A Jew dead on the floor wrapped in his tallis and tefillin in a pool of blood.
We are speechless. We have no words. Our eyes are downcast, sad, empty. In shuls across the world Yidden davened silently, with tears streaming down their cheeks. Is any place safe? Is there anything we can do to end the madness? We are shaken and sullen.
Once again the peaceful silence of a Yerushalayim street is shattered by shrieking sirens. Once again people realize that they have no one to rely upon to protect them other than Hashem. The pain is overwhelming. The closest image that comes to mind is the 1929 shechitah in Chevron.
What do we say? How do we react? What are we supposed to think in times like this? This intifada began with Arabs ramming their cars into train stations, so concrete blocks were erected to prevent more attacks. The Iron Dome stopped the rockets. The security wall stopped the terror. Or so they thought. Now they will place an armed guard at the entrance to every shul. Will that stop the bloodshed? “Im Hashem lo yishmor ir shov shokad shomer.” We have to recognize that it is neither concrete blocks, nor walls, nor guards, nor the Iron Dome that protects us.
We have no choice but to presume that we required karbanos to ensure our existence. We have no choice but to deduce that we must mend our ways.
“Hisbonan!” proclaimed the novi Yeshayahu in Chazon Yeshayahu. “Awaken! Look around you! Realize what is going on! Contemplate that you are living in troubled times and do something about it.”
The Rambam at the beginning of Hilchos Taanis writes his immortal Jewish response to calamitous events. It is a mitzvas asei, he states, to cry out when a tragedy strikes. It is one of the ways of doing teshuvah. When confronted by affliction, Jews cry out and demonstrate that they know the catastrophe was caused by their wrongful actions. They lament their improprieties, admit their indiscretions, and thus merit a cessation of their misfortunes.
However, if they don’t cry out and do teshuvah, but instead say that what transpired was a natural occurrence and part of the pattern of this world, they are acting contemptibly and their frustrations will continue to increase until they get the message and mend their ways.
The Brisker Rov would point to the saga of Yonah Hanovi. As the sea voyage grew unnaturally stormy, with fierce winds and deadly waves, the passengers gathered and asked, “Shel mi hara’ah hazos lanu - Who is the cause of these conditions?” Yonah’s response was clear and unequivocal: “Ki yodeia ani ki besheli hasa’ar hagadol hazeh aleichem – I know good and well that it’s all my fault. Throw me overboard, the storm will abate, and the ship will sail safely in calm waters.”
Who were the other passengers? They were a group of drunken sailors. Yonah was a novi Hashem. Yet, says the Brisker Rov, Yonah’s response to the sinking ship was the instinctive reaction of an oveid Hashem. If something bad is happening and we don’t know who’s at fault, the Jew says, “It’s my fault. I must accept blame and repent.”
We no longer have nevi’im to point out where we have gone wrong. But the mitzvas asei that the Rambam discusses in Hilchos Taanis is just as relevant today as it was in the days of the Rambam and the nevi’im, and throughout Jewish history. Our reaction to cataclysmic events must be along the lines delineated by the Rambam and the Brisker Rov. We cannot go on nonchalantly, unaffected by current events.
There are communal sins and there are private ones. There are failings that we must address as a community, and there are those that we must do penitence for ourselves. We can’t simply tell ourselves that the tzaros come because of this problem or that issue and then move on. Attributing these terrible events to collective guilt is, in a way, an easy way out, because what we’re saying is, “Don’t look at me. Shalom alai nafshi. Look at the other guy. Look at everyone else.”
We have become immune to tragedy to a certain degree. Do you remember the first time a bus blew up in Eretz Yisroel? Everywhere, everyone was inconsolable. People were beside themselves in agony, incredulous that innocent people going about their daily lives met such an awful fate at the hands of bloodthirsty Arabs. It was like an atom bomb hit. Then it happened again, and again, and again, and people got used to it. Another bomb, yet another bomb, and yet another bomb. How many times can you tear yourself apart? You become immune. “Oh, another bomb. Oh, more people died. Oh, an innocent mother. Oh, how terrible.” And then we went back to life as usual, as if nothing happened. And then it gets worse and worse.
Then it was a famous doctor who helped save so many lives. He was killed by an Arab terrorist, who also took the life of the doctor’s daughter, who was to get married the next night. It stuck out. People were shaken up. And then we forgot. And so it continued.
Just a few years ago, almost an entire family was butchered in the peaceful Shomron village of Itamar. It was awful. A lovely family was murdered in their beds. What unspeakable tragedy. What heartrending pain.
Hashem’s ways are mysterious. The cries and sobs melt hardened hearts. How much pain can one people bear? How much suffering is enough?
Chevron Yeshiva, Netanya Hotel at the seder, the 12 bus, 841 bus, too many buses to count, Merkaz Harav bochurim, Naharia school children, Sbarro, Ben Yehudah, Yaffo, Dr. Appelbaum, Hillel CafÃ©, Entebbe, Sderot, Rechov Shmuel Hanovi; yeshiva boys kidnapped and killed in cold blood. When will it end?
Wordsmiths are tongue-tied.
Holocaust survivors who thought it was finally all in the past, are reliving horrors, suffering flashbacks. The world stood by silently when babies and innocent people and rabbonim and kedoshim were killed, now again, the world is quiet. Equating the suffering, and of course blaming the Jews.
Not much changes other than back then it was Edom and Amoleik, Now it is Yishmoel. He celebrates the massacre across Eretz Yisroel, distributing sweets to children, inculcating and strengthening the culture of death and terror. The world is silent.
A couple weeks ago a three-month-old baby was killed in Yerushalayim. How awful. How heartrending. Stabbings, stonings, murder by vehicle. One after another. We read about them, hear about them, at best, shed a tear and then go on as if nothing happened. These occurrences don’t change us. They don’t change our views on life, the way we deal with each other and ourselves. That has to change.
We have become immune to so much, that Hashem has now sent us warnings we cannot ignore.
We’ve suffered the loss of a pure child – tinokos shel bais rabbon shelo pashu, of a giyores, as pure as a tinok shenolad and talmidei chachomim muvhokim wrapped in tallis and tefillin.
One fortress after another crumbles in front of us and we should seek to rebuild them.
How does one build a wall? What agent is used in a spiritual rampart?
In the special tefillah that we recite only once a year, on Tisha B’Av at Minchah, we say, “Ki Atah Hashem ba’eish hitzata, uva’eish Atah asid livnosah – You, Hashem, destroyed the Beis Hamikdosh with fire and you will rebuild it with fire.”
Is fire destructive or constructive?
The answer is that fire is both. There is fire of sinah and fire of kinah. There is a fire of hatred and a fire of jealousy. Fire can ruin and demolish. But fires of holy yearning, of sincere desire to grow, and of kedushah can achieve the very opposite.
With fire it will be rebuilt.
We can transform the very substance that caused our downfall into the catalyst for rebuilding. It’s our destiny. As bad as things are, in an instant they can change. Ilmalei nofalti lo kamti – If I never fell, I couldn’t get up.
We are in a bad state, suffering from multiple blows, but with some tears at the right time, we can merit a revelation of samcheinu kiymos inisanu and be returned to the primal state of happiness.
The posuk in the long and bitter tochacha in Parshas Ki Savo foretells of a painful time when the Jews will be cursed for their depraved behavior. The posuk states,
“Shorcha tavuach le’einecha, velo sochal mimenu – Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes and you will not be able to eat from it.
Chamorcha gazul milfanecha velo yoshuv loch – Your donkey will be robbed from before you and it will not return to you.
Tzoncha nesunos le’oivecha, ve’ein lecha moshia – Your flocks of sheep will be given to your enemies and you will have no savior” (Devorim 28:31).
Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein writes that meforshim point out a most unusual feature of this posuk. The exact words of the tochacha, when read backwards, have an entirely opposite message.
Moshia lecha, ve’ein le’oivecha nesunos tzoncha – A savior you will have and your flocks will not be given to your enemies.
Loch yoshuv, velo milfanecha gazul chamorcha – To you it will return and your donkey will not be robbed from before you.
Mimenu sochal, velo le’einecha tavuach shorcha – You will eat from it and your ox will not be slaughtered from before your eyes.
We can transform a curse into a brochah, dark times into good times.
Al churban Bais Hamikdosh
Ki horas vechi hudash
Espod be’chol shana veshana
Al hakodesh, ve’al haMikdosh.
Over the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh
That was razed and that was trampled
I will lament each year, every year
A new lamentation
Over the holiness and over the Mikdosh.
-From the kinnos of Tisha B’Av authored by Rabi Elazar Hakalir [Kinah 24]
We mourn the loss of the Bais Hamikdosh, we mourn over Yerushalayim, and we mourn the exile of the Shechinah. We mourn the millions of Jews who died.
Our grief over the slaughtered members of Klal Yisroel goes back not just 2,000 years to the churban of the second Bayis. It goes back 2,500 years, to the churban of the first Bais Hamikdosh. We cry for the kohanim and elders who expired in the streets, for the babies, and for the young women and men who fell by the sword.
Their blood merges with the blood of the millions more murdered by the Romans during the second destruction. Into it flows the blood of the untold numbers killed in Persia and Arabia in the centuries following, and later in the darkness of the Middle Ages.
“Mi yitein roshi mayim,” weeps the author of the kinah for the martyred Jews of Worms, Speyer and Mainz, murdered nine hundred years ago in the First Crusade. Apparently little has changed. Today again we can write kinos and weep over senseless, heartless, savage cruelty.
Into the stream of spilled Jewish blood flows still another river, adding to the blood and tears of the Six Million and the tragedies of the 21st century and the Jews who have been murdered in Eretz Yisroel on busses, in cars, in their homes and in the street, by bombs, bulldozers, guns, axes, knives and everything in between.
For every generation that does not see the building of the Bais Hamikodosh in its day, it is as if it was destroyed in its day.
And to our sorrow – the sorrow of every generation – the wounds of the people of Bais Yisroel are felt fresh each year in more than ancient memories.
The destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh was the starting point of the exile. The millions of tragedies and losses we have endured in the golus since then are all traced to that day.
We are all aveilim now as we mourn the Jews whose holy bodies lay in the Yerushalayim shul. We mourn them as we mourn those whose lives were ended in the Kovno Ghetto and Auschwitz and all those who suffered horrible deaths throughout the ages.
We mourn all the episodes of machlokes that have resulted from the golus we are in and the loss of the Urim Vetumim and the yedios haTorah that have become weakened through the ages of Diaspora.
Every year that the Bais Hamikdosh has not been rebuilt, there is so much more to mourn. We can easily be overcome with sadness and melancholy as we reflect on our sorry state. But we must not grow despondent. We must channel that gloominess to drive us to repent for our sins which cause us to remain in this golus state of limbo. We should reflect on the sinas chinom that prevents the arrival of Moshiach and resolve to become better people.