Beyond our Experience
The reason that we are so remote from experiencing any sense
of loss over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh is
because we have never seen it standing and or witnessed its
glory. That makes it hard for us to appreciate its absence.
We might be suffering in the present difficult economic and
security circumstances but there really is no connection at
all between any of our present distress and a yearning for
redemption and the rebuilding of the Beis
Our situation can be compared to that of a young, starving
child in the Warsaw Ghetto, who used to yearn all day for his
father's return from his labor detail, hoping that he would
bring home a few potato peels to still his pangs of
When the father returned in the evenings empty-handed, his
son's plight would break his heart. He would comfort him by
telling him, "Soon we will be redeemed. Moshiach will
come and the Beis Hamikdosh will be rebuilt. Then,
everything will be better and there will be no more
Some fifty years later the son described how, as a young
child, he had envisioned Moshiach as being, "a tall,
strong and mighty fellow, with a sackful of potatoes on his
We might well direct the wry smile that this story brings to
our lips at ourselves. We too, yearn merely for some
improvement in our lives.
This is how the Rambam describes true yearning for
Redemption: "The sages and prophets did not desire the
[arrival of the] times of Moshiach so that they could
rule over the world, nor in order to subdue the nations, nor
so that the nations would extol them, nor in order to drink
and make merry — only so that they might be free to
occupy themselves with Torah and wisdom, without any
persecutors or disturbances, so as to [thereby] merit the
World to Come" (Hilchos Melochim 11:4).
How can we reawaken within ourselves an awareness of the
Churban and a yearning for our redemption? The
argument that, "We never witnessed its grandeur, so how can
we feel its loss?" seems wholly justified. This article will
attempt to provide a response to these questions.
Tzion Shall be Plowed
In Hilchos Taaniyos (5:3), the Rambam writes, "There
are days when all Yisroel fasts because of the misfortunes
which happened on them, in order to arouse people and open up
paths of repentance . . . and on Tisha B'Av. Five things
happened then: It was decreed that Yisroel would not enter
the Land; The First and Second Botei Mikdosh were
destroyed; And a great city by the name of Beitar was
captured which had been inhabited by thousands and tens of
thousands of Jews . . . it was a tragedy of the same
magnitude as the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh . .
. And on that day, that is liable for retribution, the wicked
Tinius Rufus . . . plowed up the Sanctuary and surrounding
area, to fulfill the posuk, "Tzion shall be plowed
like a field."
The reasons for mourning the first four of these misfortunes
are self-evident, but it is harder to understand the tragedy
of the fifth. Once the Beis Hamikdosh had been razed,
of what significance is the fact that its ruins were plowed
over? Also, why in this case does the Rambam add the phrase,
"to fulfill the posuk . . . ", which he does not do
for the other misfortunes, though they all have sources in
the books of the Nevi'im? The Rambam's introductory
words too, "and on that day, that is liable for retribution .
. . " suggest that the plowing of Har Habayis was
essentially different from the other four calamities.
The novi Zecharioh (8:19) said, "So says Hashem, the
fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth month, the
fast of the seventh month and the fast of the tenth month
shall be [occasions] for gladness and joy for Beis Yehuda . .
. " Apparently, this does not merely mean that the general
rejoicing over our redemption will continue on these days
too, but rather that these specific days, which had been
observed as days of mourning over the Churban, will be
transformed into days of special joy. This also requires
explanation. (See Pri Tzaddik, maamorei Tu B'Av.)
In Toras Moshe (parshas Devorim) the Chasam Sofer
comments, "I always wondered why Tachanun is not said
on a Tisha B'Av which was postponed, since the day that the
fast is observed is not the day of the moed. Though
the fast is put off until after Shabbos, the day that is
called a moed, owing to which Tachanun is not
said, remains [Shabbos] the ninth [of Av]. I gave the answer
that the moed is in fact determined by the day of the
fast. This is why the posuk refers to "the fast of the
fifth month . . . etc." rather than, "the ninth of Av." It is
not the date that matters here, as with Pesach on the
fifteenth of Nisan; it is the day of fasting. When the
Beis Hamikdosh is rebuilt and Tisha B'Av falls on a
Shabbos, the day of rejoicing will also be the following day,
which is the day when the fast would have been."
This too, must be understood, as must also the ruling itself
that Tachanun is not said on Tisha B'Av because it is
called a moed (Eichoh 1:15, Shulchan Oruch O. Ch. siman
559:4). Why mark its being termed a moed when the
day is steeped in mourning?
Two other related questions are the gemora's language
(Taanis 30), "Whoever mourns for Yerushalayim,
merits seeing its joy," in the present tense, rather
than "will merit seeing" in the future as would be
expected (see Droshos Chasam Sofer III pg.84) and the
phrasing of the brochos in Bircas Hamozone and
in the Amidah: "bonei, who builds,
Yerushalayim," and of the posuk (Tehillim 147:2),
"Hashem builds Yerushalayim" — all in the present
Similarly, the terming of the seven haftoros read
after Tisha B'Av as the "Seven of Comfort." What comfort are
they while the Beis Hamikdosh still remains
The entire exchange between Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues
(see accompanying box) requires explanation. The posuk
(Eichoh 5:17) says, "Over this our hearts grew sick . . .
over Har Tzion that is desolate; foxes walked through it."
What place was there for laughter? Moreover, how did Rabbi
Akiva comfort them? They cried over what they were seeing at
present, even though they too, knew that the Beis
Hamikdosh would be rebuilt one day. If Rabbi Akiva
himself laughed for the future, why did he respond by asking
them why they were crying, when it was obvious why?
We shall now see that one basic idea runs through all these
The Hope that Lies Within the Mourning
The Chasam Sofer (Droshos ibid.) deals with some of
these questions with the following thought. He first mentions
the problem of the present tense in, "Whoever mourns
Yerushalayim merits seeing its comfort," and he also asks how
the term moed is at all applicable to Tisha B'Av. Then
he continues, "Let us reflect though, how it has happened
that for almost two thousand years, since we lost everything
good, in our sins, the memory of the Beis Hamikdosh
has not been lost and we still cry over it. This is
unparalleled among other nations, who forget about their past
glory and do not cry over it for such a long time as we . . .
" . . . [However,] the fact that we do not accept comfort, as
for something that still lives, is itself a great solace.
Heaven decrees that [only] the dead are forgotten. That is
why once-mighty nations, who have no hope of retrieving their
former glory, forget their pasts entirely. We bnei
Yisroel though, hope and look forward to the day when
Hashem descends with a wall of fire around Him, when we will
be revived and be sated with good . . . This mourning is thus
a great comfort to us. This is why Tisha B'Av is an import
moed; it affords us certainty of returning to our
former standing and [to the glory of] our early years. This
is why Chazal were careful to say, "whoever mourns
Yerushalayim merits seeing its comfort," for we are
[actually] comforted [in the present] by our continued
mourning after such a long time" (The same thought appears in
Yeshuos Yaakov O. Ch. 168:2).
This also explains why, when Tisha B'Av is postponed until
after Shabbos, the day of the fast is treated as Tisha B'Av
in every respect, as the Chasam Sofer himself points out in
the passage from Toras Moshe quoted earlier.
This idea will also explain the manner in which the Rambam
presents the fifth calamity of Tisha B'Av, the plowing of
Har Habayis. This act represented the obliteration of
the Churban, for as long as the ruins of the Bayis
remained the sight of them aroused pain and evoked
mourning. Once the site was plowed up like any other field,
there were no longer any reminders, and the expected
consequence would have been (as Chazal tell us is decreed),
"the dead are forgotten . . . " chas vesholom!
This is why the Rambam stresses that this took place, "to
fulfill the posuk, `Tzion shall be plowed like a
field.' " This was a deeper and more profound degree of
Churban than what had taken place hitherto. As long as
some remnant is still there to evoke pain over the loss, the
destruction is not complete. But when all pain ceases, the
loss is complete and final, chas vesholom.
This is why the days of mourning themselves will become
Yomim Tovim. Because they are days of mourning, the
things that we lost still live on in our hearts. They will be
the agents of rebirth. This is why we read the seven
haftoros of comfort each year. The very fact that we
are currently still mourning, is cause for comfort.
Bearing this in mind, we can explain the exchange between
Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues:
"They said to him, `Why are you laughing?'
"He said to them, `Why are you crying?'
"They told him, ` . . . now foxes are roaming there —
shall we not cry?!'
"He told them `That is why I'm laughing . . . ' "
Rabbi Akiva was not merely answering one question with
another. His answer was, "The reason for your crying, is
itself the reason that I am laughing. Your tears over the
Churban are the cause of my laughter."
Rabbi Akiva's linkage of the prophecies of Urioh and
Zecharioh is now clearly understood. We saw in the Rambam
that the meaning of Urioh's prophecy, "Tzion shall be
plowed like a field," is that all memory of the Churban
would be wiped out so that there would be no pain and no
mourning over it (as actually happened immediately
afterward). Rabbi Akiva was telling his colleagues, "If you
are crying, it's a sign that Urioh's prophecy has already
seen its fulfillment. Now that people are mourning the
Churban once again, the memory of the Beis
Hamikdosh has not been forgotten and it is certain that
Zecharioh's prophecy will also be fulfilled. If the
Churban lives within us, redemption is assured."
The Consequence of Forgetting
This gives us a deeper appreciation of the following comments
which Rav Yaakov Emden zt'l writes (in his siddur,
Beis Yaakov, Dinei Tisha B'Av): "Were it not for our
being guilty of this sin, of failing to mourn Yerushalaim
properly [we would already have been redeemed, for] it
[alone] is sufficient [cause] for our exile being [drawn out]
for so long.
"In my opinion, this is the strongest and the most powerful
and obvious reason for all the extraordinary, dreadful and
shocking persecutions to which we have been subjected during
our exile, in every place where we are scattered. Our
pursuers have been at our necks. We have not been allowed to
have contact with the nations, because of our lowliness and
our suffering and wretchedness. [The reason is] because this
mourning has left our hearts. Dwelling quietly in a land that
is not ours, we have forgotten Yerushalayim; it's memory does
not occur to us. Therefore, `we have been forgotten, like the
vanished memory of one deceased.' With every generation,
further misery is added to our sadness and pain.
"All who love the truth will agree to my words, as [our own]
experience shows, particularly on the bitter day of Tisha
B'Av. Just who properly mourns and groans over the
destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh and the desolation
of our land, from the depths of his heart? How many tears are
shed? Needless to say, during the rest of the year nobody
remembers it, nobody dwells on it and nobody speaks a word
about it. No thought of it even enters our minds, as though
it was a random event. We thereby repeat the sins of our
ancestors, learning from the ways of the gentiles, which was
the origin of all the evil [that befell us]."
This frightening passage tells us clearly that our failure to
mourn the Churban lengthens the exile. We are dealt
`measure for measure.' Our mourning is the indication that
the memory of the Beis Hamikdosh still lives, that it
has not been `forgotten like one deceased' and consequently,
that it will again be rebuilt. Our failure to mourn is
tantamount to declaring that the Churban is dead and
we are thus treated accordingly, `like a forgotten
Although being divorced from an awareness of the Churban
and the loss of the Beis Hamikdosh is part of what
was decreed in the time of our forefathers that we would
suffer on Tisha B'Av, it is a part whose remedy lies in our
hands. This constitutes the essence of our obligations during
the period of Bein Hametzorim and on Tisha B'Av.
Context Within the Yearly Cycle
The Maharsha (on Bechoros 8), establishes a connection
between the period of Bein Hametzorim and the Yomim
Noraim which follow it, an awareness of which can help us
in fulfilling our obligations at this time. The Maharsha
writes, "Just as the twenty-one days from Rosh Hashonoh until
Hoshanna Rabboh bestow cleansing from sin and [afford]
atonement . . . the twenty-one days of retribution from Shivo
Ossor BeTammuz until Tisha B'Av also yield cleansing from
sin, because misfortune and suffering atone, as Chazal say,
`Exile is [a form of] atonement.' "
It is said that Rav Yisroel Salanter zt'l commented
that, "Tisha B'Av has potential for spiritual elevation to no
less a degree than Yom Kippur," (cited in Sifsei
Chaim, vol. III). There is also a well-known acrostic, in
which the letters of the name Tammuz (tov, mem, vov,
zayin) stand for, `Zeman Teshuvoh Memashmeish
Uvo,' meaning, `The time for repentance is
An alternative explanation to the Maharsha's can be offered
to explain this link between the period of mourning, followed
by one of repentance.
Basing himself upon the Ramchal zt'l, HaRav Chaim
Freidlander zt'l, (in Sifsei Chaim vol. I),
explains that the reason why mankind's judgment takes place
on Rosh Hashonoh is that each new year is a completely new
unit in the march of time towards the ultimate revelation of
Hashem's unity. Each individual's task for that year, which
is his contribution towards the world's attainment of that
goal, is assigned to him on Rosh Hashonoh. On that day, which
represents the nucleus of the new year, he is therefore
judged on his deeds of the previous year. The purpose of the
judgment is not solely to evaluate his past but in addition,
to determine the type of role that befits him in the ensuing
year, depending upon his spiritual level.
This is why all the day's prayers and supplications center
upon the world's ultimate purpose: "And therefore, put Your
fear . . . reveal the glory of Your Kingdom . . . " In this
way, we express our yearning and our longing to see Hashem's
rule revealed to all mankind. The basic necessities of life,
e.g. good health, a livelihood etc., which are the physical
means of realizing this ambition, are granted to those who
truly yearn for it.
On the basis of this understanding, it appears that the
fundamental content of the Bein Hametzorim period is
to be a preparation for our spiritual service on Rosh
Hashonoh. How can a person express yearning for Hashem's
revelation in his prayers on Rosh Hashonoh and request a role
in bringing it about, if the period of mourning and pain over
the dreadful situation of Hashem's concealment and the exile
of His Shechinoh utterly fails to move him?
There is no greater contradiction than feigning to want a
part in remedying the situation on the one hand, while
remaining undisturbed by it on the other. This is the meaning
of the reminder that the days of teshuvoh are
approaching, to which the name Tammuz alludes. This is also
why Rav Yisroel Salanter equated Tisha B'Av's potential for
spiritual growth to that of Yom Kippur. The roots of the good
year and the forgiveness from sin which everyone desires
during the Yomim Noraim are firmly planted in Bein
A Personal Note
My father's yahrtzeit falls at the beginning of
Bein Hametzorim and I would like to mention a personal
observation, which should bring an elevation to his soul.
[Halochoh determines] numerous stages in the process of
mourning, lo oleinu: the time of death, aninus,
the levaya, the first three days, the seven days of
mourning, the first thirty days and the first eleven months.
Each of these stages has its own distinct laws and its own
manner of conduct.
It is hard not to notice Chazal's profound grasp of the
mourner's mind and emotions. If one is careful to fulfill all
the halochos and customs, each in its designated time,
not seeking out the lenient opinions in this or that area
(which can always be found), then one does not forget one's
loss. I think that all who have passed through this
experience, R'l, will agree to this.
Though the comparison of personal bereavement to Bein
Hametzorim is not a perfect one, it can nevertheless be
justifiably drawn. Meticulous observance of all the
halochos of this period makes a significant
contribution towards enabling us to fulfill our duty as
Yidden. Paying attention to the scores of regular
prayers that we offer for the restoration of the Beis
Hamikdosh and the future redemption, and spending time
studying one of the commentaries to the Kinnos and
discovering which time period each of them speaks about, will
help stir our emotions over the Churban.
May we thus be among those who "mourn for Yerushalayim" who
"merit seeing its joy" in the present!
Akiva, You Have Comforted Us (Makkos 24)|
Rabbon Gamliel, Rabbi Elozor ben Azarya, Rabbi Yehoshua and
Rabbi Akiva . . . were going up to Yerushalayim. When they
arrived at Har Hatzofim, they rent their garments. When they
came to Har Habayis, they saw a fox going out of the
Kodshei Hakodoshim and they began to weep, while Rabbi
Akiva began to laugh.
They said to him, "Why are you laughing?"
He said to them, "Why are you crying?"
They told him, "The Torah says [about this place], `and the
stranger who draws close shall die,' and now foxes are
roaming there — shall we not cry?"
He told them "That is why I'm laughing. The posuk
says, `and I will bring the faithful witnesses to testify,
Urioh the Cohen and Zecharioh ben Yeverechyohu . . . '
(Yeshayohu 8:2). What is the connection between Urioh
and Zecharioh? Urioh lived in the time of the First Beis
Hamikdosh and Zecharioh in the time of the Second. The
posuk means to make Zecharioh's prophecy contingent on
Urioh's. Urioh said, `Therefore, because of you, Tzion
shall be plowed like a field' (Michah 3:12) and
Zecharioh said, `Old men and old women will yet sit in the
streets of Yerushalayim' (Zecharioh 8:4). Until
Urioh's prophecy had been fulfilled, I was afraid that
Zecharioh's would not be. Now that Urioh's has been
fulfilled, it is certain that Zecharioh's will also be."
They said to him thus: "Akiva, you have comforted us. Akiva,
you have comforted us."