By Rav Aryeh Z. Ginzberg
Chofetz Chaim Torah Center
When Chazal set forth the order of the Jewish calendar, they did so not simply to enable us to keep track of time, but also to set us all on a spiritual journey. A journey to coordinate our emotions which will lead us on a spiritual climb from the abyss to hopefully reach the mountaintop of spiritual heights and ecstasy. Without their direction, we would never be able to do so on our own.
Beginning with Shivah Asar B’Tammuz, we start our emotional descent to the feelings of sadness and loss. We start slowly; first the restrictions of the Three Weeks, and then the laws are intensified to the Nine Days, then Shavua She’chal Bo, and finally to Tishah B’Av, with complete mourning and the restrictions of all five inuyim, beyond even what is restricted on Yom Kippur itself.
From the depths of our pain and despair, Chazal set us on a path of “Shivah d’Nechemta,” the seven weeks of consolation beginning with Shabbos Nachamu. We begin the climb towards feeling good about ourselves, away from the mourning and despair of Tishah B’Av and on the way to Chodesh Elul, the month of introspection.
From there we continue the ascent to the Yamim Nora’im, where after the consolation and introspection, we are ready for cleansing, forgiveness, and coming closer to Avinu Malkeinu. This is followed by the final ascent to the top of the spiritual mountain, where we achieve the ultimate simcha of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, completing our spiritual journey spanning four months to the top.
This collective and personal spiritual journey is repeated by all of us, year in and year out. Therein lies the problem.
Are we to repeat this cycle again and again, up and down the mountain every year? Is there any way to stop the decline again, so we don’t have to start the climb all over again? Thinking that this is the way it’s supposed to be would make it difficult to reconcile with the words of Yirmiyahu HaNavi, who calls Tishah B’Av a mo’ed; Chazal explain that the 21-day period between Shivah Asar B’Tammuz and Tishah B’Av, which is the saddest of the year, will one day be a period of yom tov, similar to the 21 days of yom tov from Rosh Hashanah through Shemini Atzeres. So if this cycle of climbing the spiritual mountain is not the way it’s supposed to be, is there anything we can do to change course?
A penetrating insight of the Chofetz Chaim, zt’l, in his explanation of a famously perplexing midrash may be the answer we are searching for.
The Midrash Rabbah (Parashas Shelach) teaches us that since Bnei Yisrael cried upon hearing the lashon ha’ra of the meraglim on Eretz Yisrael, they were destined to cry on that day for now close to 2,000 years, as that infamous day was Tishah B’Av. The words used to describe the false cry by the sin of the meraglim were “bechiyah shel chinam,” a cry for naught.
The midrash in Eichah Rabbah picks up the narrative and concludes that the tikun, the undoing of the sin of a bechiyah shel chinam, will be when Bnei Yisrael cry with a “bechiyah shel mamash,” a cry of substance. Only a cry for “purpose” can undo the effects of a cry for “nothing.”
This begs the 2,000-year question: haven’t the cries of Klal Yisrael over all these years of suffering been cries of substance? Haven’t the cries of the talmidim of the Asarah Harugei Malchus, or those of Rebbe Akiva for his 24,000 talmidim, been cries of substance? The countless mothers and fathers crying out for their children killed in pogroms, inquisitions, gas chambers, crematoria, and terrorist attacks–aren’t those cries of substance?
Just one month ago, whose Yiddishe heart didn’t feel pain hearing the cries of the mother of Hallel Ariel, Hy’d, the 13-year-old girl murdered in her bed in Hebron by a 16-year-old terrorist, ym’s? In her hesped at Me’aras HaMachpelah, Hallel’s mother said, “Thirteen-and-a-half years ago, Father in Heaven, you gave me a gift, and now I give her back to you with love, with faith. Father, take back the gift, but know this–you may have collected Halleli to your throne, but Father, it is too crowded there. The good people of Kiryat Arba have crowded it. There is no more room, Father. I beg of you, please let Hallel be the last victim. Enough. Asher is up there and so is Jacob and everybody else, all the good guys, and now you, too. Father, take her. Sarah, our Matriarch, hug her, for I am a mother and will never be able to hug her again. And Miriam, please take the drum and clear a little bit of room by the Kisei HaKavod, so that Hallel may dance. And Rivkah, Rachel, Tamar, Esther–please hug Hallel up there. It’s crowded, Father, but please accept her.”
Were not the cries of this mother and the cries of all those who have heard her words then and now considered a “bechiyah shel mamash,” a cry for purpose? And if somehow all this doesn’t qualify, what about the cries of all the Yiddishe kinder in the children’s ward of Sloan Kettering, the older singles, the childless couples, or the families of children suffering from drug abuse, etc. Are all their collective cries not considered “cries of substance”? How much are we yet destined to suffer, chas v’shalom, until we finally experience “bechiyah shel mamash”?
The Chofetz Chaim, zt’l, offers much comfort and direction. He explains that when Bnei Yisrael cried for naught, thereby sealing their fate for the Churban Bayis years later, they caused intense pain to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. The Shechinah would now be destined to be “homeless” (k’vayachol) and spend close to 2,000 years in galus. The Zohar refers this phenomenon as “Shechinta B’galusa.” Hashem’s pain has been unabated for all this time as his celestial throne is incomplete.
If this was the result of a “worthless cry,” then a “meaningful cry” would mean to cry for HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s pain. When Yidden are forced to cry, either personally or collectively, and they cry just for their own pain, without taking a moment to reflect on the pain of HaKadosh Baruch Hu, whose dwelling in this physical world has been affected, that is not a “cry of substance.” Yes, Klal Yisrael has not only cried over so many years, but has filled oceans with our tears and our blood and continues to do so with each passing day. But in all this time, we neglected to also focus on shedding even one tear for HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s pain. Until we do so, we have not been mesaken, we have not repaired, our “cry for naught” with a “purposeful cry.” Until we cry for HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s pain, says the Chofetz Chaim, it is not rendered a “bechiyah shel mamash,” a cry with meaning.
With this insight in mind and in our hearts, as we are in the midst of our yearly ascent to the top of the spiritual mountain, and when we are moved to tears due to our own pain or in observing the pain of another, let’s save a tear or two for the pain of HaKadosh Baruch Hu, because in doing so, we will merit to never have to repeat the yearly descent as well. And if we are truly zocheh this year to get to the top and remain at the peak, we will finally merit the fulfillment of the words of the Navi, “V’hishtachvu laHashem b’har ha’kodesh b’Yerushalayim.”
May it happen speedily in our day.Â v
Written l’zecher nishmas Sara Chaya, a’h, bas Rav Aryeh Zev.