Each year, as the “moed” of Tishah B’Av “meets us” again, we look for ways to identify with, and relate to, the Churban. There are various programs which work toward that end in Jewish communities across the globe, the likes of which vary — from shiurim to explain the Kinos to videos discussing the pitfalls of machlokes and the horrors of the Holocaust.
But all these are tools — the means we attempt to use to help us properly mourn the loss of the Beis Hamikdash so many years ago.
Harav Yeruchem Olshin, shlita, (in a vaad published in Why We Weep — a sefer which is an indispensable resource for the Three Weeks) relates a thought from Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, and explains it by quoting a Midrash. The Midrash says that every night Rabban Gamliel would hear a woman, who lived next door to him, weeping over the death of her young child. Her crying reminded him of the Churban, the Midrash continues, and so he cried with her until his eyelashes fell out.
Rav Yeruchem asks two questions. First, what connection did the woman’s cries over her child have with the Churban that Rabban Gamliel needed that as an impetus to mourn further? Second, if Rabban Gamliel cried over the Churban, and the woman’s cries were over her son, why does the Midrash say he cried with her? They were crying for different reasons!
The answer is something that Rav Aharon said (Mishnas Rav Aharon, vol. 3, Shaar 4:1:3) about the many tzaros we have suffered as a nation. “Kol ha’over al Am Yisrael kashur im hachurban — all that befalls Klal Yisrael is connected to the Churban; v’kol hamisrachesh hu toladah mimenu — all [our suffering] is an offshoot of it.” Rabban Gamliel, explains Rav Yeruchem, cried because he understood that the child’s untimely death was inexorably linked to the Churban, and that is also why his cries — cries which were over the Churban — and the cries of the mother over her deceased child were cried together.
Harav Shach, zt”l, objected to the idea of a special day of remembrance for the Holocaust for this very reason; the Holocaust itself is included in our mourning of the Churban. The proper day to remember it is on Tishah B’Av.
Similarly, it is said that Harav Hutner, zt”l, took issue with the use of the term “shoah” and instead used a different word, “churban.” We know what that means, and are all too familiar with it, and yes, it is the cause for the devastation of European Jewry in the first half of the 20th century.
The Vilna Gaon points out something interesting about a passuk in Shir Hashirim. The passuk says (5:8) that Klal Yisrael tells the malachim that when they “find” Hashem they should tell Him “shecholas ahavah ani — that I am lovesick for Him.”
“Mikol hatzaros shemetza’uni, al tagidu lo yoser rak shecholas ahavah ani — of all the tzaros that found me, don’t tell Him more than just that I am lovesick for Him.” That is all we have to tell Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Not about the myriad of persecutions and slaughters of our people. All we have to say is that we are pining for Him.
“Shezeh kashah li yoser mikulam, mah shehu nifrad mimeni — because this, that He is separated from me, is harder for me than all of them.” All we have had to deal with pales in comparison to the simple fact that we have been disconnected from Hashem.
It is important to remember this. Yes, it is a time to mourn the losses incurred in the European churban (as well as those killed during Tach V’Tat, as is commemorated in the Kinos), losses which are directly related to the Churban Beis Hamikdash, on Tishah B’Av. And despite it being true that it is easier to mourn more recent and relatable tzaros, we need to remember that all the pain of that which we know and feel doesn’t even come close to the pain of our being in galus.
The Mishnah Berurah in the first se’if kattan of Hilchos Tishah B’Av (549:1) brings from the Chayei Adam (klal 133:1) that many people forget what the entire point of these days is. It is to engage in introspection and do teshuvah for that in which we are lacking. “…ein hataanis elah hachanah l’teshuvah — the fasting is only a preparation for teshuvah.” People who do not realize this, he says, “tafsu es hatafel v’hinichu es ha’ikar — latched on to the ancillary and let go of the main purpose.”
All our fasting, our sitting on the floor, the Kinos, the aveilus — and, yes, the remembrances of the horrors of the Holocaust — are there for one reason: so we can better appreciate how much we miss being close to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and to use that appreciation and understanding to do what we must to better ourselves in order to bring about the geulah he’asidah bimheirah b’yameinu.