Tisha B’Av: Regaining our Purpose

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier

In תהלים קל”ז, Psalms 137, Dovid Hamelech describes in painful detail the exile of the Jewish people from Eretz Yisrael, ציון, to the Euphrates River in Babylon.

“By the rivers of Babylon- there we sat and also wept when we remembered ציון.” The Medrash שוחר טוב, explains that until that point of time, the Jewish captives were not allowed to rest even for a moment, but were forced to “march” to their destination. The Babylonians fearing that the G-d of the Jews is merciful didn’t allow them the ability to ponder their plight and in turn to do תשובה, to repent, for if so their victory would be taken away. This idea is mentioned in מגילת איכה, Lamentations, both in 4:19 ,“Our pursuers were swifter than eagles…” and 5:5 ,”Upon our necks we are pursued…”

“And also wept”, we had an additional reason that compelled us to cry. When living in ארץ ישראל, Israel they drank pure, clean water- either rain water, water from springs or wells whereas the water from the Euphrates was not as pure and many Jews subsequently dead; this besides those who died due to the “forced march” and those discriminately slaughtered by our enemies.
When we finally arrived at the Euphrates, our leaders were stripped naked and chained in steel chains in order to degrade them and rob them of all sense of nobility (akin to what the Nazis ימח שמם did).

Despite this humiliation, we held our heads high, we retained our inner feeling of the dignity of being Hashem’s chosen people. נבוכדנצר, Nebuchadnezzar, the emperor, was incensed and ordered his officials to fill bags with dirt and place it on their shoulders, thereby causing them to be bent over. At that moment the anguished cries of Klal Yisrael “reached” the Almighty and he declared that the world should cease to exist, due to this terrible infliction. Even when we have removed ourselves from Hashem and are punished with exile, His relentless love is not mitigated and Hashem כביכול can’t manage the anguish it causes Him. Immediately He commanded the angels to remove the “backpacks”.

“On the willows within we hung our lyres. There our captors requested (demanded) words of song from us… Sing for us the song of Zion (the Holy Temple).”

Nebuchadnezzar demanded that they (Levites) join in celebrating his victory by joining him in a feast of celebration, where they would play the music of the בית המקדש for him and his idols.
“How can we sing the song of Hashem upon the alien’s soil? If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue (which sings the song) adhere to my palate if I fail to recall you, if I forget to elevate Jerusalem (the loss of it) above my foremost joy (marriage).”

The לוים, Levites, decided to break their fingers, thereby being unable to play their instruments. This is what is meant in Ezra 8:15, “I assembled them… but I could not find Levites there.” There were לוים, but they couldn’t play the instruments. Furious at this show of repudiation, the emperor ordered his soldiers to indiscriminately murder countless members of Klal Yisroel. Though there were mounds and mounds of corpses, the Jewish people were joyfully spirited that they didn’t succumb to act in a way disgraceful to Hashem’s glory, כבוד.

This idea is a manifestation of the inherent connection every Jew has to Hashem. Despite witnessing the destruction of the בית המקדש, the Holy Temple, the maiming and murder of countless brethren, the utter demeaning of all, the exile into a foreign land, the celebration of the victors with their idols and the natural feeling of despair, insecurity, fear, and uncertainty, nevertheless there is an eternal metaphysical bond between Hashem and His beloved people that is irrevocable.

The Babylonians perceived this; they therefore forced us on a “death march” not allowing us to reconnect to Hashem and subsequently when they witnessed our allegiance to Hashem they became enraged, due to their perception that they had been defeated by the “Jewish spirit”.

For us, תשעה באב, the fast commemorating all the terrible tragedies of history is not to dwell on specific tragedies but the general tragedy. (See Kinnos 25, where it is explained that we don’t ordain a day of mourning for specific tragedies, but rather all tragedies are part of the mourning of Tisha B’Av.)

The general tragedy is our loss of sensitivity of the ultimate gift that we are endowed with – Hashem’s relentless love of His people. If we are to be truly aware of this, we would immediately dedicate ourselves to a different path of life; one where due to our sincere appreciation of all that Hashem does for us; we would embrace total dedication to his Torah, His ultimate gift to us. Our mourning is for our lack of comprehension of what we are missing due to our assimilating society’s ideas into our lives rather than rejecting it. On Tisha B’Av we reach the apex, crescendo of our mourning the loss of the proper perspective and with that true, keen insight we rededicate ourselves to Hashem.

May we merit Hashem’s help to attain this and in turn merit the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our days.


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