Sunday, July 29, 2007

Relating to the Churban

Anyone who mourns for Yerushalayim merits and sees her happiness
This ma'amar of Chazal seems to be greatly comforting, for it holds out a promise; a quid pro quo.

The rosh hayeshiva of Torah Vodaath, Rav Gedaliah Schorr, zichrono livrachah, once pointed out the following. Chazal were always extraordinarily careful in their choice of words, for they understood that the oral and written presentation of Torah must be absolutely precise. We use their formulation of tefilah and berachot rather than our own, what is termed, matbea shetavu chachamim — the expressions that they coined — because they, Chazal, possessed an unparalleled understanding of lashon hakodesh and its implications. Based on this fundamental principle, the ma'amar that we quoted seems to be confusing!

Anyone who mourns for Yerushalayim merits and sees her happiness; there have been hundreds of generations of Jews, beginning with the churban of the First Beit Hamikdash down to our own generation, who have truly mourned the destruction of Yerushalayim, yet none of them merited to see the city in her happiness! Were Chazal, chas veshalom, making an empty promise? Inconceivable? Did they mean that those who mourned would later see the mikdash shlishisheyibaneh b’mehareh b’yamenu? Well, that’s not what they said! They pledged that one who mourns for Yerushalayim merits and sees her happiness — zocheh in present tense — and that hasn’t happened. Can we, even for a moment, entertain the posssibility that the Satmar Rebbe, Reb Moshe Feinstein, Rav Aharon, Rav Yoshuv Ber Soloveichik, the Chafetz Chaim and thousands of other tzaddikei olam were somewhat deficient in their mourning and therefore did not have the zechuyot to see the city in her happiness? Furthermore, the last part of this ma'amar is also somewhat confusing: merits and sees her in her happiness. To what were Chazal referring when they spoke about Jerusalem's "happiness"?

Obviously, Rav Schorr, concluded, there is another dimension in which this statement of Chazal needs to be understood and it is this dimension that I would like to explore. As a preface to what I am about to write, please accept that the thoughts I offer and the criticisms I might level are not meant for one specific audience. Rather, they are directed at my own shortcomings and I express them publicly only to give you the opportunity to decide whether or not some may be relevant to your own lives. Similarly, my conclusions apply to my own life and if they are in any way helpful to you, you are more than welcome to share them.

In order to comprehend what Chazal wanted us to learn from their statement, we would do well to closely examine each of its components. Anyone who mourns for Yerushalayim. What does it mean to mourn for Yerushalayim? Is mourning for Yerushalayim equivalent to mourning the death of a loved one? When a parent, a sibling, a spouse or, G-d forbid, a child dies, there is a void that is created. Anyone who has ever sat shivah can tell you that the void can never be filled, it is always there. At best we learn to compensate, to allow the extraordinary Divine gift of shikchah — to forget — to come into play so that we can proceed with our lives. We mourn for twelve months and then we stop ... we are ordained to stop, for this kind of mourning is a process that has defined borders; we are not to obsess, not to fixate. Doing so would cripple us, would prevent us from accomplishing that which we have been charged with. For sure, there are triggers and associations that often lead us to remember our loss: dates, places, a photograph, an empty seat at the table. But the pain of our loss is numbed by time, as it should be, for if we could not forget, we would be unable to go on and this is surely not what is expected of us. I find it difficult to accept that this is the type of mourning for Yerushalayim that Chazal expected.

Sometimes our mourning is not associated with pain ... when a parent has lived a full life and has passed away in peace, leaving a legacy of accomplishment. There are tinges of sorrow, but no sharp daggers piercing us ... we have a sense of sadness, but quickly recall that zuhi darko shel olam — this is the way of the world. Moreover, we are consoled by our firm belief that the niftar or nifteres has gone to a better place, to the olam ha-emet — the world of truth — where there are no barriers to drawing close to the Divine. Recalling their lives, we are filled with a sense of pride. Here too there is mourning, but it consists primarily of memories and wishes that we could somehow turn the clock of history back and relive what once was. This type of mourning is nostalgic in nature and it too fades with time, recalled occasionally but occupying only a small part of our psyches. This would seem to be quite far from what Chazal expect of us concerning Yerushalayim.

But there is a third type of mourning and it is here that we might be able to find a link to what Chazal expected of us. The tzaddik mourns the numerous windows that were opened to him but which he failed to take advantage of, the chances he had to accomplish something meaningful that were within the realm of his capabilities but which he allowed to pass because he was too busy or too preoccupied with the mundane. Our lives are filled with these missed opportunities and those who recognize their importance, who appreciate what might have been had they only been more sensitive, more caring, more concerned, will mourn the loss and, as an intrinsic part of that mourning, resolve that they shall never allow this indifference to repeat itself. More critically, they take it upon themselves to consciously resist the natural temptation to forget, for failure to be cognizant inevitably leads to the tragedy repeating itself.

This, I suggest, is the mourning for Yerushalayim intended by Chazal. This type of aveilut is directly linked to the pledge of the anshei ha-golah im eshkachech Yerushalayim tishkach yemini. We look back at the churban during the period of bein hamitzarim and even more closely in the period beginning from Rosh Chodesh Av, and we are dutybound to think about what we have lost. Yerushalayim, Dovid tells us, is ir shechubrah la yachdav — the physical link between shamayim ve-aretz. It is here that the Shechinah dwells in the lower world, here that the Divine can be directly accessed. Yerushalayim is the site where the Ribbono shel olam declares that mankind may approach Him and bond with Him. For one period — during the millenium that the Batei Mikdash stood — the korbanot and the avodah were the means through which this could be accomplished. But even now, when this is no longer possible, the Midrash tell us that the Shechinah has never left the Kotel ha-Maaravi. Writing in the Dark Ages when Europe Jewry was devestated by the horrors of the pogroms and massacres unleashed by the Crusaders, R. Yehudah ha-Chassid reassures us that even if we cannot access the remnant of the Beit ha-Mikdash, we can construct a mishkan within our own hearts and there seek this kirvat Elokim, closeness to Hashem.

There is another level to this process. When we miss an opportunity, when we tragically fail to take advantage of a situation, remorse for our failure is insufficient. Rather, we must determine why we missed these opportunities and design the means to insure that we do not do so if and when they are again presented. Nachpesah d'racheinu venachkorach — let us search our ways and examine them, then we can return to Hashem. Failure to make this cheshbon hanefesh — spiritual accounting or review — can only mean that we are not truly appreciative of the losses we have sustained, that we are simply pretending that we have a real void in our lives. We cannot claim to have suffered a loss if we do nothing at all to prevent its recurrence.

Yaakov, when fleeing from Esav, made his encampment on the site of the Beit ha-Mikdash. There he saw a vision of a sulam mutzav artzah verosho magia hashamaymah — a ladder implanted on the ground whose top reached the heavens. The place where he sought to rest was the site of the link between eretz and shamayim, the pipeline through which Divine bounty and providence reach earth. It is not only a city, not only a symbol of sovereignty, not only the focus of sanctity — it is the very path that connects the physical and spiritual worlds. Yerushalayim is happy when she fills that role.When man mourns her destruction, when he focuses on what he had done to sever the bond, and when he resolves to rectify his failures, he allows Yerushalayim to once again fulfill her role and that is her happiness. Truly zocheh v'roeh b'simchatah — he merits to see her happiness for his self-improvment because of her destruction is the ultimate fulfillment of her mission.

Chazal teach us that the Mikdash Rishon was destroyed because of three aveirot — the three cardinal sins of gilui arayot — incestuous relationships — shefichut damim — murder — and avodah zarah — idol worship. Listen carefully to what Chazal say. Surely it was no more than a small handful of people who were guilty of these sins. But the Maharal informs us that if the perception of the era of the First Beit ha-Mikdash is of a society where these crimes against G-d and humanity can be openly seen, there is no possibility of having a site where the Shechinah can dwell. Integral to this teaching is the message that as long as these deficiencies exist within klal yisrael, it is impossible for the Mikdash to stand. The same is true of the Second Beit ha-Mikdash, burned to the ground because of sinat chinam — baseless hatred. If we permit this poison to be found in our community, we have no right to expect that we will again be given the opportunity for kirvat Elokim.

A little more less than a week after Tishah b’Av we must ask ourselves, do these stains still discolor the fabric of the Jewish people? I’d like to propose that we examine ourselves — not each other. Let us look at our own homes, our own families, our own lifestyles, at the things that we do and that we can correct. Rav Kook zatzal would say that if the Beit Mikdash was destroyed because of sinat chinam, it will be rebuilt through ahavat chinam. Bemichilat k'vodo, I would like to suggest that the antidote for sinat chinam is not necessarily love without cause. Rather, it is the midah of hevei dan et kol ha-adam l’kaf zechut — judging people favorably or giving them the benefit of the doubt. We ascribe motives to people without knowing whether they are accurate or not, and it is these motivations that we find despicable. We have shortcomings and we project our own limitations upon others - this too is a form of sinat chinam that if left alone will continue to erode the walls of Yerushalayim and cause her to remain forlorn.

We live in a blessed generation, enjoying unparalleled bounty, tranquility and security. But we are also shofchei damim on an unprecedented scale. Not shofchei damim — murderers, chas veshalom, but shofchei damim — people who waste extraordinary amounts of damim — money — in an insane competition to see how much we can spend on our semachot. We make weddings at elegant hotels and think there is nothing wrong with spending a hundred dollars a plate to entertain guests who don’t even bother to come. This at the same time when there are mechanchim in this town [and undoubtedly across the face of the nation] who have not yet been paid for April! We budget tens of thousands of dollars for flowers when there are families who cannot pay tuition! Instead of simple affairs, we are m’galeh arayot — exhibitionists — who publicly flaunt our wealth without modesty or shame. We have abandoned the middot of being bayshanim and tznuim and have embraced the American avodah zara that sees flaunting financial achievement as the major indicator of success. Can we pretend that we really mourn for Jerusalem at a Pesach extravaganza in Cancun? Do we expect to see her happiness on the beaches of Miami?

I have a modest suggestion. The takanot introduced by certain sectors have proven in most cases to be a sham — non-enforcable except in certain chassidic communities. Instead, I suggest that we follow the example of major league sports and introduce a system of fines for violating the semachot caps to be set in each community. You can make a fancy simchah — on the condition that you deposit an amount equivalent to what you overspent in a gemach for rebbis who have not yet been paid. The menahel of a local yeshiva told me that on the morning after one of the local g'virim made a chatunah, he arrived in the office, checkbook in hand, and after tallying up the expenses, wrote an equivalent check to the yeshiva!

Believe me, I am no tzaddik but I do mourn for Jerusalem: for a lifestyle where the word value has no monetary connotation, where the focus is on bonding with Hashem, where my children and grandchildren will dance to the music of the Levi’im, their faces smiling with the satisfaction and fulfillment that can come only from being in the courtyard of the king. May Hashem grant that we be there together, cleansed of the sins that brought the city to destruction, basking in the aura of a tzibbur united at last.


Garnel Ironheart said...

Welcome to the Blogsphere. I see you've found cross-currents. Check out too!

SephardiLady said...

Beautiful post.
And speaking of weddings, what is more heartbreaking than the exorbinant spending is the amout of debt used to finance this display. Some can afford, but for many, it is just a facade.

AaronKatz said...

Well said!!!

Tsvi said...

If you truly mourn Yerushalayim and the Beith HaMikdash, what are you doing in sunny California?

At the end of the seder, we say l'shana haba'ah biYerushalayim. That much is the text of the haggadda. What is keeping you, a few hundred dollars for a ticket?

So what do we do? We add habenuya. I add it so that I don't seem like an idiot - after all, I am here in Yerushalayim. The people in chutz la'aretz add it to absolve themselves from responsibility - as if there is no reason to go until it is already built.

Every day you daven for the restoration of the avoda. What is stopping the restoration of the avoda? A few cops and an almost total lack of interest on the part of the religious public.

Sure there are sh'eloth to be paskened, but supposedly the collelim of Brisk have been learning the finer points of kodshim for years already.

We have the ingredients for bigdei c'huna, we have cohanim m'yuchasim (if that is needed) we know where the mizbe'ach is based on p'sakim of the Radvaz and the Chasam Sopher).

We have the example of Gedolei Yisroel in the past such as Rebbi Yehoshua ben Hananniah and Hillel Hakoton who tried to build the Beith HaMikdash.

The actual costs to build a minimum sized mizbe'ach and cevesh including making the special saw to quarry the stones without them coming into contact with barzel is less than the cost of many Los Angeles weddings.

Of course you remember the words of the Yerushalmi "col dor she'eino nivnah b'yomav, ma'alin alav c'ilu hu hichrivo" Every generation in which the Temple is not built, it is accounted as if it destroyed the Temple.

If all we can do is passively wait, why are we guilty as if we destroyed it? We aren't just guilty like passive bystanders, but as if we destroyed it?

And even if you say that we can't build the Temple, we still have an obligation to build a mizbe'ach to perform the avodah.

If you are not working for the rebuilding or at least supporting those who are, then you do not mourn the Temple. If you say the standard nusach of nachameinu on Tish'a B'Av, then you are totally equating the building of the Temple with the restoration of Jerusalem. That means that if you are not working to rebuild the Temple, then you are also not mourning Yerushalayim.