Shall I Fast?
"In the fourth year of King Darius . . . [the settlement in
Bovel] sent . . . to ask Hashem . . . to say to the
cohanim and the nevi'im . . . `Shall I weep in
the fifth month and refrain [from food and drink] as I have
been doing now for some years?' " (Zecharya 7:1-3).
Rashi explains that the Babylonian Jews sent this message to
their relatives, asking them to beseech Hashem on their
behalf and to ask the cohanim whether, seeing that the
Beis Hamikdosh had been rebuilt, they should still
weep in the month of Av.
"And the word of Hashem . . . came to me, to say, `Tell all
the people and the cohanim . . . your fasting and
wailing in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy
years — was your fasting in My honor?" (7:4-5) .
. . The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months
will be occasions of rejoicing and joy for the House of
Yehuda . . .' " (8:19).
The question that the Babylonian Jews asked — whether
or not they were still supposed to observe the fast of Tisha
B'Av — was a question of halochoh. That such a question
was asked of, and that the reply was received through, a
novi, as opposed to the Sanhedrin, is without
parallel. Moreover the members of the Sanhedrin at that
period of the return from Bovel to Eretz Yisroel were
the great Anshei Knesses Hagedoloh.
This supports Rabbenu Yonah's statement (Shaarei Teshuvoh,
shaar III, 4) that an enactment instituted by a
novi is binding in its own right and is known as
takonas hanevi'im. [The fasts that were instituted to
commemorate the Churban were such takonos.] It
is thus correct that a question concerning such an enactment
should be directed to a novi. There can be no
objection, either, on the grounds that Torah "is not in the
Heavens" (Devorim 30:12) [i.e. halachic disputes must
be resolved by the Torah Sages using the principles of
halochoh, without recourse to Heavenly signs or
messages] or that "from here onwards no novi is
allowed to introduce anything" (Shabbos 104).
However, the question certainly could have been put to
the Sanhedrin just as well. The fact that it was addressed to
a novi indicates some particularity on this point.
The question itself is also worthy of some reflection. The
gemora in Yoma (21) finds an allusion in a
posuk (Chagai 1:8) to five things that were present in
the First Beis Hamikdosh but were missing from the
second. These were, the Aron hakodesh, the
kapores and keruvim (which Rashi explains are
counted as one) the fire (on the mizbei'ach), the
Divine Presence, the Ruach Hakodesh (which departed
from the nevi'im from the fourth year of King Darius
onward) and the Urim Vetumim (which was inside the
choshen worn by the Cohen godol, through which
Heaven replied to questions).
The fast over the destruction of the First Beis
Hamikdosh certainly included the loss of these five
things. How did the question of whether to cancel or retain
the fast even arise if these five things — among them
the Aron, ruach hakodesh and the Shechinah
— were still missing?
Lessons of Silence
"`The offspring of [the] desolation [of the mikdash]
are more numerous than those of [its] settlement'
(Yeshayohu 54:1). Rabbi Abba bar Cahana said in Rabbi
Yochanan's name . . . `It [the Beis Hamikdosh]
produced more tzaddikim for Me during its desolation
than it did while it stood' " (Shir Hashirim Rabba,
Klal Yisroel possess a resource that enables them to
produce tzaddikim during the periods of their
desolation in a way that they cannot do while settled. The
Anshei Knesses Hagedoloh are certainly numbered among these
tzaddikim; they are mentioned by the mishnah in
Ovos (1:1) among those who received and transmitted
The gemora (Yoma 69) explains the meaning of the
title Anshei Knesses Hagedoloh, Men of the Great Assembly.
"Why are they referred to as Men of the Great
Assembly? — Because they restored Heaven's crown to its
"[Originally] Moshe said, `G-d the great, the mighty and the
awe inspiring' (Devorim 10:17).
"Yirmiyohu came and said, `Gentiles are crowing inside His
chamber — where is the awe that He inspires?' So he
stopped saying `awe inspiring.'
"Doniel came and said, `Gentiles are enslaving His sons
— where is His might?' So he stopped saying
"The Anshei Knesses Hagedoloh came and said, `It is the other
way around! His might lies in the fact that He suppresses His
trait [of retribution] and shows patience towards the wicked.
And His awe is apparent because, were it not for the awe that
Hakodosh Boruch Hu inspires how could one lone nation
survive amid all the other [hostile] nations?
"How could the earlier authorities do this," asks the
gemora. "Suspending something that was enacted by
Moshe? Since they knew that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is
inherently truthful, they did not lie to Him . . ."
See Pachad Yitzchok Chanukah, maamar 8, where it is
explained that in pointing to Hakodosh Boruch Hu's
restraint in the face of the gentiles' harsh treatment of His
nation as actually being evidence of His might, the Anshei
Knesses Hagedoloh were revealing the trait of His that Chazal
term, "Who is comparable to You among silent ones
(I'm)?" (Mechilta, parshas hashish 8). This is
in contrast to bnei Yisroel's praise of Hashem after
the splitting of the sea, using an almost identical word:
"Who is comparable to You among powers (eilim)?"
In comprehending this the Anshei Knesses Hagedoloh were like
a disciple who succeeds in fathoming his teacher's intention
even when his teacher maintains silence towards him, not
speaking to him but to himself. They understood that Hashem's
silence and restraint in the face of the gentiles' depravity
actually demonstrates His might.
During the desolation of the Beis Hamikdosh —
when Hashem's might was shown in His trait of, "Who is
comparable to You among silent ones?" — the
Anshei Knesses Hagedoloh comprehended more than the prophets
did while the Mikdosh stood — when His might was
displayed openly in His trait of "Who is comparable to You
among powers?" This is the deeper meaning of their
exclamation, "It is the other way around!" i.e. the
desolation and waste themselves are proof.
Gains of Exile
"Rav Nachman asked Rav Yitzchok, `Have you heard when Bar
Nafly (Son of the Fallen) will arrive?'
"He said to him, `Who is Bar Nafly?'
"`. . . Moshiach.'
"He asked, `Is it correct to refer to Moshiach as
". . . `Yes, as it is written, "On that day I will erect the
fallen shelter of [King] Dovid" (Amos 9:11)' "
Rashi explains that this posuk refers to the royal
house of Dovid Hamelech that fell. Thus, Moshiach, his
descendant, is referred to as Son of the Fallen. In that case
though, shouldn't Moshiach be called Bar Kimah
(Son of the Risen)? Why, if his arrival ushers in an era of
greatness, should his name be reminiscent of downfall?
Early sages said that the name's significance lies in the
fact that when Moshiach arrives he will bring with him
all the virtues and spiritual acquisitions that were attained
during the time of our nation's misfortune and desolation.
[Because his stature will be a direct result of what we
gained through our suffering]. Thus he deserves to be called
Son of the Fallen.
When This One Rises That One Falls
"` . . . My soul weeps in (nistorim) hidden places on
account of pride . . .' ( Yirmiyohu 13:17). Rav Shmuel
bar Iny said in Rav's name, `Hakodosh Boruch Hu has a
place that is called Nistorim'. What does `because of
pride' mean? Rav Shmuel bar Yitzchok said, `Because of
Yisroel's pride that has been taken away from them and given
to the gentiles' " (Chagigah 5). Here, Klal
Yisroel's possessions are referred to as "Yisroel's
pride," as in the posuk, "He shall choose our
inheritance, the pride of Yaakov, seloh"
(Tehillim 47:5). What though, is the significance of
Hashem's weeping "in hidden places"?
In the course of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh
and the consequent downward spiral, certain of our nation's
possessions were hidden away. Of these can be said, "It shall
be neither mine nor yours" (Melochim I, 3:26) [i.e.
they are no longer in our possession but neither do the
nations have them]. These things are out of the reach of the
general principle that governs the mutually intertwined rise
and ebb of the fortunes of Yisroel and the gentile nations:
"And one nation will be mightier than the other"
(Bereishis 25:23) ["When one rises the other falls"
— Rashi ibid. Here, our loss was not their
gain]. The concealment of these things relates to the secrets
of Torah and is unconnected with the cyclical rise and fall
of destruction and exile.
But other possessions of ours did pass into gentile
hands. It is about these that the posuk says, "And one
nation will be mightier than the other." The gemora's
comment on this is, "If someone tells you that both
Yerushalayim and the Roman settlement of Caesarea] have been
destroyed, don't believe it. If you hear that both of them
are settled, don't believe it. But if you hear that Caesaria
is destroyed and Yerushalayim is settled or that Yerushalayim
is destroyed and Caesaria is settled, believe it, as the
posuk says, "I will be filled from its destruction"
(Yechezkel 26:2). If this one is filled, that one is
destroyed; if that one is filled, this one is destroyed"
Hashem "weeps in hidden places" over those of our nation's
possessions whose capture by the gentiles contributed to
their ascension, under the principle that "One nation will be
mightier than the other."
"`My soul weeps in hidden places on account of pride'
— Hakodosh Boruch Hu has a place that is called
Nistorim — What does `because of pride' mean?
Because of Yisroel's pride that has been taken away from them
and given to the gentiles."
However, all the five things enumerated by the gemora
in Yoma (21) that were missing from the Second Beis
Hamikdosh — the Aron, kapores and
keruvim (which Rashi explains are counted as one), the
fire, the Divine Presence, the Ruach Hakodesh and the
Urim Vetumim — were hidden before the first
Churban. None of them fell into gentile hands.
New Reasons to Rejoice
The reason for calling Moshiach `Son of the Fallen'
— because he embodies all the spiritual attainments of
the period of our desolation — was first revealed with
the building of the Second Beis Hamikdosh, which was
the first time that our nation arose following a downfall.
While down, we learned the lesson of, "Who is comparable to
You among silent ones?" — that Hashem's might lies in
His suppression of His trait of retribution and that the awe
He inspires is shown in the very fact of our nation's
Proof of this is how our early Sages explained the words,
"You are mighty forever, Hashem."
"Forever" means even at times when the questions,
"Where is His might?" and "Where is the awe that He
inspires?" are being asked — for even at these times
His might is evident.
". . . The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth
months will be occasions of rejoicing and joy for the House
of Yehuda . . ."
This is puzzling. [All that apparently happened was that
things reverted to their earlier state.] What reason can
there be for celebrating. if nothing has been gained? What
did Klal Yisroel gain with the building of the Second
Beis Hamikdosh that gave them reason to celebrate?
The answer is that with every revival that Klal
Yisroel experiences, the gains of the period of downfall
crystallize. Everything that was gained during that time now
becomes apparent. The fact that, "You are mighty
forever, Hashem," is now revealed. Seventy years of
fasting now become a reason to celebrate.
The wonder expressed by Yirmiyohu and Doniel —
"Gentiles are crowing inside His chamber," "Gentiles are
enslaving His sons . . ." — was over things that belong
in the category of "When one rises the other falls," not over
the five things that were missing in the second
Mikdosh. Those things had been hidden away and the
question, "Where is His might?" did not arise with
regard to them.
Only through the gentiles' "crowing inside His chamber" and
"enslaving His sons," that are part of the principle that
"One nation will be mightier than the other" and "When one
rises the other falls" did we merit comprehending that "You
are mighty forever, Hashem." Therefore we had "occasions of
rejoicing and joy" when we rose again.
This is the profundity of the Anshei Knesses Hagedoloh's
exclamation, "It is the other way around! This itself is
evidence of His might!" with regard to everything relating to
"One nation['s being] . . . mightier than the other." These
[new revelations of Hashem's might within our
downfall] are the source of Moshiach's being called,
`Son of the Fallen.'
Our earlier difficulty regarding the absence of the five
things mentioned by the gemora in Yoma from the
second Mikdosh and how any question of canceling the
fasts could have arisen if the Aron, the Ruach
Hakodesh and Hashem's Presence had not returned, poses no
problem whatsoever. The absence of these five things was
unconnected with "One nation['s being] . . .mightier than the
other" [and, as explained, there were now new reasons for
rejoicing that were.]
Speech and Silence
The talmidim of the Vilna Gaon are the source of the
following idea, which we shall grasp to whatever degree we
can. Referring to Yirmiyohu's no longer saying "mighty" and
Doniel's no longer saying, "awe-inspiring" the gemora
in Yoma (69) asks, "How could the earlier authorities
do this, suspending something that was enacted by Moshe?"
The gemora answers, "Since they knew that Hakodosh
Boruch Hu is inherently truthful, they did not lie to Him
. . ." Yet the same gemora says earlier, "Why are they
referred to as Men of the Great Assembly? — Because
they restored Heaven's crown to its former glory" [implying
that their course was preferable].
This can be explained with the gemora's statement, "A
wise man is preferable to [i.e. sees more than] a prophet"
(Bava Basra 12). The Anshei Knesses Hagedoloh were the
sages of the Sanhedrin. Thus, they restored the crown to its
former glory after the prophets had stopped saying, "the
mighty" and "the awe-inspiring."
A prophet sees and speaks. We speak in terms of prophetic
visions — "for he who today is called a prophet used to
be known as a seer" (Shmuel I, 9:9). The Torah only
refers to a prophet as a novi, which is derived from
the word "niv sefosayim (speech of the lips)." See
Pachad Yitzchok, Shavuos, maamar 2.
Comprehending, "Who is comparable to You among silent ones?"
is beyond the reach of prophecy. It takes more than can be
attained with "speech of the lips" to fathom the meaning of
silence. The Anshei Knesses Hagedoloh however, grasped this
idea and restored Heaven's crown to its former glory, which
was something that the prophets could not do. "A wise man is
preferable to a prophet," because he can even understand the
meaning of his teacher's silence.
[This brings us back to our first question.] This is why the
Babylonian Jews put the question of whether or not they
should continue fasting to the prophet Zecharya and not to
the Sanhedrin. At the time of revival and rebuilding, the
prophets attain all the levels that the sages attained during
the period of desolation. Now, they too understand that, "It
is the other way around!" that "This itself is evidence of
His might!" and that "You are might forever, Hashem"!
This was the novelty in putting the question to a prophet.
Until the prophets had said "the mighty" and "the awe-
inspiring" [again], they themselves had asked the question,
"Where is His might?"
The reply that Hashem conveyed through the novi was
that the former fasts, "will be occasions of rejoicing and
joy for the House of Yehuda . . ." !