As we contemplate the ninth (and the tenth) of Av, we endeavor to feel the losses we have talked about in this column during these last two weeks. It requires thinking, internalizing, visualizing, contemplating, imagining… perhaps powers that have gone somewhat stale in our intellectual and emotional makeup. But that is the only way to fulfill the mitzvos hayom in a way that ensures that what we do — or don’t do — does not become a mere shell, a mere play in which we just go through certain motions.
We’ve discussed focusing on four distinct areas, and of course each area has subsets and corollaries: The tzaros of Klal Yisrael throughout its long and painful galus; the churban Beis Hamikdash and losing our foothold in Eretz Yisrael; the loss of our closeness to HaShem and awareness of the Shechinah; and the resultant spiritual decline of the Jewish people over the centuries.
We will continue by mentioning additional details within these broad categories.
“And I will hide My face from them and they will be left…” (Devarim 31:17) This is the removal of the special, open, revealed, Divine hashgachah which was always manifest among the Jewish people. And now, with the loss of aspects of our special closeness to HaShem, we need yeshuos HaShem through more hidden means, through “fortuitous” acts and events. It is the difference between children at the table of their father, where his protection and support is open and obvious, and children banished from his household, though the father continues to watch over them from afar and arrange things in order that they have what they need. “Woe to the children who have been exiled from the table of their father!” (Berachos 3a)
Where is prophecy? One of the 13 principles of our faith is that man has the ability to directly communicate with HaShem! He is not some far-off figure who does not relate at all to His creations; rather, a system exists wherein if a person withdraws from the gashmiyus of this world to the degree necessary, and learns how to feel and know and hear HaShem’s presence and voice (so to speak), he will enter and acquire a state of prophecy and see other-worldliness while still in this world. And apparently that is such a must, so logical and compelling (that HaShem would reveal Himself to His creatures), that if one does not believe that it is possible, he is deemed an apostate! And now we have lost that opportunity! HaShem has indeed withdrawn from this world in this singular manifestation of His connection to us! We have lost what was compellingly natural (to those who learned its techniques). And let us not forget how we could, when necessary, go and literally ask HaShem our questions (through the Urim V’tumim)!
And the flip side: HaShem as it were, could speak to us! When He felt it necessary, He would send a navi on a mission to deliver His message to Klal Yisrael. It was not always a pleasant message, many times it was stern words of rebuke and mussar; yet what a relationship! The people were led literally, actually, and clearly, by HaShem! And remember, not only were there the 48 well-known nevi’im and seven nevi’os who were sent to tell Bnei Yisrael the dvar HaShem, but Chazal speak of hundreds of thousands of nevi’im who were direct emissaries of HaShem to the people to warn them to better their ways and to stop their corruption and immoral behavior. (Nevertheless, Chazal tell us, it is only the prophecies which contained messages that were both timely and timeless, i.e. eternal, which were transcribed and recorded.) This itself manifested the intimacy between HaShem and His people: one doesn’t maintain constant communication with strangers. But, as Chazal teach, from the time that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, nevuah was removed from the world (although there was still sort of a residual nevuah until the very beginning of the days of Bayis Sheni). This in itself should be cause for mourning and unhappiness.
Another point: The Gemara tells us a rather strange statement in the name of Rebbi Eliezer Ben Azarya: “I can (theoretically) exempt everybody from davening! Why is that? Because in describing Bnei Yisrael’s unsteadiness after the destruction, the pasuk (Yeshaya 51:21) calls them ‘drunk but not from wine’ (someone who feels the effect of the alcohol he has imbibed is generally exempt from davening).” This refers to their “withdrawal symptoms” from manifest holiness in their midst — surely a whole different mode of living: more mundane, more secular, more banal. Now, if the spiritual giants who lived in the times of Chazal felt that way… well, what are we able to say? When it comes to existential kedushah, and perception and sensitivity to things spiritual and hallowed, we are running on empty, we are lost and befuddled.
The average person’s understanding of Torah was, in the time of the Beis Hamikdash, on a completely different level than ours. “Ki miTzion teitzei Torah…” The Gra famously says that the comprehension of Torah channeled through the very existence of the Beis Hamikdash, and the Aron Hakodesh and the Menorah, was simply more intense and more crystal-clear than anything any one of us ever experienced. (That is probably why we connect the two ideas at the end of our Shemoneh Esrei when we ask, “Sheyibaneh Beis Hamikdash bimeheirah biyameinu,” and then we say, “V’sein chelkeinu b’Torasechah”! The juxtaposition of these two requests always troubled me, until I saw this Gra!) That is why the seat of the Great Sanhedrin, which resolved all unanswered questions and unresolved doubts in Torah law, had to be in the Beis HaMikdash. But today, machlokesim and uncertainties abound, lack of clarity, lack of any centralized authority, lack of an accepted-by-all seat of hora’ah…
In times past, the brachah from HaShem was conspicuous and prominent, in grain, in produce, in livestock — in general wealth. Today, “Rav Yehoshua testified, ‘From the time that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, the rains do not fall properly nor carry as much brachah within them… the dew doesn’t contain the brachah that it should… the taste has been removed from our food…’ ”
Part of the tragedy is that we don’t feel, really feel, what we are missing; the galus has been so long, so cruel, so unrelenting…
Nu, what are you doing about all this? Just letting another year slip by? What are your plans to rectify the situation. . . . ???