Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
Special Holiday Shiur
From Mourning to Comfort
by Rav Yehuda Shaviv
The days between the seventeenth of Tamuz and the ninth of Av, the period
known as "yemei bein ha-metzarim" (the days between the straits), are characterized
by mourning customs which become increasingly stringent as we approach
the bitter day on which we commemorate the destruction of the Temple. Since
the destruction of the First Temple these days have been days of mourning,
and to this day - close to two thousand years since the destruction of
the Second Temple - the Jewish nation continues to mourn and lament. Let
us examine this phenomenon from the point of view of the laws and customs
pertaining to mourning.
B. The Dead Are Destined to be Forgotten
The words of the prophet Yirmiyahu (22:10), "Do not cry for the dead
nor lament for him," provided Chazal with the basis for their limitations
on mourning as stipulated in Mo'ed Katan (27b):
"'Do not cry for the dead' - excessively, 'nor lament for him' - more
than is appropriate. How should this be done? Three days are [set aside]
for crying, seven for eulogies and for thirty days one refrains from ironing
one's clothes or cutting one's hair. From that point onwards God says (as
it were), 'Are you then more merciful than I?'"
And thus the halakha was set down (Rambam, Laws of Mourning, chapter 13:10-11):
"One does not cry for the dead for more than three days, and he is
not eulogized for more than seven days... A person should not be distressed
more than is appropriate over the dead, for death is [part of] the way
of the world, and a person who distresses himself more than is the way
of the world is foolish..."
The living fountain which is Torah cannot allow a Jew to spend his life
wallowing in sorrow and sadness over those who have died. Man has been
granted the facility of forgetfulness in order to allow him to live in
the present. And yet it is the same Torah which commands us to mourn throughout
our lives over something which took place many hundreds of years ago! The
vow declared by the exiles led away to Babylon, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its cunning; let my tongue cleave to my palate
if I do not remember you" (Tehillim 137) continues to reverberate in our
consciousness, rendering any complete happiness in Jewish life impossible
to achieve. Writing in Spain hundreds of years after the destruction of
the Second Temple, Rav Yehuda HaLevi wrote the following, in his poem "Tzion
"How shall my food and drink be sweet when I take it, for the dogs
have dragged Your young lions. Or how shall the light of day be a sweet
sight to my eyes while I see the carcasses of Your eagles in the mouths
C. And He Refused to be Comforted
Our bewilderment at the behavior of the nation is somewhat mitigated
by looking back at the behavior of our patriarch Yaakov. When Yaakov saw
Yosef's coat dripping with blood, and realized that his beloved son had
been torn apart by wild beasts, he sunk into a state of prolonged mourning
(Bereishit 37:35): "And Yaakov tore his garment and put sackcloth upon
his loins and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and daughters
rose to comfort him but he refused to be comforted. He said, 'I shall go
to my grave mourning for my son.'"
Thirty days passed, a year went by, many more years followed, and Yaakov
was still mourning. He did not experience the usual dulling of the pain;
he made no effort to stop reliving the memories of the past or to behave
as people usually do a long time after their loved ones have passed on.
And all this despite the fact that Yaakov had other sons and daughters
and even grandchildren!
D. One Is Not Comforted for the Living
Chazal explain this phenomenon as follows (Massekhet Sofrim, chapter
21): "'And he refused to be comforted' - for what reason? Because one is
never comforted for [the loss of] someone who is still alive, whereas the
dead are forgotten, as it is written (Tehillim 31), 'I have been forgotten
from the heart like the dead.'"
Accepting the comfort of others means coming to terms with the loss,
with the fact that the person is gone. A person's healthy natural instincts
cause his soul to seek comfort in various substitutes, in order to fill
the void left by the death of the beloved. (Compare "And Yitzhak brought
her to the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rivka and he loved her,
and Yitzhak was comforted for his mother" [Bereishit 24:67].)
The soul cannot be comforted for someone who is still alive, because
in the depths of the soul there is a sense that the connection still exists,
that the person is not really gone. On the surface, then, the pain of the
separation never dulls. Moreover, there can be no substitute for someone
who is still alive. The world that is each individual can never be filled
by someone else, and so long as a person is alive there can be no substitute
for him, nor can anyone fill his place.
Hence mourning over someone who is still alive but is considered dead
is not an expression of sorrow over an event which once took place, but
rather an expression of sorrow over the present, over the separation which
one continues to feel, over the substitute which can never be found.
E. The House of Our Life
The Beit HaMikdash is our very life. It was burned - but never went
away; it was destroyed, but continues to exist - whether in the heavens
or buried underground. It continues to exist for us in the present, but
is not with us - or, rather, we are not with it. For this reason the mourning
and pain will never cease until its rebuilding. And each year when the
season of the destruction comes around, we feel the pain anew as though
it had just happened in front of us.
"Every generation in whose times the Beit HaMikdash is not rebuilt
is considered as though that generation was the one in which it was destroyed."
(Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1)
F. God Cries
As mentioned above, the reason for a limitation being placed on mourning
for the dead is, "From then onwards, God says, 'Are you then more merciful
than I?'" When it comes to mourning for the Beit HaMikdash, however, no
matter how hard we look, we can find no measure of mourning that would
indicate an excess. God Himself mourns over the destruction.
"Therefore I say, 'Let Me be, I shall weep bitterly, do not try to
comfort Me for the pillaging of the daughter of My people'... And the Lord
God of Hosts called on that day for weeping and for mourning and for baldness
and for the wearing of sackcloth." (Yishayahu 22:4,12)
The following painful description is given by Chazal (Introduction to Eicha
"At that time the enemies entered the Temple and set fire to it. When
it was burned God said, 'I no longer have a dwelling place on earth...'
At that moment God cried and said, 'Woe to Me! What have I done? I allowed
My Presence to descend to the world because of Israel. Now that they have
sinned and I have returned to My original place, I have become a laughing
stock to the nations, a mockery to all humanity'...
"And when God saw the Temple He said, 'Surely this is My house, and
this is My resting place, that the enemies have entered and done as they
pleased.' At that moment God cried and said, 'Woe is Me for My house, My
children - where are you? My priests, where are you? Those who love Me,
where are you? What shall I do for you - I warned you, but you did not
"God said to Yirmiyahu, 'Today I am like a person who had a single son,
and he made his son a wedding canopy, and the son died under the canopy.
Have you no pain for Me, nor for My children?"
This was not a one-time mourning. From that time on until the present,
the Divine cry has echoed through the universe (Berakhot 3a): "Rabbi Yitzhak
bar Shmuel said in the name of Rav: the night is divided into three watches,
and during each watch God sits and roars like a lion, saying, 'Woe to the
children for whose sins I desMy house and burned My Hal, and exiled them
among the nations of the world.'"
G. Exile is the Reason for the Redemption
The crying and shouting, from on High as well as here on earth, serve
as a standing protest against the state of mourning - the feeling of loss,
the inability to come to terms with the situation and an unbending demand
for its correction. It is no coincidence that the verse with which we conclude
our recitation of Kinot on Tisha Be-av is "Return us, O God, to You - and
we shall return; renew our days as of old."
The Maharal (Netzach Yisrael, ch. 203) explains as follows:
"... Where there is mourning for Jerusalem, by that we show that there
is some loss and deficiency in the world. For this reason the order is
repeated in the Tanakh: 'Rejoice with her, all those who mourn over her'
- this refers to those who mourn over her because of the deficiency which
came to this world, for that they mourn... But if they do not mourn, as
though there were no deficiency, then since there is no deficiency then
there will also be no return."
From here we learn that anyone who desists from mourning over Jerusalem
delays the final redemption, and he is even worse than those who were the
direct cause of the destruction. The Maharal continues:
"Therefore a person is obligated to mourn over the destruction of
the Temple, and must cry and weep for our destruction and must pray that
the Temple be rebuilt. And if a person does not do this, it is as if he
is the reason for the destruction, as we learn in the Yerushalmi: 'The
early generations shifted the foundations and the later ones destroyed
them' - why is this so? Because the later generations failed to repent.
This means the following: The early generations, because of whose sins
the Temple was destroyed, represent just the "shifting of the foundations,"
but the later generations, who did not repent, represent uprooting from
the very source. Why? Because the later generations saw before them the
destroyed Temple and made no effort to repent and thereby restore the Temple.
This can only mean that they did not desire to have the Temple restored,
since they had tangible proof of the deficiency and they did not repent
to repair the situation."
It may be that this is the real meaning behind the Maharal's statement:
"The exile is the reason for the redemption." The feeling of exile, the
suffering of the soul because of its languishing in exile and the will
to change the situation, to be saved and redeemed - these themselves are
the reasons which bring about the redemption.
From our first exile we learned that only when Bnei Yisrael cried out
to God from their labor did God reveal Himself to Moshe and send him to
save the nation from the Egyptian bondage. This idea may underlie the legend
which describes Mashiach as being born on Tisha Be-av. It teaches us that
it is in the very depths of our feelings of pain over the exile and destruction
that the seeds of the future redemption are sowed.
(Translated by Kaeren Fish.)
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