5776 - Devarim - Shabbos Chazon
A number of months ago, I was learning Mesheches Megillah with my students at Yeshiva High School. We were discussing the halacha of when to read the Megillah if you’re traveling between Yerushalaim - a walled city - and anywhere else - unwalled cities. We explored various scenarios, iterations of cases and I tasked my students with extrapolating the law in each case.
At one point, a student raised their hand and asked: “What happens if you don’t read the Megillah?” “I don’t know,” I responded. “I guess you didn’t do a mitzvah. I don’t know how Hashem deals with that.” They replied, “No, that’s not what I meant. I want to know, if I miss the Megillah - I didn’t hear it all of Purim - is there a make up date? Is there anyway to fix it?”
The answer of course is no. Amongst the harshest realities of our existence, in almost every aspect of our lives, we don’t get do-overs. The Baal Hatanya in his Igeres HaTeshuva (פרק א׳) writes that one can never fully atone for not performing a positive mitzvah, much like one can never catch a bus that they missed. You can always get another bus, but that first opportunity is lost forever.
As the American author Kurt Vonnegut once said:
“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.”
Missed Opportunities in Jewish History:
The tragedy of missed opportunities is intensified and compounded when their is so much greatness latent in the moment that is missed. These days are commemorated in our calendar, at this time of year.
The day we call the 17th of Tammuz was the day that the Roman legion breached the walls of Yerushalayim, signaling the beginning of the end for the Jewish Capital. Yet our sages tell us that the tragedy of the day began many centuries earlier:
When the Jewish people were getting ready to build the golden calf, Aharon HaKohen tried to delay them. As the calf was completed, he stalled the people saying “חג לה׳ מחר” - Tomorrow will be a festival for Hashem. Seemingly, his hope was to delay so that Moshe would return in time, and the festival for the calf would be cancelled.
The Ari HaKadosh, the great 16th century Kabbalist, writes (ליקוטי תורה כי תשא ד״ה ויאמר חג) that:
Aharon HaKohen meant exactly what he said. The next day should have been a Chag for Hashem. On that day, Moshe was to descend with the luchos - the symbol of the eternal relationship with God and His people. That was the power and uniqueness of the day. It was a moment that should have been commemorated as one of the greatest in the Jewish calendar.
The same, of course is true of Tisha Be’av. Chazal tell us (תענית כ״ו ב) that the first calamity that befell the Jewish nation on Tisha Be’av was also wrought by our own hands. It was not the destruction of the Second Temple, or even the First, but rather that Tisha Be’av was the day the spies returned.
On that day a the Jewish people decided not to enter the land. It was supposed to be the day of national Aliyah. Nefesh b’Nefesh Day. People should have been packing their bags, with Moshe Rabbeinu at the helm; ready to inherit the land that Hashem had promised to Avraham. But we missed that opportunity to make the day great.
Indeed, Eicha refers to Tisha Be’av as a Moed - a festival. In context of the passuk, it means a time appointed for the destruction of Yerushalayim, and yet our sages use this verse as a source not to say Tachanun on Tisha Be’av. It sounds almost humorous, but the depths of this truth are astounding. Tisha Be’av should have been a Moed - a Yom Tov.
Missed Opportunities in our lives:
All too often we live our lives procrastinating important activities and decisions. Wasting hours, failing to harness great moments, not taking advantage of that which is in front of our eyes. This is the real Churban. The Gemara (סנהדרין צו עמוד ב) teaches us that when the Babylonians set fire to the First Temple, a voice rang out from heaven: “You’re burning a burnt house!” A Beis HaMikdash that no one cared for is burned already. A squandered opportunity.
There’s a peculiar halacha in Hilchos Tisha Be’av that captures this idea perfectly. The Shulchan Aruch writes (או״ח תקנא ס׳ ט) that during the month of Av we do not get married. Ashkenazi practice is to begin this period from the 17th of Tammuz. Marriage is an expression of Simcha, and this not the time. Nevertheless, the Shulchan Aruch continues
“One may, however, get engaged during this period of time. And even on Tisha Be’av itself, one may get engaged, - שמא יקדמנו אחר - lest someone else precede him.”
The Shulchan Aruch is saying, you’re allowed to get engaged on Tisha Be’av, because if you don’t you might lose out on that opportunity. Perhaps this teaches that if Tisha Be’av is the day that we mourn lost opportunities, it cannot be commemorated with the same flawed behavior. We must ensure we don’t make the mistake again.
This is one Avoda of this time period - valuing our opportunities, with gratitude and alacrity ensuring that we don’t repeat the mistakes of history. But is no way to fix the world we’re in now? And if so, how?
Rav Kook’s Tikkun (מועדי הראי״ה ע׳ תקלו):
From a young age, Rav Kook, later to become the first chief Rabbi of Palestine, would close his Gemara around midnight, throughout the three weeks. He would sit on the floor, and say the tikkun chatzos - The midnight memorial for the Beis HaMikdash. And he would cry. His chavrusa recalled later, that Rav Kook would cry inconsolably, and genuinely, until one night that friend mustered up the courage to ask him how it is that he cries so much. “I too love Eretz Yisrael, and Yerushalayim, and I too wait for Mashiach”, he said “but neither myself not my father nor my grandfather cry as you cry. Why?”
Rav Kook answered: “Because while you, your father, and grandfather are all talmidei chachamim, I am a Kohen. I miss the Beis HaMikdash.”
Perhaps that’s what Rav Nachman M’Breslov means when he writes that the word קינות - Lamentations and crying, is the same letters as תיקון - Fixing. We’re fixing the world by realizing and understanding what we’re missing, for in that we ensure we don’t squander these opportunities any longer. The mourning of Tisha Be’av tonight is our promise that we will not take Yerushalayim for granted. And as we make our commitments, Hashem makes his:
He promises that He will one day fix these days as the Navi Zechariah (זכריה ח,יט) says:
צום הרביעי וצום החמישי וצום השביעי וצום העשירי יהיה לבית יהודה לששון ולשמחה ולמעדים טובים
“The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons.”
This doesn’t just mean we won’t fast any longer - it means that Hashem will somehow allow us to capture the essence of these days. To reinstate them as they should be.
If it is to be that we mourn Tisha Be’av this year, then we take it upon ourselves to ensure that it will be the last such Tisha Be’av. We take upon ourselves to harness the potential of this day and everyday, with the confidence that the Almighty will do his share. May we see it soon, speedily in our days.