The Source of Tragedy


Imagine, you come home one day, and you are greeted by a terrible smell coming from the kitchen. Your first priority is to track down the source and get rid of it. We would not think too highly of anyone who finds the source, but doesn't do anything to remove it.

Now, if we could only find the "source of tragedy" (which is worse than any smell) then we could work on eradicating that as well. There are no words to describe the person that knows the source and doesn't do anything to remove it. But what is the source!?

The answer can be seen in the Kinos of Tisha B'Aav. In the Artscroll Kinos p.270, Rabbi Feuer and Rabbi Gold wrote a beautiful and moving introduction for Kinah 25 "Mi Yiten Roshi Mayim- Would That My Head Were Water." (Tisha B'Av has a lot more meaning when you understand what you are saying).

They explain that this is the first kinnah that is apparently unrelated to the destruction of the two Temples. Indeed this elegy mourns the calamity that befell the Jewish communities of the Rhineland- Worms, Speyer and Mainz (Mayence)- in the year 1096, during the First Crusade, over one thousand years after the destruction of the Second Temple. It was included here to demonstrate that the source and cause of all Jewish tragedies in exile can and must be traced back to the destruction of our Temple. The following incident illustrates this concept vividly.

When the Jewish people became aware of the awesome devastation that befell our nation at the hands of the murderous Nazis in World War II, many sought to establish a new day of national mourning to commemorate Churban Europa (the Holocaust). The contemporary Torah leaders were consulted. Among the responses was that of the "Brisker Rav" Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, who said that the reply lies in this Kinah (25). Why didn't the great Rabbis and Sages of that generation- among them the greatest of the Rishonim, including Rashi- establish a new day of national mourning to commemorate that new tragedy? The author of this Kinah addresses the question and offers this insight:

Please take to your hearts to compose a bitter eulogy,/ because their massacre is deservant of mourning and rolling in dust/ as was the burning of the House of our G-D, its Hall and its Palace./ However, we cannot add a (new) day (of mourning) over ruin and conflagration, / nor may we mourn any earlier-only later. / Instead, today (on Tisha B'Ov), I will arouse my sorrowful wailing, / and I will eulogize and wail and weep with a bitter soul, / and my groans are heavy from morning until evening.
Thus, the essential purpose of this kinnah is to drive home this lesson: There are really no new tragedies befalling Israel. All of our woes stem from one tragic source-the Destruction of the Temple on Tishah B'Av . To establish a new day of mourning would detract from the significance of Tishah B'Av and obscure its lesson and message.

Similarly, the Artscroll Kinos in the Overview on p. xiv-xv brings a Midrash that shows that the loss of the Divine Presence is the source of all other tragedies and the underlying reason for Jewish suffering. Our personal suffering is a direct offshoot of the collective, national suffering of the Jewish people in exile.

The Midrash (Eicha Rabbasi 1:25, see also Sanhedrin 104b) tells of a widow in Rabban Gamliel's neighborhood who would weep bitterly over her plight. When Rabban Gamliel heard her cries in the night, he would arise and cry over the destruction of the Temple and the Jewish exile. HaRav Mordechai Gifter, ztl, explains that Rabban Gamliel knew that her personal woes were an outgrowth of Israel's general misfortune. When Israel is delivered collectively, all personal problems will be resolved as well.

So, now that we know the source of tragedy, how can we not pray with more concentration that Hashem should rebuild the Beis Hamikdash and bring Moshiach. Everyday in Shemoneh Esreh, Grace After Meals, when we answer in Kaddish "Yeheh Sheme Rabbah Mevorach .." and many other places, if we would pause for a moment and realize that the remedy of all our tragedies and problems, sustenance, bringing up children, health, peace in the World especially Eretz Yisrael, etc. is hinging on the actualization of these prayers, we would put more effort into it, and maybe even some precious and powerful tears will be shed (See the sicha "The Power of Tears," where I elaborate on the potency of crying).

Every time we daven Musaf (Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, and Holidays), we should say with fervor, "…to bring us up in joy to our land, and to plant us within our borders. There we will offer before you our mandatory sacrifices…"

During the three weeks (17 Tammuz- 9 Av), the time especially designated for the mourning of the Churban, we should be even more careful in praying with intensity.

Sometimes, however, even if we think about these things, we still find it hard to cry over a "Beis Hamikdash" that we never really knew and experienced.

Of course, the best thing is to read and learn of the beautiful way of life, the miracles and inspiration the Jews got from the Beis Hamikdash, which helped them to serve Hashem. In fact, Rav Shlomo Brevda has a beautiful book in Hebrew,-"Yiboneh Hamikdosh," and many tapes in English in which Rav Brevda designates a section in painting for us this picture.

But there is another method to help us cry over the Beis Hamikdosh.

In the sefer, "Shearim B'Tefillah," by Rabbi Shimshon Pincus,ztl. on p.45 he brings an interesting story about the great Tzaddik Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz.

Once when he was a young child, he did some childish thing for which he received a punishment from his father. This caused him to cry. While he was still crying, he picked up a siddur-prayer book and started to daven -pray Mincha-the Afternnon Service. His father asked him why he decided specifically now to daven Mincha? Rav Leibowitz answered that if he's crying anyway, he may as well use these tears for davening.

Rav Pincus concludes, "…this is a wondrous way to act, that a person should try that no screaming and crying should come out of his mouth in vein. In truth, it is a pity that such a precious thing as crying and screaming should go for naught. And if one channels it towards Heaven, there is nothing better than this."

He describes our natural tears and sighs that emanate from us during times of trouble as " very precious diamonds and pearls. How foolish it is to waste these precious gems for nothing, to allow them to be sopped up by the ground, instead of channeling them to the Heavens to tear open the Gates of Heaven, and to bring a great bounty of blessing to him and the whole world…Therefore, when a person is in pain and this leads to his natural tendency of crying, sighing and screaming, he should designate and sanctify these screams which happen naturally, to Hashem that he should save him from his troubles."

We see from all of this, that even when a person initially cries for an ulterior motive, if he eventually channels his tears towards Heaven, it has a tremendous effect. Consequently, if we find that we cannot cry for the Beis Hamikdosh, let us think about something sad and moving that we can relate to, which will bring us to tears. Then we can channel them to mourn for the Churban. Many people, on Tishah B'Av, read books about the Holocaust or would think about some personal moving episode in their lives to draw out their emotions. Thinking about a loved one who is very sick or passed away, or remembering a sad, tragic or inspirational story, can many times stir up our emotions.

The truth is, however, that there are many inspirational moments that we experience, hear or read about that can have a tremendous impact on our life, but, to our misfortune, we let them go to waste.

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, ztl, in his sicha, "Immortalizing the Fleeting Moment" (in the English "Rav Chaim's Discourses" p.111 - in the Hebrew Parshas Bo 5731), underscores this point.

He brings the Gemoro Avoda Zoro 17a which relates how Rav Elazar ben Durdia did a tremendous teshuvah-repentance because of a chance remark of a woman with whom he was engaged in sin .(See "How To Listen a Sicha" where I elaborate on this Gemoro). Her words made such an impact on him that he sat down on a mountain and cried until his soul left him. A Heavenly voice proclaimed that Rav Elazar has entered Olam Habo -the World to Come. When Rebbi heard this, he began crying and remarked, "There are some who acquire their share of Olom Habo in just a moment."

Why did Rebbi cry? Shouldn't he have been overjoyed that Rav Elazar raised himself from such lowly circumstances to be granted immediate entrance to Olom Habo?

Rav Chaim answers, that Rebbi did not cry for Rav Elazar's sake, but rather for all of humanity. When he was told the story of Rav Elazar , he realized that each one of us also experiences a moment of such import that is capable of changing one's entire life. Yet only one out of a thousand in fact utilize this moment. If every person does indeed have such a moment in his life, why do so few make use of it? This is why Rebbi cried.

I will now relate a most inspiring story, which will show how even just two words could have a tremendous impact and make a complete upheaval in someone's life.

I saw this story in a few places. The last place (and the one that I am using as a reference) is the sefer in Hebrew by Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstien "Tuvicho Yabiu, Vol II, Parshas Eikev Eikev p.266-267. He tells of a young Torah Scholar who needed a certain rare book that was not commonly found in most synagogues. Consequently, he went to a library in Jerusalem. He brought a sandwich and washed and bentched- said Grace After Meals with great fervor out loud. Afterwards, the librarian, who wasn't religious, came over to him and pointed out that he had made a mistake in his recitation of the Grace. In the third blessing, we say …"shelo nevosh vlo nicolem…- so that we may not be shamed nor humiliated…" but you added some words, "Vlo nicosheil-we shall not stumble," which are not written in the siddur. She explained, that even though she was not religious now, she used to be very religious, and she remembers that this was not part of the Grace. (If it sounds familiar, it is recited in Nusach Sefard in the Shacharis-Morning Prayer, by the berocho-blessing "Ahavah Rabbah-Ahava Olom" which is recited right before "Krias Shema.")

The young man, who was used to saying this version from when he was a little child, looked through all the prayer books that he could find in the library. None of them had his version. However, he promised the librarian that he would send her a copy from a siddur or other sefer that had the relevant version. After many hours of searching in different synagogues, he finally found an old siddur where, in the Haggadah of Pesach, it said this version. He immediately copied that page and highlighted the relevant words in red. He also encircled the words with red arrows so that she wouldn't miss it. He sent it to the library, but since he didn't know the woman's name, he requested the library to give it over to the librarian who was working in this certain room on this particular day and time. After he accomplished his mission, he forgot about the whole episode, and put it out of his mind.

After many months, he receives a beautiful wedding invitation, but to his astonishment he realizes that he doesn't know the groom or the bride.

As Hashgacha-Divine Supervision would have it, on the night of the wedding, he happened to pass by the wedding hall where this wedding was taking place. He decided that he may as well pop in and see maybe he does know somebody there. His astonishment was reconfirmed as he didn't recognize anybody there. He assumed it was a mistake and he was on his way out.

At that very moment, someone asked him his name. When he identified himself, he was told that the bride was interested in having a few words with him. Now he was really puzzled. What connection did he have with the bride?

"Don't you recognize me,?" said the bride to the baffled young man, who responded in the negative.

"Well, I'm none other than that librarian who had the discussion with you about the Grace After Meals," she said with great feeling. "You should know," she said with great emotion, "that you are the most important guest at this wedding. It's only in your merit and the letter that you sent me that I repented and married a repentant Jew who learns Torah all day." She then went on to describe the amazing chain of events that brought about such an upheaval in her life.

"Unfortunately, at the time when you came to the library, I was going out with a Gentile. We were thinking of marriage, but, despite the fact that I wasn't religious, I was still wary about marrying out of Faith. He finally sent me a letter with an ultimatum. If I did not give a final response by a certain day and hour, then there would be nothing more to talk about.

When that day came, I was going insane with my dilemma, not knowing what to do. I arrived at the library in a daze and entered my room, and saw your letter on the table. I found out later, that by chance, the letter had traveled around from room to room for many weeks and didn't reach its destination until that fateful day.

I open it up and see two words surrounded by red arrows highlighted in red.

'Velo Nicoshel-we shall not stumble.'
I started to scream in a voice not my own, 'How were you ready to almost stumble in such a severe sin?! You are a Jewish Girl.!'

At that very moment, all my doubts were resolved once and for all. I knew that it was forbidden for me to stumble.

I notified the Gentile of my severing the relationship.

One mitzvah leads to another and, not too long afterward, I repented completely and am marrying a repentant Jew, and we will build a true Jewish home together."

How powerful even just two words can be! If only we can be inspired even a little from all the words that come our way.

I will conclude with some inspirational thoughts about Tishah B'Av from "Inspiration and Insight," from Rav Yehuda Zev Segal p. 77-79.

He points out how one man's action can have a profound impact on the rest of the world. The Midrash (Bereshis Rabah 60:2) writes that Divine Chesed, kindness, is shown to the world in the merit of Avraham Avinu, the paragon of chesed. One man's action initiated a flow of Divine kindness that continues uninterrupted to this day. A Jew must always be cognizant of the weight that his actions carry in Heaven.

The Chofetz Chaim (Sha'ar HaZechira ch. 2) says, "It is well known that the way a person conducts himself in this world awakens a corresponding conduct from Above, each attribute as it applies. If one overlooks the hurt caused to him by others and he acts towards others with kindness and compassion, then he awakens the attribute of compassion in Heaven and HaKadosh Baruh Hu will show the entire world compassion in his merit….He will merit that Hashem will have mercy on him as well and remove his sins, as the Sages have stated, (Shabbos 151b); 'Whoever refrains from exacting his measure [of retribution for the wrong caused him], will have all his sins removed.' "

The Gemoro-Talmud (Bava Metzia 30b) says, "Jerusalem was destroyed only because its inhabitants decided matters exactly according to Torah law." They go on to explain: "They limited their decisions to the letter of the law of the Torah and did not go beyond the letter of the law."

The generation of the Destruction was unforgiving; there was no room for understanding or compromise. Each man sought to extract from his fellow whatever the law allowed. HaKadosh Boruch Hu judged them accordingly. There was no room for leniency; strict justice was their fate.

If we sincerely desire to bring this galus-exile to an end, we must strive to acquire the sterling quality of being Maavir Al Midoisov, refraining from exacting one's [rightful] measure. And let us act stringently with regard to "Love your neighbor as yourself."Heaven will surely respond accordingly.

Rabbi Segal concludes with a paragraph he calls "The Key."
We say in the first berocho-blessing of the Shemonah Esrei: [Blessed are you Hashem…] Who recalls the kindness of the Patriarchs and brings a Redeemer to their children's children, for His name's sake with love.

The Patriarchs were men of extraordinary faith, who overcame trial upon trial with love and devotion. Yet, it is their kindness that we mention in this blessing, for it is their bein odom l'chaveiro -interaction with their fellow man, that will ultimately bring about the Redemption.

The importance of bein odom l'chaveiro in the scheme of Jewry's fate and fortunes need not be elaborated upon. The armies of the wicked King Achav were victorious in battle in merit of the brotherhood which existed among them, while the armies of the righteous King Shaul suffered defeat because they lacked true brotherhood.

May we merit to learn how to properly mourn for the Destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, and we should strive to reach true Brotherhood. In that merit may we see Mashiach speedily in our days. Amen.

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