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Parshas Devorim - Tisha B'Av

21/10/09 10:19:46


Rabbi Pesach Siegel


The general theme of the fast of Tisha B'Av is one of mourning. Many of the laws of the period surrounding Tisha B'Av parallel those of aveilus (e.g. prohibitions of shaving, listening to music, wearing freshly laundered clothing).

There are additional stringencies that come with Tisha B'Av and the onset of the fast that bear scrutiny. The seuda immediately prior to the fast, the seuda hamafsekes, is eaten while sitting on the ground. Customarily, bread and an egg dipped in ashes are eaten. We are particularly enjoined not to eat the meal in a group setting. No "zimun" is to be formed. (1)

Even when the meal falls out on Shabbos (as it does this year), and the mourning customs are not observed, one doesn't especially invite guests to this seuda. (2)

On the fast day itself we are prohibited from greeting one another. This is unprecedented. A day when one may not greet his fellow Jew? Even to respond to a greeting is not allowed. (3) The great sage Rav Yochanon Ben Zakai never lost the opportunity to be the first to greet someone. (4) Even when one is involved in the recital of Krias Shma he may interrupt in order to respond to someone's greeting. (5)

A pattern is emerging. Tisha B'Av is not just a day of mourning, it is a day of loneliness. The spirit of loneliness permeates the day, manifesting itself in our conduct with our fellow man and with our creator. We pray in an undertone, as if we have no right to open our lips and emit sound. The morning prayers are offered by those bereft of their tefillin. The tefillin are normally worn to bind ourselves to our creator. This bond seems not to exist on this day. The pesukim describing the offerings, the "korbanos" are not said until the mincha prayer. The purpose of "korbanos" is to bring us close to Hashem. That is the very meaning of the the word "korban".

We are truly alone.

The prophet Yirmiyahu bemoans the fate of the holy city of Yerushalayim by wailing "eichah yashva badad" - Alas, she sits in solitude. (6) Our sages compare this verse with one in this week's sedrah. Moshe Rabeinu exclaims "Eichah Esah Levadi" (7) - Alas, how can I carry on all alone, and he proceeds on setting up a system where there would be a judge assigned to every ten members of Klal Yisroel. What is the connection between these two verses?

Moshe Rabeinu was encumbered by the constant cases of Torah law brought before him to decide. He was overwhelmed with the disputes he was called upon to adjudicate. It wasn't the mere physical strain that he was laboring under that caused him to express himself in this manner. It was the actual existence of the disputes that was a concern for him. (8)

On the surface it is difficult to find fault with those that argue with one another and bring their case to be decided by "Din Torah".

Let us digress for a moment.

Chazal make note of the first time the letters "aleph", "yud", "chof", and "heh" are revealed in the Torah. (The same letters that form the word "eichah"). Following the sin of Adam Harishon, Hashem searches for Adam. He seeks him by saying, "Ayeka?" - Where are you? (9) Hashem did not need to resort to any measures to determine Adam's location. The relationship between man and his creator had been drastically altered as a result of the sin. Prior to the sin, Adam was able to trust his own sense of right and wrong, to gaze within his inner self and see the proper path. Only forces external to him were able to exert influence on him. After he sinned, he internalized evil, and was stricken with divisiveness. Man must now always be suspect of his inner drives. What are their origins, from his pure soul which strives to cling to Hashem or from a foreign invader who seeks to tear him away from his creator? (10)

Hashem was asking Adam, "Where are you?" Where is the Adam that I created? He has distanced himself from me and has transformed into someone else.

From that point on man is not one with himself. As a consequence, his struggle with himself leads him to be separate from his creator.

This schism developed and widened through his offspring. Hashem intended the world to be perfected by the presence of a "family" acting as one organism, as one individual, in perfect harmony.

An individual does not bring himself before a judge for a Din Torah.

Moshe Rabeinu was lamenting "Eichah esah levadi" - Alas, how can I bear this nation when I am by myself, alone. There is a flaw in the master plan. There are members of Klal Yisroel who view themselves as individuals who have their own agenda, rather than parts whose sum total make up a whole. This is the source for their strife. This is also the cause of a distancing between them and their creator.

This is what is meant by the passage "eichah yashva badad" - Alas, the city of Yerushalayim dwells alone. The first and second holy temples were destroyed because of "sinas chinam" - baseless hatred. Baseless hatred arises out of perceiving one's self as a totally separate unit from the rest of creation. (11)

When a living creature is sliced into two parts, neither half can survive by itself. Viewing ourselves as part of one living organism is not just admirable, it is an act of survival.

Tisha B'Av is the day when we see ourselves in stark clarity. We stand stripped of all our surroundings. We might fool ourselves that we belong to a totally cohesive nation, we relate to one another, we care for each other. But to what extent is it sincere? How much of our human relationships are based on selfishness? Do we greet someone because he is also created in the image of G-d and he is part and parcel of one's self, or because life is more "comfortable" when people greet one another.

It is a time that we live through the feeling of being totally alone and simultaneously being in mourning, because if you haven't guessed by now, the one who we are sitting in mourning for is ourselves. The day of Tisha B'Av is one that we must come to the realization that without unifying with Hashem and Klal Yisroel, we are literally dead.

May we all merit to be comforted with the finding of our true selves.

(1) Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 552,8
(2) Mishna Berura 552,23
(3) Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 554,20
(4) Brachos 17a
(5) Brachos 13a
(6) Megillas Eichah 1,1
(7) Devorim 1,12
(8) Seforno Devorim 1,12
(9) Medrash Zuta, Eichah, Parsha Aleph
(10) Rambam Sefer Moreh Nevuchim Chelek Rishon Perek Bes
(11) Maharal Sefer Netzach Yisroel chapter 9

Sat, August 15 2020 25 Av 5780