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What Will You Cry For?

08/09/2019 10:38:46 AM

Aug9 a few days, Jews worldwide will commemorate their national day of mourning of Tisha B'Av (9th day of the month of Av), which is the anniversary of many tragedies that befell the Jewish people throughout our history. Most significantly, our two holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on this same date.

On this day, Jews engage in acts of self-affliction, like fasting, no bathing, and abstention from pleasurable activities. We read the Book of Eicha from our Scripture, which is a book of timeless lamentations composed by the prophet Jeremiah recounting the tragedies of the churban - the destruction of the Temple and the Jewish Commonwealth.

Most typically, it is a day of weeping.

But why do we cry? What will we cry about? What should we cry about?

It began in the desert, as the Jews were sojourning en route to Israel. When the spies returned on Tisha B'Av - and related a very dispirited report about the land of Israel, the Jews began to cry. "And G-d said, 'You wept a weeping without cause; therefore I shall establish for you a reason for weeping for generations' (Talmud Taanit 29a)."

The Talmud relates, "After the destruction of the Temple, many of the 'Gates to Heaven' were closed, but the Gates of Tears forever remain open (Bava-Metzia 59a). Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the Kotzker Rebbe (1787-1859) asked, if the Gates always remain open, why then are there gates at all? And he answered, that G-d uses the gates to block passage to false and unwarranted tears.

So what should we cry for?

When we sit alone and allow ourselves the opportunity to reflect on our lives, what saddens us? What makes us bitter?

For some, it might be financial woes. For others, it might be a medical issue in the family, or a loss of a loved one. For others still, it might be challenges like child-rearing, infertility, sour relationships, addictions, suffering from abuse, and the list goes on.

These circumstances all evoke sadness and tears, and there is certainly nothing wrong with emotionally breaking down and sobbing over them. It might even be important to do so. As mentioned, the Gates of Tears to Heaven never close. But is this why we cry, personally and nationally, on Tisha B'Av?

If somebody didn't have any of the above-mentioned hardships, would there still be reason to cry? Imagine, if you magically had access to an abundance of all the necessary blessings to perfect your life's conditions - money; physical and mental and emotional and spiritual health; nachas; fertility; love; relationship stability; healing from abuse; and whatever else you might need, would you still cry on Tisha B'Av?

Rabbi Shmuel Munkes, a famed student of the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, 1745-1812), was renowned for his 'holy pranks' which were intended to teach important lessons through creative ways. One time, he was away from home a week before Rosh Hashana, and he lodged at the home of an elderly, simple yet religiously pious couple. Now, in many communities, there is a custom to recite Selichot (Supplicatory prayers) after midnight on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah. So, a few minutes before midnight, as the couple began getting ready to go to Shul for Selichot, they noticed that Reb Shmuel was sleeping. They knocked on the door to wake him up, but he shouted back, "Stop that, I'm trying to sleep." "But tonight we pray Selichot!" they insisted, but he ignored them. Thinking that he was just sleepy, they tried to wake him again a few minutes later, and explained that it was time to pray Selichot. Again, Reb Shmuel screamed at them to leave him alone. It was getting late and they wanted to leave quickly to make it to Shul on time, but they decided to try waking Reb Shmuel one more time. This time they banged loudly, entered the room, lit the lantern and chided him for sleeping at such a special time like this. Reb Shmuel (who wasn't sleeping at all) picked up his head and asked them, "What is it that you are going to pray for?" Quite irritated, the elderly lady responded, "We need to pray that our cow stays healthy so that she can continue producing milk this year; and that no wolves attack our chickens so that we can continue selling eggs for our livelihood." Hearing this, Reb Shmuel reprimanded her, "What? For this you wake up in the middle of the night - to pray for your cow and chickens?" And immediately he turned over and plunked back down on the pillow.

And consider the following. In 1948, after the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews returned en masse to live in Israel as an independent and free people for the first time since the Temple's destruction. How wonderful it has been ever since! In just a very short time, Israel has become an amazing hub for Jews, Judaism and a society of justice and welfare, and arguably the envy of the world.

So, if that's the case, why do we cry? For the first time since Israel's destruction almost two thousand years ago, we have finally returned back there!

The answer is, that we cry because after all that we have, something is still missing - not just 'something', but the very essence of 'everything'. Ever since the Temple was destroyed, G-d's presence is no longer visibly and palpably sensed in our lives and in our world. The truth of reality is hidden from us. The very forces which created and animate our world are obscured and concealed. And that hurts terribly, because we live in a constant state of spiritual darkness and confusion.

G-d created our world with purpose and design. He certainly didn't play dice with the world, as Albert Einstein once quipped. If one would be able to view the world through the lens of its Creator, from a bird's eye view, one would see a world beautifully orchestrated, a world of harmony and perfection, a world which continually advances towards the direction of refinement and destiny.

During bygone times of glory, the Temple stood as a home for G-d to dwell in our world, and from within the Temple's inner sanctuary, the Divine presence manifested throughout the world. In a spiritually illuminated world as such, the truth of reality was apparent to all who wished to see. Everything made 'sense' - there was indeed an 'order' to the events of our world.

But in the exile, we live behind the curtain, and we aren't privy to the grand cosmic performance that is being performed on stage. We may hear sounds and movement, but we can't discern any true context. We live in the dark.

And this is the source of all pain and suffering. Nothing can be worse than living life without understanding the ways of G-d.

The great Maggid of Mezritch, Rabbi Dovber (18th Century), once explained the state of exile with a daring analogy. It's like a game of hide-and-seek, whereby a father hides for his child to seek him out and find him. A father plays this game to arouse a greater love for him within his child. The more a child yearns and seeks for their parent, the stronger their love grows. Similarly, G-d hid Himself in the exile so that we would work hard to search for Him and strengthen our connection and love for Him.

But in a heart-wrenching talk on February 12, 1979, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994) asked a garish question: What happens if the father is hidden too well, and for too long, and the child gives up and stops searching for him? That, he explained, is the greatest exile, a doubled-darkness. And this explains the predicament of many Jews in our times.

"But," he continued - as he sobbed through his speech - "in 1979, more than nineteen centuries since the churban, after the 'game' has gone on for far too long, perhaps the question is no longer on the child (why has he given up searching) but rather against G-d. How could a loving father remain hidden for so long? A father cannot expect from his child more than what they are capable of. After this long, it becomes the father's responsibility to 'give up playing' and to reveal himself once again to his child!

"Ad mosai? For how long will this painful exile continue?"

Thus, as we near another Tisha B'Av, and commemorate the 1949th anniversary of the churban, we will cry yet again. There is so much pain in the world. Parents tragically mourn children; people suffer terrible illness; marriages are challenged; children suffer abuse; there is an epidemic of depression; terror is rampant; divisiveness plagues families and communities; and the list goes on. For this we cry, because we are pained.

But as a people, we will cry for another reason as well. We will cry because our Father in Heaven is hidden. We will cry because we live with constant confusion, doubt and disbelief. We will cry because we can't understand what is going on. We feel forlorn.

Ultimately, this calamity is the source for all our suffering. When the Shechina is hidden, the world seems chaotic.

This Tisha B'Av, let us all weep and pray together. "Dear G-d, we can't bear any more. You ask too much from us. It's been too long. Please, oh please, end this exile right now. Restore the world back to its glory and intended destiny. Please don't wait for us to make it happen. We need to see You more than ever now. Quickly, rebuild the third and final Temple, open the curtains and reveal your holy presence, and restore Israel to her former glory, Amen."

Tue, July 23 2024 17 Tammuz 5784