As we approach Tisha
B’av, my heart begins to shudder. I wish it were about the lofty things like
the fact that I am mourning the destruction of the two temples, or the many other tragedies which happened on this day. In truth it is more about my missing cup of coffee in the
You see, unlike Yom
Kippur where, as a rabbi, I am busy with other things, like sermons, machzors and chairs, on
Tisha B’av, it is usually a hot summer day and, like this year, the fast is
pushed to Sunday, so I am home with the kids, and fighting a lack-of-caffeine
induced migraine. No distractions from my personal needs, only dealing with
other humans (my kids). Regardless of my caffeine addiction or the more lofty thoughts I should be having
about this serious day, there is much to be learned from Tisha B’av, nearly
2000 years later.
Tisha B’av is the date
of one of the major fasts in the Jewish faith and is more widely observed and
has deep significance to our people. More than the eternal pain of the destruction
and lacking of both our Beis Hamikdashs, our holy Temples, there
is more that this day embodies. It has become associated with remembrance of
the Holocaust, anti-Semitism awareness and more. It is also the day that both
world wars began and the expulsion from
both England, in 1290, and Spain in 1492 happened.
Our sages teach us that
it is baseless hate that brought us Tisha
B’av, and that is baseless love that will rebuild the
destroyed Temples. So the clear message is that we need to purge our new world order of ego and micro-aggressions, and try
to dig deeper into our core and find our inner soul that is able to forgive and
forget, love and embrace, move on and move forward.
However, there is a much
deeper layer that provides great hope encouragement for the many who feel that
the world is in the darkest state it has been in a long time. The government is
corrupt, anti-Semitism is on the rise, and the future looks bleak. “For this our
heart has become faint, for these things our eyes have grown dim.” Lamentations,
The Talmud (Makkos 24a&b) tells us 2 stories,
both involving the same characters. Rabbis Gamliel, Elazar ben
Azaria, Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva.
They were traveling near Rome and heard the partying of the Romans from 120
miles (mil) away. Three of the Rabbi’s started to weep and R. Akiva started to laugh.
They asked him why is he
laughing and he responded, why are you crying?
They said, we are crying, because the nation that destroyed the Temple sits
tranquil, and the Jews, servants of G-d are not secure. R. Akiva answered, and
said, this is why I laugh. If this is the reward of those who sin against Gd
then how great must be the reward of those who follow G-ds wishes.
Same group of rabbis went up to Jerusalem. When they reached Mt. Scopus, they
tore their garments. When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox
emerging from the place of the Holy of Holies. The others started weeping; Rabbi
Akiva laughed. Same back and forth. Why are you laughing? Why are you crying?
They said, “A place [so holy] that it is said of it, ‘the stranger that
approaches it shall die, and now foxes are walking through it, how could we not weep?”
To which Rabbi Akiva
answered “That is why I laugh. For it is written, ‘I shall have bear witness for Me faithful witnesses—Uriah the Priest
and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.’ Now what is the connection between
Uriah and Zechariah? Uriah lived [in the time of] the First Temple, and
Zechariah lived [in the time of] the Second Temple! But the Torah makes
Zachariah’s prophecy dependent upon Uriah’s prophecy. With Uriah, it is
written: ‘Therefore, because of you, Zion
shall be plowed as a field; [Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the Temple Mount
like the high places of a forest.]’ With Zachariah it is written, ‘Old men and women shall yet sit in the
streets of Jerusalem.
“As long as Uriah’s
prophecy had not been fulfilled, I feared that Zechariah’s prophecy may not be
fulfilled either. But now that Uriah’s prophecy has been fulfilled, it is
certain that Zechariah’s prophecy will be fulfilled.”
With these words they
replied to him: “Akiva, you have consoled us! Akiva, you have consoled
These stories are both
powerful ones, and teach us a powerful life lesson, an appropriate response to
fear, terror, anti-Semitism, pain, loss and suffering of any sort.
The Rebbe explains in a
talk from 1974, that in both stories there is a deeper question to be asked.
Why do the sages wait to cry? In both stories they should have cried sooner. In the first
story, why did they only cry when they heard the Romans celebrating? They
should have cried at the fact that the Jewish people had been conquered. Why
only when they saw the enemy partying did their tears begin?
In the second story too,
why didn’t they cry when they reached Mt. Scopus, why only when they saw the
fox going in and out of the Holy of Holies?
The Rebbe explains, that
what really bothered the rabbi’s was not that this was Gd’s wish. They accepted
that Gd does things that are not understood to man. Things that in fact feel
like a punishments of sorts, or simply unnecessary pain at least from the human
What they were couldn’t
fathom was the adding insult to injury. I accept that the Temple needed to be destroyed (for some Divine
reason), but why must they party and be tranquil too? I accept that Temple lies
in ruin, but why must animal stroll in and out of it? What is the need to mock
us on top of it all?
To rephrase this in (my
personal) modern vernacular, as believing Jew I accept that Gd allows pain and
suffering, destruction, hate and anti-Semitism for whatever Divine reason, by
why the shootings, why a Holocaust, why such devastation on top the loss? I
accept that there must be loss of loved ones, but why the emotional trauma on
top of it all? A “certain amount” of pain is a Divine part of life,
but it seems like too much. It feels like Gd is putting salt on the wound?
And to this R. Akiva
says essentially one point. Stop focusing on the loss, but turn on your
positivity bias and focus on the gain. If this is the reward of the wicked,
imagine the reward of the righteous. If the prophesies of negative come true,
then the positive prophesies certainly come true.
According the darkness
is the light. The greater the darkness, the greater the light. The greater the
suffering, the greater the ultimate reward. Until then, we have a choice. To move
forward and laugh or sit on our hands and be cry.
This was Rabbi Akiva’s
lesson to the other rabbis and his legacy to all of us. Sure things are not
perfect. In fact, they may seem downright bad at the moment. Yet, we have
assurances that it will be better. Let’s not get stuck on the bad that has
happened, but focus on the good coming our way! Choose to laugh, not to cry. Focus
less on what happened and more on what will/can be!
You don’t see it yet? Well, this is why we
await Moshiach, the fulfillment of these realities.
And they responded, “Akiva, you have consoled us! Akiva, you have consoled us!”
42/52 picture freepik.com