By Yochanan Gordon
Last week I wrote about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu taking to the internet to speak directly to the Iranian people. Instead of trying to negotiate with a leadership that is still obstinately bent on annihilating Israel and the West, Bibi has launched a campaign talking directly to the people of Iran through social media and the like, in the hope that they will rise up against the regime and be partners in realizing their hopes for a utopian dream.
The important point that emerges is the power that people have in charting their destination. While this story is still in the process of unfolding, this narrative has been scripted and successfully executed in the past. This is a very timely message for us now as we find ourselves in the thick of another Bein HaMetzarim season, on the threshold of the Nine Days and Tishah B’Av, which we hope this year will be transformed to joyous days of celebration. History has shown, however, that the longer an exile carries on, the more winded we become in our ability to anticipate redemption. In the parshiyos leading up to yetzias Mitzrayim we find, “The Jews did not listen to Moshe as a result of shortened spirit and hard labor.”
The argument has been made that in the case of Yetzias Mitzrayim, the Jews had Moshe and Aharon, leaders of great stature, and yet they still lost hope in their redeemability. The leadership credentials that we boast today are unfortunately a far cry from those days and from many other generations between now and then. In what merit will we be redeemed?
It should be pointed out that the positioning of the Churbanos on the ninth of Av, in addition to many of the other calamitous events of national import we as a people have endured throughout history, is not haphazard. In fact, there is great significance to this.
Just the other day, as I was reflecting upon this, another interpretive layer of understanding occurred to me. In Kabbalistic philosophy, the term Av, which, in our discussion, is a month on the Hebrew calendar, is a euphemism for chochmah, wisdom. Chochmah is paternal and binah is the maternal expression. Wisdom is represented by a small, undeveloped kernel of knowledge that then develops, similar to the process of gestation, which begins as a seed and culminates after nine months of pregnancy as a full-fledged child. Chochmah and binah are just two of ten sefiros which G-d set in place as an interface, so to speak, between His infinitude and our finite world.
Nothing othing is arbitrary. That applies to the destruction of the two Temples on the ninth day of Av as well as the establishment of a system of ten sefiros. In order to convey this, in the Sefer Yetzirah it is written, “There are ten sefiros bli mah … ten as opposed to eleven, ten as opposed to nine.” It is this passage from Sefer Yetzirah that came to mind when thinking about the significance behind the date 9 Av.
You see, every sefirah, despite having its own identity or concentrated influence, is a composite of all ten sefiros. Many are familiar with this concept that we recite when counting the Omer when we highlight the corresponding sefirah with each passing day. On the first night, we recite chesed she’b’chesed, and on the second night, gevurah she’b’chesed, and so on. In light of this, the fact that the day on our calendar that has been designated as a tragic day on some level happens to be the ninth day in the month of Av may be a clue into the calamitous nature of this day. We will explore a possible solution to fill this vacancy and change the trend that this month has served up for thousands of years.
There is another Chazal that states, “Chacham einav b’rosho,” the eyes of a wise man are in his head. Perhaps this is why the leaders of the generation are termed the einei ha’eidah, or the eyes of the tribe.
There have been great leaders throughout our history who, in their greatness, transcended the ill effects of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai was one such leader. The Arizal had a disciple who mourned so intensely over the destruction of the Temple that he would recite Nachem every day. The Arizal warned him not to recite Nachem on Lag B’Omer, the joyous celebratory day of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai who was makpid regarding any display of sadness on his day. This disciple could not withhold himself from its recitation, and he did not live out the year.
I mention this here, because on a certain level the destruction of the Temple is equated with the loss of leaders. Chazal write that the death of tzaddikim is just as severe as the torching of the House of G-d. This is perhaps why many of the kinnos that we recite during the ninth day of Av are the stories detailing the tragic ends of some of our greatest sages. It’s not merely due to the sadness of the tale, to put us in the mood of the day; rather, when we mourn the loss of their tragic deaths we are, in effect, mourning the loss of the Temple itself.
But to point out the core of the issue without suggesting a path towards completing the circle and undoing our sad plight would be cruel and unnecessary. I touched upon it a little in last week’s issue in discussing the importance of banding together in a common purpose to chart our own destiny. A united Jewish people are much greater than the sum of all its parts.
As natural as it may be to place our hope in Moshe or in the incarnate of Moshe in today’s generation to deliver us out of this galus, I don’t believe that is the calling of the day. Moshe was never meant to deliver the Jewish people into Eretz Yisrael, for had he been destined to, it would have happened long ago. Eldad and Meidad prophesized that Moshe was destined to die and Yehoshua would be the one to deliver the Jews into Eretz Yisrael. And while that scenario has played itself out in history previously, I believe it will recur again, but with the united Jewish people, who, like Yehoshua, are likened to the moon, walking hand in hand into the redemptive era.
G-d speaks to us through current events. If there is hope that the nations of the world will act in securing their own brighter future, we need to pay attention and follow suit. But it can only be done if we are united behind a common cause.
There is another condition that needs to be met in order to bring about this new reality. We need to believe in our G-d-given ability to get it done. Chazal state, “Ein Hakadosh Baruch Hu bah betrunya im briosav,” G-d does not give us a challenge that we cannot overcome. I will conclude with a vort on the power of belief and faith.
When Yosef HaTzaddik found himself enslaved in the house of Potifar, having to contend with the almost hourly advances of his master’s wife, the Torah tells us that Yosef denied her. The term the Torah uses is “va’y’ma’ein,” and the trop with which it is sung is the suspenseful shalsheles.
However, this is not the first time that the Torah uses this term. Earlier in the narrative of Yosef’s domestic issues with his brothers, the Torah details how his brothers stripped him of his coat, tossed him into a pit, and dipped his coat into a puddle of blood. Later that day, they returned to their father Yaakov, having fabricated a story that his cherished son Yosef had been devoured by a beast. The Torah tells us that Yaakov refused to be consoled.
Let’s take a look at a Midrash on the verse, “Vayakumu kol banav v’chol benosav l’nachamo,” for a more up-close understanding of the approach of the shevatim towards consoling their grieving father. The conventional understanding is that Yaakov had twelve children, thirteen including Dina. However, the Midrash tells us that he in fact had an equal number of daughters to sons. So, picture the scene. It’s Friday night in the home of Yaakov Avinu. The table is decked out in Shabbos regalia. There are 25 table settings, a number of candelabras, and cuisine to excite the palate. Kiddush and Hamotzi are made and the zemiros begin — it’s just beautiful. However, despite the other-worldliness of this experience there is this overall morose feeling emanating from the head of the table. The Tiferes that Yaakov was known to embody seemed to have been zapped. It just wasn’t being sensed. So, his children asked him to explain the source of his sadness. He could barely utter a word. With conspicuous strain and difficulty, he could emit just one word: Yosef.
His children were anticipating an answer along those lines but it hardly seemed in their eyes to be a reason for such sadness — especially at such a beautiful and majestic Shabbos table. To counter his sadness, they began putting into perspective the success that he and his wives have had in raising an exemplary and pristine family in Klal Yisrael. They went down the line, highlighting how each of his children held respectable positions in the greatest institutions of learning and had authored works that were the crown jewel of many a library the world over. But nothing seemed to bring the sparkle back into his eye. It is in that way that the Midrash explains the term “Va’y’ma’ein l’hisnachem.”
Let’s return now to the second instance of refusal, when Yosef rejected the advances of the wife of his master Potifar from tainting that purity of his family for the rest of history. But what was it that girded Yosef with the fortitude to stand up to such immense pressure? Clearly, it was Yaakov’s unwillingness to turn the page on his cherished son Yosef, who the rest of the family was ready to forget about. That is why Chazal point out that Yosef saw the image of his father in the window, enabling him to deny the temptations that presented themselves to him on a regular basis in that house.
Chazal tell us, “Shufrei d’Yaakov mei’ein shufrei d’Adam HaRishon.” Yaakov shared an eerie resemblance to Adam HaRishon. Adam HaRishon, it is said, was yetzir kapav shel Hakadosh Baruch Hu. This is significant here because just as it was Yaakov’s unwillingness to come to terms with the loss of Yosef, G-d will never stop believing in his children’s ability to deliver His Shechinah from this long and dark exile.
We have been written off by many from within and without, but in these late stages of history, and with all we have been through, it’s about time we band together and walk hand in hand towards the light of redemption that beckons. G-d is waiting for us to take that step.