"By the rivers of Bovel; there we sat, we also cried, when we
remembered Tzion." The Yalkut Shimoni (Tehillim
137) explains that Klal Yisroel was crying over the
departure of their prophet Yirmiyohu. Yirmiyohu escorted his
newly captive nation to the farthest point and then, when our
exile from Eretz Yisroel was inevitably about to
begin, he left us to return to Yerushalayim.
His departing words, in response to our tears were, "May the
heaven and the earth bear witness to me, that had you wept
one tear while you were still in Tzion, you would not
have been exiled." The time to cry was while we were still in
our homes in Yerushalayim. All the tears that were shed at
the threshold of our golus could not do what a single
teardrop could have accomplished if only it had been shed in
Yerushalayim. After the Churban, it was too late for
our tears. Why?
Evidently, this was something that even our conquerors knew,
as the Yalkut continues, "`There we sat . . .' this
teaches that they had no rest from when they left
Yerushalayim until the [river] Prass. They [the Babylonians]
said, `Their G-d [of the Klal Yisroel], He is
Compassionate, and if they will turn to Him, He will
reconsider and have mercy on them. Perhaps if they rest and
they will all gather and cry out to their G-d, He will help
them and we will have accomplished nothing.' Therefore they
were driven and tortured against their will as it is written
(Eichoh 5:5, 4:19), `On our necks we are pursued . . .
Our pursuers are swifter than eagles of the sky; they chased
us in the mountains and ambushed us in the desert.'"
We were hounded and tortured and not allowed a moment's rest
in order to prevent tears, teshuvoh and prayer. Our
enemies knew the power of prayer and true teshuvoh
before HaKodosh Boruch Hu. Therefore, we were
mercilessly driven out of Eretz Yisroel as quickly as
possible in order to seal our fate. Only after our enemies
succeeded in getting us into exile were we allowed time for
Obviously, after our captivity began there was plenty to cry
about. In the face of torture, tragedy and exile who would
not cry? Therefore, such tears are feeble.
Rabbeinu Yonah zt"l, in the first Sha'ar of his
sefer Sha'arei Teshuvoh (12,13) explains that even a
slight loss of money is difficult for a person to accept.
"But if someone loses his wealth through misfortune and is
left penniless, he becomes mournful, sigh-laden and depressed
. . ." The intensity of the sorrow corresponds to the
recognition of the seriousness of the loss. Therefore, we can
easily grieve over a loss of money, for we realize its
consequences right away.
However, when we think about a spiritual loss and the damage
that is caused by our transgressions it takes effort, because
the damage is abstract and remote. Rabbeinu Yonah writes that
one must be "stricken to the core and consider how
tremendously evil it is for one to rebel against his Creator.
He must magnify the misery in his heart, make a tempest that
dizzies his thoughts and moan out of the bitterness of his
Remorse over what we have done, as Rabbeinu Yonah continues,
"will depend on the amount of aggravation and severity of
anguish. Teshuvoh originates from the purity of the
soul and clarity of intelligence. According to one's
intelligence and to the degree that he has opened his eyes,
shall be the severity and magnitude of his regrets over his
manifold transgressions." This is what produces tears --
tears that swell to our eyes from intelligence that can
perceive the truth.
HaRav Eliyahu Lopian zt"l, in his sefer Lev
Eliyahu, cites in the name of the Ramo zt"l
(Toras Ho'Oloh) the following incident. When Yirmiyohu
returned to Yerushalayim and saw the destruction of the
Beis Hamikdosh he fell upon the wood and stones and
shed tears. Passing by was the famous philosopher Plato. He
asked, "Who is this that is crying?"
They told him, "A Jewish sage."
He asked Yirmiyohu, "They say you are a sage. If so, why are
you crying over wood and stone? Also, this edifice has been
destroyed. It is not fitting that you weep over the past."
Our prophet Yirmiyohu answered back, "They say that you are a
great philosopher. Certainly, you have many philosophical
questions that are still unresolved."
With pride he answered, "Definitely. I have many questions
that I consider to be unsolvable by anyone in the world."
This great thinker was haughtily pleased to believe that his
dilemmas could stump the world! Yirmiyohu responded and said,
"Let me hear what puzzles you and I shall resolve it."
Plato told over his difficulties and Yirmiyohu answered them
all at once -- with ease. The philosopher was stunned. All
the questions that he had lived with his whole life, and had
believed to be unanswerable, were explained without effort,
as if they were nothing at all. He exclaimed, "Can this be
flesh and blood that stands before me, that it is full of so
He could not believe that it was humanly possible to answer
Yirmiyohu then said, "All the chochmoh which you have
just heard I received from this wood and stone. You wondered
why I should cry over them. Hear philosopher, the source of
it all, of all that I have learned, is in this wood and
stone. Regarding your second question, that it is not fitting
that I weep over the past, I cannot answer, for you are not
capable of understanding my answer."
It has been written that the Alter of Kelm said that the
answer to the second question is simple. Yirmiyohu was not
crying over the past but rather over the future. The gates of
tears are never closed, and through grief and tears we will
merit the building of the Beis Hamikdosh speedily, in
We know that our tears can bring the geulah, but Plato
the great philosopher could not understand it. The efficacy
of tears was beyond his intellect and philosophy. The Alter
is teaching us that our tears are not for the past, but for
The Rambam zt"l (Hilchos Taanis 1:1-3) writes, "It is
a positive mitzvah from the Torah to sound and announce with
trumpets any time tragedy besets Klal Yisroel . . . This is a
method of doing teshuvoh. When adversity occurs and we
cry out and announce it, everyone will know that it is
because of our bad deeds . . . and this will cause the
suffering to depart from them. However, if we do not trumpet
and announce it and instead say that this is just a
coincidence, just something natural that is happening to us;
this is insensitivity and cruelty (derech achzarius).
It causes them to remain steadfast in their evil deeds and
other tragedies will be added to their suffering . . ."
What does the Rambam mean when he labels it derech
achzarius? Seemingly, an insensitivity to hardships that
were sent by Hashem in Heaven to arouse us to
teshuvoh, should amount to heresy and apikorsus
and not cruelty.
The fact that nothing happens by chance, that Hashem directs
this world with hashgocho protis -- with purpose and
plan -- is a principal of emunah. Would we say that
denying this is cruel and heartless?
The Rambam is teaching us that when we hear of a tragedy in
the world, it is a signal from Hashem. It is not someone
else's problem; it is ours. If we do not think and feel this
way, it is achzarius. The tragedy is our tragedy. We
must feel the pain and we must grieve over it. Only then can
we come to a clear realization of our plight in this world.
Would we prefer to place our own lives in jeopardy? When
faced with life or death would we be so foolish as to brush
it off as coincidental?
"Thank G-d, as long as it not happening to me . . ." These
are the smug thoughts of an achzar! How long will it
take for us to do teshuvoh? The Rambam warns us to
look deeply into our troubles and to wake up to our situation
before it is too late. This is what Yirmiyohu meant with his
rebuke, ". . . had you wept one tear while you were still in
Tzion you would not have been exiled."
A tear could have averted the Churban if we had only
taken to heart our awful condition! If we only had an honest
understanding of why the disaster was about to happen to us,
then we could have brought forth that tear. Hashem sent many
warnings. We should have cried.
The gemora Shabbos 119b lists many factors that
contributed to the destruction of Yerushalayim; there was
lack of emunoh, shame, and rebuke. There was ridicule
of talmidei chachomim. In his commentary, the Maharsha
zt"l writes in rebuke of his own generation " . . .
almost all of these transgressions exist in this generation .
. ." In our time, can we say better about ourselves?
The Maharsha continues, " . . . bochurim waste most of
their days during the bein hazmanim by going for walks
in the streets and excursions . . ." If a person understands
the true importance of Torah, can he ever abandon it?
The cause of the Churban is the churban of
Torah. It is a desecration and insult to Hashem's precious
gift to us, when that gift is scorned and abandoned. The
gemora (Sota 59a) proclaims that from the time that
the Beis Hamikdosh was destroyed there is not a day
that goes by that does not have worse afflictions than the
previous day. We must understand that if our situation is not
improving there is a reason for it.
Our troubles increase because, as Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi
(Ovos 6:2) said, "Every single day a bas kol
emanates from Har Chorev, proclaiming, `Woe to them,
to the creation, because of [their] insult to the Torah.'"
The Torah has been given to us in order to bring perfection
to the world. If we forsake Torah, we forsake perfection.
Furthermore, the gemora (Brochos 17b) says that Rav
Yehudah said in the name of Rav, that each day a bas
kol emanates from Har Chorev. It proclaims, "The
entire world is sustained for the sake of Chanina my son,
while Chanina my son is satisfied with just one kav of
carobs from one erev Shabbos to the next erev
Shabbos." This is the same bas kol as before, for
they share the same message: the seriousness of our
If we pay attention to the Kinnos of Tisha B'Av, they
should bring tears to our eyes. Their words provide evidence
of this churban HaTorah, and bnei Torah
particularly must take all of it personally.
In the Kinnos (22) we say: "Torah, O Torah, gird
yourself in sackcloth and roll yourself in ashes, mourn by
yourself for your only son a bitter lament." Solitary grief
is much worse than when everyone shares the same misery.
Apparently, not everyone can grieve over the Torah in the
same way. We cannot unite for consolation and this makes our
lament more bitter.
Even if we are learning, but if we do not honor the Torah; if
we do not appreciate the essence and purpose of Torah, then
our learning is not enough. This is what was missing in the
generation of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh.
And if we continue in their way, how can we expect to see an
end to this golus?
At the time of the Churban, they were learning so much
that only Hashem Himself could pinpoint the blame. Hashem
could detect that the Torah became a burden for those who
were learning it. So much so, that it became loathsome.
There were many obvious causes for the Churban, but
what was most hidden and most subtle was the most harmful and
the hardest to correct. Nonetheless we must confront
ourselves and correct our attitude toward the Torah
Hakedoshoh in our own generation and in our own lives.
Individually, we must feel a responsibility to Klal
Yisroel. Our obligation stems from our learning Torah and
our attitude towards it. Learning without batoloh is
basic and the disgrace of Torah is inexcusable.
We must cry, each of us, by ourselves. Do we truly appreciate
what Torah means to Klal Yisroel? What it means to
have the kedusha of Torah -- or not!
Learning is not enough. We must have great ambitions. How
else can we relate to the churban of Torah? If we do
not aspire to the ultimate of what the Torah can do for us,
for Klal Yisroel, and for the world, how can we ever
feel the loss of what we lack?
We must feel proud of who we are. We are the ones who
maintain the world. We must remember this. When we prepare to
learn Torah by reciting its blessings, they must be said as
an honest expression of our gratitude. When we are actually
learning, we have to realize the responsibility we have.
We have to strive to become great in Torah, not for the sake
of our own prestige but for the honor of Klal Yisroel.
If so, we can relate to what we say in the Kinnos
about Torah and the Ten Martyrs, "Who will wage your battles
and return to the gates. The weapons are lost and the heroes
have fallen." We cannot be moved to tears if this does not
mean something to us.
If we would only understand the Churban and its cause;
the churban of Torah, the disgraceful state of Torah,
this will bring tears. The Heavenly gates through which our
tears pass are never closed, and Tisha B'Av is the day that
we all sit down and cry together. It is not at all easy.
Crying is one of the hardest avodahs.
Tears will flow if we feel for our situation. Ashrei
fortunate is the one who, with the help of Hashem, sheds a
tear for Klal Yisroel, for Torah and for Hashem's
honor in this world. Our prophet Yirmiyohu had the heaven and
the earth bear witness that had we wept one tear while we
were still in Tzion, we would not have been exiled.
Our golus has been very long. Perhaps now, after all
this time and sorrow, our tears can bring the geulah
quickly in our time.
And Our Geulah
The Chofetz Chaim zt"l (Chofetz Chaim on the Torah,
Parshas Behar) encourages us never to give up hope for
the geulah to come in our generation. We may chas
vesholom despair and think that if Hashem did not bring
the redemption in previous, more righteous generations, then
who are we to expect that because of our efforts Hashem will
hasten the geulah?
If such giants of Torah and mitzvos as the Vilna Gaon
zt"l, Rambam, Rashi; or the even greater
Amoraim and Tannaim, with their efforts, their
prayers and their repentance, did not succeed in arousing
Hashem's mercy and bringing the geulah in their times
. . . how can we hope to succeed?
No, the Chofetz Chaim writes. A person should not give up
hope of the geulah, and it should not be amazing in
our eyes that our generation should merit what the greater,
previous generations did not merit.
The Chofetz Chaim compares the situation of Klal
Yisroel in golus to that of a Jew who has been
sold into slavery to a non-Jew. The Torah commands that
special efforts be made to redeem such a Jew. Rather than
remain in the hands of his master, the Torah prescribes that
he can gain his release from slavery, with money, before the
time of his servitude ends.
The pesukim in Vayikra 25:49-52 call for a
calculation to be made between the sale price and the
remaining years of slavery and this will be the redemption
price. In this way the slave can hope to be set free.
The Chofetz Chaim explains that since "golus is a
result of our transgressions . . . each golus has
bounds that are set at its start. That is, how much Klal
Yisroel shall suffer, so that through their afflictions
their sins will be forgiven. The first golus . . .
four hundred years, the golus of Bovel, seventy
years . . . Likewise, then, definitely in this last golus
there is a fixed time to reckon the suffering because of
the sins that were transgressed."
If we were to be redeemed immediately at the beginning of the
golus, there would be a need to bring many merits so
that they would help to compensate for the great amount of
remaining time that is lost. Also, if we were redeemed after
half of the time had gone by, we would have had to bring at
least half of the merits so that it would compensate for the
time of golus that was originally imposed upon us.
This is just like the law of the slave who goes free with
Our golus, just like the servitude of the slave, has
an end. Therefore, it is possible to gather enough credit for
our geulah even before the time is up.
The Chofetz Chaim concludes, "One should not wonder how is it
possible that the end [of golus] happen in our days,
that which the many generations that came before us were not
privileged to even though they were much more righteous. Not
so! For earlier, they needed to bring so many more merits in
order to remove their debt that would have been paid in the
remaining years of their golus and this certainly was
not so much in their power to pay back. However, Klal
Yisroel by now has suffered many great hardships during
the great amount of time that it has been scattered to the
four corners of the earth. Through this, we have definitely
been cleansed from many of our transgressions and so, we are
able to hope for the geulah that it should come in the
Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt"l, at the very end of his
essay Ivies DeMeshicho, cites the posuk in
Yeshayoh 59:20, "A redeemer shall come to Tzion and to
those of Yaakov who repent from rebellious sin." Rav Elchonon
learns from this posuk that even those who have not
yet repented from all their transgressions, namely, those
done by mistake or by knowingly being negligent, they too
have a chance to be redeemed.
There is however, a minimal teshuvoh that Hashem
expects all of us to do before the time of our final
redemption, for, "If only they will repent from their
defiance against Hashem. Not to be rebellious, then they will
be privileged to be redeemed . . . [Therefore even] a very
lowly generation, as long as they will not be rebellious,
they will be able to be privileged to see the solace of
Tzion and Yerushalayim."
Above all else Hashem is merciful and even if, during the
final days of our last golus, we have not done a
complete and perfect teshuvoh . . . we still have
hope. Obviously, the more perfect, complete and heartfelt our
teshuvoh is, the more it will accomplish and the more
praiseworthy it is. But the minimal requirement is as Rav
Elchonon has taught us. As long as we are not defiant, this
shows that we seek a relationship with our Creator and we
will be redeemed.
HaRav Shach zt"l once spoke after the Yom Kippur War
(see Michtovim Vema'amorim 1:19). He quoted the Rambam
zt"l Hilchos Teshuvoh 7:5 that "Klal Yisroel
will not be redeemed except by doing teshuvoh. It
has already been promised in the Torah that finally Klal
Yisroel will repent at the end of their golus, and
immediately they will be redeemed . . ."
HaRav Shach cautioned about relying on other sources of
Chazal that are not halachah to suggest ways and means
of hastening our redemption. "We must decide according to
what has been given to us in the seforim of the
poskim." Therefore, by citing this Rambam, HaRav Shach
explained that repentance was the one sure way of hastening
our redemption from our golus, especially because it
has the Rambam's endorsement.
Torah is our most powerful mitzvah and our best
teshuvoh. We pray three times daily in our Shemoneh
Esrei that Hashem should help us to do teshuvoh
and, that we shall become close to Hashem. How? We pray
that our repentance should be a perfect teshuvoh
"through Torah;" and that Torah shall forge the bond, an
eternal unification between Klal Yisroel and
HaKodosh Boruch Hu, between Yerushalayim and
the Shechinoh, and between the whole world and its