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1 Av 5762 - July 10, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Our Torah, Our Prayers And Our Tears: Our Tears

by HaRav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg

Part III

"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 tears.

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 heart."

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 much wisdom?"

He could not believe that it was humanly possible to answer his questions.

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 our days.

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 future.

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 responsibility.


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 redemption money.

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 near future."

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 Creator.

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