoric relationships we have with Hashem is that of husband and wife, He was showing us His love just before the extended separation of a long and bitter golus.

The rebbe of Ruzhin invokes one of our other relationships, that of a Father to His children, by noting that all this happened in the month we refer to as “Av” – Father, and even Menachem Av, the Father Who consoles us.

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz (quoted in Im Levavi Asicha) adds that when a loving father punishes his children, he makes sure to do it out of love and to demonstrate that love simultaneously. Hashem did this by showing us His love through the Keruvim, which had actually never assumed those positions before.

Interestingly, Chazal (Yerushalmi, Brachos 2:4; Eichah Rabbah 1:51) state cryptically that Moshiach will be born on Tishah B’Av. We might interpret this homiletically as promising that through our genuine yearning for the Bais Hamikdosh, repenting for the sins that brought it about and changing our ways, Moshiach will come through the events of Tishah B’Av.

Rav Yonasan David presents another approach to the question of Tishah B’Av as a moed (Kuntrus Menachem Tzion, Maamar 1). He cites the Tishah B’Av kinnah that alternates stanzas of Betseisi MiMitzrayim (“When I left Egypt” with miracles) and Betzeisi M’Yerushalayim (“When I left Yerushalayim” in tragedy). He explains that the essence of exile is that we are prevented from being ourselves. “We wish to do Your bidding, but the yoke of the nations prevents us” (Brachos 17a). This means that generally, when we are freed from this yoke, we can revert to our true selves. However, sometimes, the opposite is true as well. By the revelation of our essence, we automatically go into freedom. When we were lifted out of the 49 levels of defilement and became our true selves once again, the Egyptians could no longer contain us.

This, continues Rav Yonasan, is reflected as well in the posuk (Yeshayahu 54:1) which states, “The children of the desolate [Yerushalayim] will outnumber the children of the inhabited one.” Chazal (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 4:11) explicate, “I have elevated more tzaddikim during her desolation than during her indwelling.” This means that Knesses Yisroel has had more power to derive greatness during the periods of destruction than during the periods of tranquil settlement.

Rav David’s father-in-law, Rav Yitzchok Hutner (Pachad Yitzchok, Chanukah 8:5), explains this with a parable. When the rebbi speaks, his talmidim hear only his words. But when he is silent, engrossed deeply in his thoughts, the wise student can understand even more of his rebbi’s most profound thoughts than from his open words.

When the churban happened, the entire world was in a state of abject darkness. Many of the kinnos are written in AlefBais form because they represent the decimation of the light of the world and everything in it. All of the kedushah in the world fled and ascended on high, leaving a void in the universe. No words were divinely spoken at this time and there existed nothing but Hashem’s thoughts about what should be done. Everything returned to the first point of creation, which began with the power of thought. Although all below was lost, in heaven the world of machshavah reigned supreme. One who understood this situation was able to connect with the cosmic plan of renewal and rebuilding that follows destruction, just as the student can evoke his master’s innermost thoughts during his silence.

This, concludes Rav David, explains the enigma of the intertwined Keruvim. Indeed, when Klal Yisroel has sinned and punishment is in order, the Keruvim reflect our distancing from Hashem. But when all has been destroyed and the universe is permeated by silence, what is happening above is that the Creator is rearranging the molecules of His world. The “children of the desolate” will now gain more than the children of the inhabited, for this is the silence of re-creation and eternal love. This also explains why on Tishah B’Av, there are no manifestations of teshuvah. This is not a moment for outcries, Avinu Malkeinu or Selichos. Tishah B’Av reflects the profound eloquence of utter silence.  Indeed, the Gemara (Megillah 18a) teaches that silence is twice as valuable as speech. Hashem’s silence (see Gittin 56b) is the opportunity we all have on Tishah B’Av to contemplate Hashem’s love and His wish for us to rebuild with Him. This is why Tishah B’Av is the ultimate moed, when we have the unique opportunity to hear the Creator’s silence.

After months of Covid, loud protests and demonstrations, arguments and speeches, let us revel in the Divine silence of Tishah B’Av and move forward iy”H to the wordless sounds of the heavenly shofar of redemption.