The Gates of Tears Have Never Been Locked

Jews davening at the Kosel, 19th centruy. (Photo credit: The Western Wall, Ministry of Defense of Israel, 1981)
Jews davening at the Kosel, 19th centruy. (Photo credit: The Western Wall, Ministry of Defense of Israel, 1981)

The level of achievement in serving Hashem gained through weeping

Tears shed on Tishah B’Av will influence a person all year long.

Chazal say (Bava Metzia 59a), “Every gate has been locked shut except for the gates of tears.” Tishah B’Av is a time designated for us to weep and shed tears, as the Kinos declare, “On this night My children will weep.” When a person becomes fully aware of the tragedy of the Churban and cries on Tishah B’Av, he has the ability to raise his spiritual level throughout the coming year.

Harav Chaim Shmulewitz offered a mashal of someone who caught a cold in the middle of the winter. His illness grew serious and he never recovered. People are wont to say that this person died because of the winter’s winds and rains, but the truth is that his death was decreed on the previous Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur. Apparently, that person’s prayers during the Yamim Nora’im lacked enough warmth to protect him from illness during the cold winter months.

Following the same logic, we can say that if someone goes through Tishah B’Av without crying or shedding tears, this will bear consequences throughout the year. If we open the gates with our tears at that time, we will have a much better chance for our prayers to be accepted on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. If we don’t bother to take advantage of this tool, we might find that all the gates are shut at that crucial time.

Looking back at the events of this year, we see that Klal Yisrael has suffered tragedies as terrible as the Churban of the Beis Hamikdash. Several of the generation’s outstanding Gedolim, including the Steipler Rav, Harav Moshe Feinstein and Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zichronam livrachah, were taken from us, leaving us bereft. We all recited many prayers for their recovery, but the Gates of Tears were shut.

Now, on Tishah B’Av, we must weep and mourn for the loss of the Beis Hamikdash and the loss of these Torah leaders. Perhaps if we had wept at this time last year, the Gates of Tears would have been open. We would not have to weep today over their passing.

Accusing Noach

Chazal (Zohar Bereishis 67b) blamed Noach for the world’s destruction through the Mabul, explaining that this is why the navi declared (Yeshayahu 54:9), “This is for me like the waters of Noach,” calling the Flood the “waters of Noach.” Although his generation brought about the Flood through their multiple sins, including theft and immorality, Noach is the one who history holds responsible for their deaths. This is because, Chazal explain, Noach should have prayed to Hashem to spare the people. Since he did not, he is blamed for the entire tragedy.

How did Chazal come to this conclusion? When Noach exited his ark after the year of the Flood and saw the total destruction and desolation all about him, he burst into tears. After that he built an altar and offered korbanos to Hashem, pleading for Him to help the world recover. In response, Hashem swore that He would never again destroy the entire world through a flood. Chazal complain to Noach, “You see, you have the power to prevent a flood through your prayers and korbanos. You could even get Hashem to swear not to ever flood the world. So why didn’t you do this before the Flood occurred? Your prayers and tears could have prevented this from happening altogether.”

We can compare this to a child who failed a test in school. His father decided to review the material with him in the hope of making up his loss. When they began their studies, the father found that his son was thoroughly familiar with the subject. He chastised him, “You see? You could have received 100 on the test. Why didn’t you bother trying to answer correctly?”

Rashi cites Chazal accusing Noach of having incomplete trust in Hashem: He did not go into the ark until the rains forced him to seek refuge. Now, how is it possible to say such a thing about Noach? After all, he spent 120 years constructing the wonderful ark, despite the fact that others taunted him and threatened to kill him for his efforts. Is it really possible to suggest that he did not believe that Hashem was really going to bring the Flood, that even when the rains began he still doubted it until the rains literally swept him into the ark?

We must say that Noach had no doubts that Hashem had decreed destruction on the world. He knew as well, however, that Hashem is eternally patient and merciful. He fully expected Hashem to overturn the decree at the last moment, making it unnecessary to flee to the ark. He was so confident that this would take place, that he took no action to save himself from the Flood; he was sure that there would be no Flood.

In contrast to Noach, when Haman, ym”s, announced his intention of annihilating the entire nation of Yisrael, Mordechai and Esther fully believed that this holocaust could take place. Mordechai understood that Hashem was angry with His people, and therefore he cried out in anguished prayer, joined by the multitudes sitting in sackcloth and ashes. Together with Esther, he called for a city-wide fast and he gathered the pure and innocent schoolchildren to pray on behalf of all Jewry.

Mordechai fully believed that Haman might succeed in his evil designs, and therefore his prayers were effective in nullifying the decree. If Mordechai had maintained Noach’s attitude of full confidence in Hashem’s mercy, especially since Hashem had sworn to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov that He would adopt their descendants as His eternal nation, he would not have bothered to make such great efforts in prayer and fasting. If he had that attitude, who knows how many Jews would have survived Haman’s massacre? The situation might have turned out much like that of Noach after the Flood.

Noach cried out to Hashem only after he saw what the Flood had done. Only then was he inspired to offer korbanos and pray for the world’s welfare. Even then, after the Flood, his prayers were effective and Hashem swore that He would never repeat such a drastic step. Had Noach been inspired to such sincere prayers beforehand, he would have saved the entire world. Therefore, Chazal accuse him of being responsible for the Mabul.

Each year on Tishah B’Av, we are called upon to cry and mourn over the loss of the Beis Hamikdash. We must become aware that the punishments we are warned of in the Torah and by Chazal can really happen. Holocausts happen. We must not fool ourselves with false faith like Noach did. We must feel the enormity of the loss of the Gedolei Hador. At least, we might be able to pray for the future.

Art piece showing the Kosel, 19th century. (Photo credit: The Western Wall, Ministry of Defense of Israel, 1981)
Art piece showing the Kosel, 19th century. (Photo credit: The Western Wall, Ministry of Defense of Israel, 1981)

The ten Harugei Malchus

One of the Kinos we recite on Tishah B’Av is the lamentation over the execution of the 10 famous Tanna’im that took place during the generation after the Churban. How great were these people? Chazal teach that Hashem described the sanctity of Rabi Yishma’el Kohen Gadol as approaching that of the malachim. Regarding Rabi Akiva, Moshe Rabbeinu complained to Hashem, “If such a great person exists, why are You giving the Torah through me?”

After learning of the decree to have them all executed, Rabi Yishma’el asked the malachim whether or not it could be revoked. They replied, “Since the times of Yaakov Avinu there has never been a group of 10 men as great as you. As such, you have been chosen to atone for the sin of selling Yosef into slavery.”

We cannot even imagine the greatness of these Tanna’im. The most we might conceive of is 10 tzaddikim of the caliber of the Chofetz Chaim or the Steipler Rav.

Chazal teach (Otzar Hamidrashim p. 439) that when Rabi Yishma’el was killed, the entire universe shook. The malachim cried out, “This is the reward for a life of incessant Torah study?” In reply, a Voice from Heaven declared, “I have decreed that this take place. If I hear one more complaint, I will destroy the world altogether.”

The argument presented by the malachim was correct. If the 10 Tanna’im had not been executed, however, the world would not be able to continue its existence. The world exists because there is justice. Our weeping and mourning for the execution of the 10 Harugei Malchus is what keeps the world going. The cruel abuse of Rabi Akiva, the inhuman torture to which Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel was subjected and the beheading of Rabi Yishma’el is what saves the world from total destruction.

Chazal teach (Taanis 25b) that for every drop of water that comes from the sky, three drops rise from the underground depths. If Hashem is to shower His blessing down to the world, it must be countered by the cries and weeping of Yisrael rising to Him. These tears are the basic life-force of the world. Throughout the generations, Jews have sat and cried through the Kinos on Tishah B’Av, especially over the deaths of the Harugei Malchus. This is the source of our survival. Tishah B’Av is the source of life for the entire year, for the entire world.

We must feel the pain of Tishah B’Av. In our times, people can still see the effect of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on our behavior. We still experience some of the joy of simchas beis hasho’eivah on Sukkos and on Simchas Torah. The feeling of freedom and liberty is still apparent at the Pesach Seder. But I think that we have lost the feeling of Tishah B’Av. Our eyes remain dry, and this is the most terrible aspect of the Churban. We don’t even understand why we should be mourning. This lack of empathy for the Churban is likely to bring new suffering in its wake, challilah. The world needs our weeping in order to survive.

Why it is difficult to mourn the Churban

Why is it that in earlier generations people knew how to mourn and cry on Tishah B’Av, whereas now it seems to be a lost art? I believe that it is due to a change in our relationship with Hashem. We all know that there is a fundamental difference between our belief in Hashem and non-Jews’ belief in G-d. A non-Jew who believes sees his obligation to serve Him as a way of repaying Him for His kindness in giving him life. The person feels very distant from G-d. After all, G-d is up in Heaven, whereas he is down on earth. G-d is infinitely great whereas man is so small, so mortal and weak. Man dare not disobey G-d’s commands.

A Jew’s faith in Hashem is based on the knowledge that He is intimately involved in every facet of our lives. Hashem is not only in the distant upper realm of Heaven; His Shechinah is right here with us at all times.

Hashem’s relationship with the nation of Yisrael is comparable to that of a man and his wife. Chazal teach (Yoma 54a), “When Bnei Yisrael would come to Yerushalayim for Yom Tov, the kohanim would push aside the paroches, displaying the two keruvim locked in a loving embrace. They would say to the visitors, ‘See how much Hashem loves you!’”

There are other loving relationships in society — a parent-child relationship or a fraternal symbiotic relationship. Hashem, however, chose to compare His relationship with us to that of a man and wife. This is because a man and wife share their entire lives together. They share every joy, every pain, every experience.

A Jew is connected with Hashem, not only while he davens or engages in a mitzvah, but during every moment of his life. From the moment he opens his eyes in the morning and recites Modeh Ani, he declares that he is aware that he is in Hashem’s presence. When he retires at night, he does not go to sleep until he reaffirms his commitment to Hashem by reciting the Shema. Not so long ago, Jews felt this consciously — they felt intimately connected to Hashem every moment of their lives.

When the Churban took place, we lost some of this intimacy. Chazal teach (Sanhedrin 22b) that when a man passes away, his loss is felt most keenly by his wife. For her, it is not just the loss of a family member. Her entire status as a person has been changed; she is now a widow with all the ramifications of the term. The Navi Yirmeyahu declared that after the Churban, Yisrael became a widow. We must internalize the feelings of being widowed as long as we remain in the state of churban. We must cry and weep over the loss of the intimate relationship with Hashem that we enjoyed as long as the Beis Hamikdash stood.

The Navi complained (Yirmeyahu 2:13) that Bnei Yisrael committed two wrongs: Not only did they forsake the worship of Hashem, they also sought other gods who are powerless to do anything at all. In our times as well, not only are we guilty of shirking our duties in fulfilling the mitzvos, we also have become mired in many other worthless activities. We seek forms of entertainment such as travel, sightseeing and restaurants, though they are actually artificial. They do not bring us the satisfaction and comfort that we feel we need. Nowadays, people think that it is enough to relate to Hashem during davening. We make sure to keep kosher and Shabbos, but do we really care about the things that are important to Hashem? Is mourning the Churban a part of our lives altogether?

An Ashkenazi and a Sephardi Jew at the Kosel. (Photo credit: The Western Wall, Ministry of Defene of Israel 1981)
An Ashkenazi and a Sephardi Jew at the Kosel. (Photo credit: The Western Wall, Ministry of Defene of Israel 1981)

Empathizing with Jewish suffering

On Tishah B’Av we should all think about the status of Klal Yisrael in our times. So many of our brethren are living a totally assimilated life. Even in Eretz Yisrael we see an increase of social interaction between Jews and Arabs. Spiritually, we are spiraling down into an abyss. We are living in darkness. Tishah B’Av is the time to cry over this situation. By crying on this day, we can change ourselves and learn to care about what is really important. We can begin to care about the things Hashem cares for; we can begin to feel the pain felt by the Shechinah and by the collective soul of our nation.

Some time ago I was in New York and I met a precious Jew who volunteered to travel to Russia to help assimilated Jews rediscover Judaism and learn about Torah and mitzvos. [Translator’s note: This was before the fall of communism and lifting of the Iron Curtain.] He related to me how there are Jews in Russia who risk their lives to study Torah and who have mastered a number of masechtos. The authorities had warned one of these individuals that if he did not cease his Torah studies, he would be imprisoned. He refused to stop, and one day he was arrested and placed in prison together with hardened criminals who immediately began to torture him with impunity. After two days of such treatment he became blind. This was his self-sacrifice for Torah and for Hashem.

My acquaintance told me that he decided one day to visit Uman. He asked a Breslover Chassid whom he knew in Russia where he would be able to stay. The Chassid [told him and] gave him a list of names and asked him to daven on their behalf at Rebbe Nachman’s kever. Perusing the list, my friend found that it included Harav Moshe Feinstein, the Klausenberger Rebbe and other prominent Jews from around the world, besides this Chassid’s family members. It did not include, however, the names of any Russian Jews.

This Chassid, who lived in the darkness of Russia and was witness to the mesirus nefesh of his fellow Jews to observe a Torah life under the communist boot, saw fit to daven on behalf of Rav Moshe, on behalf of the Klausenberger, on behalf of his cousins and nephews. He never thought of davening on behalf of his fellow Russian Jews, however.

We sometimes visit the Kosel and we see Jews donning the disposable cardboard yarmulkes and standing by the Wall to daven for their sick cousin or to place their written prayer in a crack. That is also a valuable thing to do, but that is not the point. Why don’t we scream out to Hashem to do something to bring back this Jew who has drifted so far away from Torah?

You shall have no other gods

Klal Yisrael became permanently attached to Hashem when He gave us the Torah at Har Sinai. This connection is two-faceted, represented by the first two of the Ten Commandments. Anochi is the connection through mitzvos asei while Lo yihyeh is the connection through mitzvos lo saasei. This corresponds to the passuk (Shir Hashirim 1:2), “Yi’shakeini m’neshikos pihu.” There are two kisses mentioned here: one of deeds that we are supposed to perform and one of deeds that we must not do.

It can happen that people continue to keep one of these aspects while disregarding the other. They might perform Hashem’s mitzvos but they also allow themselves to enjoy other lifestyles and interests. Such people are not at all connected with Hashem. It is not enough to fulfill mitzvos. It is imperative that we stay away from any and everything that the Torah forbids. Every activity that is not rooted in Torah chips away at our connection with Hashem.

If we would make Torah our sole objective in life and our only guide in life, we should certainly feel the suffering that the Shechinah feels because of the Churban. When we allow other values to compromise our commitment to a Torah life, however, we are likely to become indifferent to the Churban. When that happens, we are unlikely to cry on Tishah B’Av for the tragedy of the Churban. In fact, even more recent national tragedies cease to bring us to tears. The sky may be falling down all around us, but we are somehow able to remain unmoved and we don’t cry.

May Hashem help us to take advantage of this Tishah B’Av, a day designated for weeping. This is the key to our salvation. Two tears originating from a broken heart might break through the gates and bring us Heaven’s blessing.

This is the meaning of Chazal’s statement that the Moshiach was born on Tishah B’Av. Our salvation can sprout from the tears we shed in mourning on this day. As the navi said (Yirmeyahu 31:8), “They will come while weeping, through supplication I will lead them along.” Weeping is the catalyst for bringing the Moshiach, may it happen in our days.


 

Translated by Rabbi Moshe Mizrahi