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The Same Old Things

How are we to know what are the things for which we need to repent and mend our ways?


AN older couple once went to discuss the state of their shalom bayis with Rav Yosef Rosenblum, the rosh yeshivah of Yeshiva Shaarei Yosher in Boro Park. While Rav Rosenblum ztz”l headed a small chassidishe yeshivah and was mostly out of the public eye of the yeshivah world, everyone knew of his greatness. (Rav Yechiel Perr told me he was present when Rav Aharon Kotler learned that a certain rav had refused to make an appeal for the Lakewood yeshivah.  Reb Aharon wondered aloud, “But where else are there talmidim like ours?” and began listing off his best talmidim, beginning his list with Rav Yosef Rosenblum.)

Rav Rosenblum was not only a great talmid chacham, but also a great chacham, to whom many would turn with their personal problems. He listened as the husband lodged a complaint, gesturing toward the spouse sitting beside him. “We’ve been married for so many years now, and she still brings up to me things I did decades ago!”

To which Rav Rosenblum replied, “If she still talks about those things, then it can only be that in some form you’re still doing those things…”

And that’s what Tishah B’Av is about.

The Rambam (Hilchos Taaniyos 5:1) writes: “There are days on which all of Klal Yisrael fasts because of the tzaros that occurred on them, in order to rouse the hearts and to open the ways of teshuvah. This will be a way to remember our bad deeds and the deeds of our forefathers that were like our deeds now, which caused those tzaros to befall them and us. And by remembering these things, we will return and do better…”

The Rambam states clearly that the fast days are a time for teshuvah for the things we have done wrong. But how are we to know what are the things for which we need to repent and mend our ways?

It appears from the Rambam that recalling the tzaros that occurred on these days — brought on by the sins of our forebears — is the way for us to discern what we, too, have done wrong. How? By reflecting on the fact that the very same tzaros are with us still, we will realize that their deeds “were like our deeds now.”

We, too, have a relationship with the Ribbono shel Olam, and the Rambam seems to be saying that, to paraphrase Rav Rosenblum, “If Hashem still talks about those things — in His way, through the tzaros we suffer — then it can only be that in some form we’re still doing those things…” We keep falling into the same ruts the earlier generations did, and so, of course, we continue to suffer the same consequences.

The Rambam goes on to cite the mishnah in Taanis regarding the five calamities that occurred on Tishah B’Av. The first of those was the decree dooming the Dor Hamidbar to die out before entering Eretz Yisrael, and the next two were the destruction of the First and Second Beis Hamikdash, nearly five hundred years apart.

Regarding the First and Second Churban, at least, it’s easy enough to understand what the Rambam means when he writes that the same tzaros that took place millennia ago are still happening. We’re familiar with the teaching that “Any generation in whose day the Beis Hamikdash is not rebuilt is considered as if the generation destroyed it” (Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1).

But notice that Chazal don’t say that “it is as if it were destroyed in its day,” which is how it’s often erroneously quoted. The quote is, as mentioned above, “as if that generation destroyed it” — as if those of the generation (i.e., you and I) are the culprits with direct responsibility for its destruction. Why is that?

Here’s a paraphrase of what Rav Chaim Volozhiner had to say in his commentary to Avos (5:1): “If you told even a big rasha, ‘Your sins are greater than those of Nevuchadnetzar and Titus,’ he’d get very upset at the insult. But that’s exactly how it is: The actions of those famously wicked men really had no effect on the higher spheres — only a Jew is connected in a way that what he does here in This World effects changes, for good or bad, in Shamayim.”

There’s a Beis Hamikdash on high corresponding to the physical Beis Hamikdash down below, and only once aveiros had defiled the former, Rav Chaim explains, were the legions of Nevuchadnetzar and Titus able to lay a hand on the latter. And so even now, the choices we make are playing havoc with that higher Temple and thereby delaying its restoration here below.

It’s clear, then, that Tishah B’Av is not only a day of mourning, but also of returning. May we merit to do so with all our hearts, and thereby merit for Him to return His presence to us as well, just as He promised us, “Shuvah eilai v’ashuvah aleichem.”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 922. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com)

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