| Fundamentals |

Tears with a Mission

How can we make the most of this time, rather than merely endure it?



very summer we face an obstacle. The three weeks of bein hameitzarim get in the way of us enjoying the glorious sunshine. Tears and grieving don’t work well with leisure and vacationing. We grasp for the moment when we can delight in the fullness of summer, the sounds of music, and the soothing words of the shivah denechemta, the chapters of consolation written by Yeshayahu Hanavi.

But this attitude doesn’t feel right. How can we make the most of this time, rather than merely endure it?

Let’s trace the pattern of our summers in greater detail. The mourning for Churban Beis Hamikdash begins on the 17th of Tammuz, intensifies when we reach Chodesh Av, reaches a crescendo on Tishah B’Av, and then starts to ease at a precise moment. This moment occurs, curiously, not after the ninth of Av, but on that day itself; not at the close of the day, but, shockingly, at chatzos, midday, the very hour the Beis Hamikdash was ignited by the enemy! It’s at this point each year that we get up from the floor, don our ornaments of glory, the tefillin, restore the paroches to the aron kodesh, and recite “nachem,” words of comfort, at Minchah.

How does the moment of our greatest loss turn abruptly into the onset of our healing and solace?

More importantly, as Rav Pincus asks, how do we justify a Shabbos Nachamu so soon after Tishah B’Av? Has our situation changed? Is the Mikdash rebuilt? What is the basis of our consolation? And, if this is indeed the pattern, why defer until chatzos? Why spend the first half of Tishah B’Av in the very painful process of lamentation? Why mourn our losses if we know that Shabbos Nachamu will follow automatically?

The Alter of Kelm famously repeated the Rema’s story about Plato, who chanced upon Yirmiyahu Hanavi as he was wandering about the Temple Mount and crying over its destruction.

Plato: Yirmiyahu, I have two questions for you. You’re the wisest man of your people — why are you crying over sticks and stones? And secondly, your House has been razed. An intelligent person doesn’t waste time mourning something that is no more!

Yirmiyahu: Plato, there surely are some philosophical and existential enigmas you can’t resolve. Share them with me, so that I may clarify them for you.

Yirmiyahu then answered all Plato’s difficulties, astonishing him with his wisdom.

Yirmiyahu: I can now answer your first question. The source of my wisdom that astonishes you so is this very edifice, now destroyed. This is the reason I cry over its sticks and stones. As to your second question — what’s the logic that drives me to cry over the past? — I won’t respond, because you wouldn’t understand my answer.

Plato’s second question is essentially our own: What is the purpose of mourning, of tears? Yet curiously, Yirmiyahu refused to explain it to him. What was the answer that Plato couldn’t fathom?

Anatomy of Tears

What is a tear? A sincere tear is a mirror of one’s inner state. If we listen to its message, it speaks volumes about the person shedding the tear: What moves him? What drives him? What does he care deeply about?

There are three occasions of tears in our history that are associated with  Churban Beis Hamikdash. The first occurred in the Midbar, as the newly formed Klal Yisrael traveled toward Eretz Yisrael. On the night of Tishah B’Av, they wept upon hearing the spies’ frightening report about the Land. It was then that the ominous decree was issued: Tonight you have cried in vain; I will establish this night as a time of tears for generations to come.

The second occasion occurred as the nation went into exile after the Destruction of the First Mikdash. The midrash elucidates these words: Al naharos Bavel, sham yashavnu gam bachinu b’zachrenu es Tzion — At the waters of Babylon, there we sat and cried, as we remembered Zion (Tehillim 137). Yirmiyahu Hanavi followed his people’s journey as they descended to Bavel, and he came upon them as they sat crying on the banks of the Euphrates River. He told them: “I call upon Heaven and earth as my witness, that had you wept but one tear in Zion, you wouldn’t have gone into exile.”

These two occasions stand in direct contrast to each other. In the Midbar, Hashem referred to their cries as mistaken tears — tears that shouldn’t have been shed. Yirmiyahu remarked on misplaced tears — tears that should have been shed earlier.

Both comments speak of the significant power of tears. The tears in the Midbar revealed a people distrustful of living in the Palace of the King; the lack of tears in Zion reflected a nation callous about the potential loss of this Palace.

Why is our attitude toward Eretz Yisrael and the Beis Hamikdash such a crucial factor in our history?

The word “mikdash” first occurs in the Torah in the following verse: “The Mikdash which You, Hashem, have formed with Your two Hands” (Shemos 15:17). Rav Moshe Shapira points out that the imagery of “two hands” evokes the concept of a handshake. A moment ago, there were two separate hands. Now they have joined into one, forming a new entity.

The Beis Hamikdash was that “handshake,” the meeting place of Hashem and man. It was there that we experienced the reality of His Presence and felt profound connection. According to Rav Hirsch, the verse, “They shall make for me a Mikdash, and I will dwell among them” (Shemos 25:8), informs us that the privilege of dwelling in this place of clarity and security is conditional: If they create a Mikdash — a lifestyle of kedushah, purity, and sanctification, then I’ll dwell among them. Thus the Beis Hamikdash was more than a magnificent edifice. It was a reflection of an inner state of connection and dveikus.

It follows, then, that the rejection of this edifice is tantamount to rejecting a relationship with the King. Shedding sincere tears over its loss, and yearning for its restoration is an embracing of that relationship.

This, the Alter explained, is the meaning in mourning. This is the answer that Yirmiyahu could have told Plato. He could have told him that he yearns for dveikus, not for a building. He could have informed him that he cries not for the past, but for the future, with the firm conviction that shaarei dimah, the gates of tears, are never sealed

He could have insisted that his cries were not for naught, that his tears were meaningful to Hashem, and that they had the power to unlock the most impenetrable of barriers and bring about the most improbable of salvations. He could have assured Plato that the relationship symbolized by the Beis Hamikdash is never revoked, even when the edifice itself is destroyed. He could have described his tears not as a cry of abandonment, but as a cry of hope and anticipation.

But why did Yirmiyahu refuse to share this with Plato? What part of this would Plato not have understood?

We’ve already spoken of mistaken tears, and of misplaced tears. There is yet a third type of tears associated with the Churban, a different, esoteric sort. We’ll refer to them as the mistarim tears, based on the verse in Yirmiyahu (13:17): “B’mistarim tivkeh nafshi — my soul shall weep in secrecy.

The Gemara (Chagigah 5b) attributes this remark to the King of Kings Himself: There is a hidden chamber that no one can enter; its name is “Mistarim.” There I shall go to weep over the Churban.

Of course, we have no real comprehension of these mistarim tears, for we cannot attribute humanlike emotions and actions to Hashem. But despite the mystery of the metaphor, the message is certain. Hashem, so to speak, mourns over the detachment implied by Churban.

And this is what Plato couldn’t have understood. Only a Yid can fathom that hamelech hagadol hagibor v’hanora, the great, mighty and awesome King, seeks closeness, as it were, with lowly mortals. I care, Hashem tells us, and if you show Me that you also care, we can talk about reconciliation.

Thus mourning must precede consolation, and the tears of the Three Weeks herald the seven weeks of nechemta.

Yearning and Anticipation

Indeed, our attitude toward galus and Geulah is of great import all year long, not just in Tammuz and Av. The Rambam writes in his Thirteen Ikarim of Emunah that it’s not enough to believe that Mashiach will come; one must also await his arrival. One who hopes, waits, and anticipates, shows eagerness for galus to end and an awareness that his present life isn’t ideal. One who doesn’t yearn implies that it’s acceptable to be distant from Hashem.

A fascinating midrash at the end of parshas Vayeishev lists many turning points in Jewish history, prefacing each of these with the words, “Mi hayah michakeh — who ever thought this would happen?” Who would have expected Yosef to become Pharaoh’s viceroy after all his suffering? Who would have predicted that Moshe, the infant in the river, would become what he became? Who would have believed that Rus the giyores would come to be the mother of malchus? Who could have imagined that Klal Yisrael would be saved from Haman in such a spectacular fashion? And who anticipates that the Jewish Nation will achieve fame in Mashiach’s time, and that the entire world will unite in the service of Hashem?

On the first level of understanding, these words offer great encouragement: We can’t even imagine the marvelous events Hashem has in store for us! Rav Elya Svei ztz”l offers an alternate interpretation. The midrash isn’t asking rhetorical questions; rather, in each example there was indeed someone who waited, watched, and acted to bring salvation.

Who waited for Yosef to become king? Why, Yosef himself, who had dreamed of kingship, and who understood that Pharaoh’s dreams must be the catalyst for his reign.

Who waited for Moshe at the river? That would be Miriam, who knew this child was destined to become Hashem’s messenger and thus watched and waited for the rescue to happen.

Who waited for Rus? Naomi, of course, who believed that her daughter-in-law would be the progenitor of Malchus Beis Dovid, and therefore directed her to approach Boaz.

Who waited for rescue from destruction in the times of Haman? None other than Mordechai, who visited the palace b’chol yom vayom, certain that Esther had become queen for a purpose.

In each of these cases, Rav Elya explains, the protagonist was mechakeh. He centered his life on his conviction that great salvation was destined to ensue, and he did all he could to facilitate its realization.

Let each of us ask ourselves: Mi mechakeh? Is it I? Is yearning for Geulah a central theme in my avodas Hashem? Do I mourn with purpose? Do I wait with conviction? And do my actions and choices show that I truly care?


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 852)

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