By Rabbi Yitzchok Tzvi Schwarz
“And to my dear granddaughter, Chanala, I leave an extra ten thousand dollars.” So read a will written by an old woman who passed away and bequeathed portions of her estate to her children and grandchildren. This particular line was strange and unexpected. It was so strange that it cast doubt on the validity of the document. Was the woman totally lucid when she wrote it? Why did she add this line, singling out this girl in particular and favoring her over her other grandchildren?
The will was brought before Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein for examination and to determine if it was indeed effective.
Rav Zilberstein took some time to investigate the matter, probing why the matriarch of the family showed special favor to this girl. This was a mystery to all, until they found a letter written by the deceased woman. It was obviously penned with great emotion. It then became clear why this Chanala was very special to her.
She wrote about how one night, she sat down with her grandchildren, boys and girls, and related to them in great detail the horrors that she had experienced during World War II. She described how she and her family were forced to flee from their hometown, the starvation, the anguish over losing loved ones, and the suffering and degradation that were the lot of the Jewish nation during that period. In the letter, she writes how all of the ainiklach sat quietly, listening attentively to every word she said, but one grandchild was different. This grandchild was so deeply moved by her grandmother’s story and so felt her pain that she started to cry. That grandchild was Chanala.
Now it became clear why the grandmother had a special affinity for this girl, for more than any of the other ainiklach, Chanala was sensitive to her bubby’s heartache, sadness and sorrow. This moved the woman to bequeath to her a great reward. Those tears brought the girl a substantial benefit.
Rav Zilberstein, when relating the story, derived a lesson from it. If down here, in this world, someone is willing to pay a reward for the shedding of tears, then how much greater will be the remuneration from Hakadosh Boruch Hu for those who shed tears over the loss of the Bais Hamikdosh, for those who cry for the Shechinah in golus and the void left in our lives. Not only is this a mitzvah, but it also pays dividends (Aleinu Leshabeiach).
Oh, how the Ribono Shel Olam bemoans the present state that His children are in, having been sent out into the wilderness. “Rabi Yosi said: One time I was walking on the road and I entered the ruins of Yerushalayim in order to daven. Eliyahu Hanovi zochur latov came and waited for me at the door until I finished my tefillah. After I finished, he said to me, ‘Shalom Aleichem, Rebbi.’ ‘Shalom Aleichem Rebbi Umori,’ I answered… And he said to me, ‘My son, what sound did you hear in this ruin?’ I told him that I heard a bas kol cooing like a dove and saying, ‘Woe to the children that because of their sins I destroyed My house, My sanctuary, and exiled them amongst the nations.’ He said to me, ‘By your life and by the life of your head, not only did it say this now, but every day, three times a day, it says so’” (Brachos 3a).
Why does the Shechinah coo like a dove in particular? The Maharal explains that of all the creatures in the world, the dove is the most attached and loyal to its spouse. It doesn’t seek out any mate other than the one it is originally matched up with. Hence, if its spouse is away, it is in great distress, for it has no replacement. Thus, Hashem expresses his pining for the Bnei Yisroel with the sound of a dove cooing, for we are designated as Hashem’s beloved, and when we are in golus, apart from the Shechinah, He is, kevayachol, pained as a dove yearning for its irreplaceable spouse.
Eliyahu Hanovi continued: “Not only this, but every time [Klal] Yisroel enters the botei knesses and botei medrash and answers to Kaddish, ‘Yehei Shmei Hagadol Mevorach,’ Hakadosh Boruch Hu nods His head and says, ‘Fortunate is the King whom they praise so in His house. What is there for the Father Who exiled His children. Woe to the sons who were exiled from their father’s table’” (ibid).
Woe to the sons…
Amidst a great ocean far, far away from civilization, having no contact with the outside world, was an island with a self-contained kingdom. It had a completely functioning government, with rules and regulations, taxes, policemen and judges like any other society. Except, instead of human beings running the government, this was a kingdom of a different sort, with different citizens. It was an animal kingdom run by and for monkeys, donkeys, lions, etc.
One day, foreigners arrived to this country, humans who were shipwrecked and landed there. Immediately upon their arrival, they were imprisoned by the police until it would be decided what to do with them. Should they be permitted to live on the island? Should they be allowed to return to their country? Could they make contact with their brothers of the human race? Judgment was finally passed. They must remain on the island and blend in with the other citizens. Once a month, they would be permitted to try and make contact with their brethren so far away.
It took a while, but slowly, they became part of this strange society. They worked together with the donkeys, they ate with the cows, and they slept in a dwelling with horses. Of course, it was most difficult at first, but with the passing of time, they made peace with their new accommodations. They noticed quickly that there was plenty of everything. There was an abundance of food, opportunities for work, and even recreation.
One day a month, there was a designated time when they were permitted to contact their brethren. Initially, they were full of grief and they cried nonstop. They would bemoan their fate, saying, “In the entire world, there is no one as miserable as we are. We are humiliated by our new situation and depressed.” However, with the passing of time, the tone of their voices changed. One could no longer recognize pain in their voices or even a remnant of the feeling of hardship of the earlier months. They even tried convincing their relatives to join them on this marvelous island. “Here we have everything,” they said. “We lead a life without any worry whatsoever.”
If at first they were doing all this crying over their plight, now their relatives were crying for them, for when they were crying in the earlier months about their lot, they were still living as human beings. Now that they came to terms with their situation of not feeling any discomfort over their strange surroundings, it was clear that they themselves had been transformed into animals.
This is why Hashem cries over the churban Bais Hamikdosh and the golus of His children. The word Av is similar to the word avah, which means desire (“VeYisroel lo avah li – And Yisroel did not desire Me” [Tehillim 81:12]. A father has no greater desire than the success of his children and to maintain a close relationship with them. It was painful for Hashem to send us out into golus, but it was meant ultimately for our good. Although we have endured, we have entered a realm that is totally different than where we belong.
When the Bais Hamikdosh stood and the Shechinah dwelled amongst us, we imbibed kedushah with every single breath. The life of Klal Yisroel as a whole and the life of every individual were founded on a groundwork of kedushah. We could literally feel Hashem’s Hashgachah on His children, but with the churban and golus, we passed into a different dimension, olam hazeh, which is no different than passing from the world of humans to the world of animals. Who is capable of surviving as a ben adam, of maintaining his level of humanity over such a long period of time without taking on some traits of animalism?
No wonder Chazal say, “If the earlier generations are like sons of angels, then we are like the sons of men. And if the earlier generations are like sons of men, then we are like sons of donkeys” (Shabbos 112b). We have descended so far from the level of the previous generations that we cannot fathom what we are missing. This is what Hashem cries over: “Woe to the children who have been exiled from the table of their father,” Yerushalayim, our home, the place of the holy Shechinah.
If at least during the period of the Three Weeks and especially on Tisha B'Av we can gather our thoughts and emotions and feel the tragedy, if we can shed tears not only for our loss but also for Hashem’s anguish, then we still have with us a bit of that human side of the previous generations, which can elevate our level for the rest of the year. The dividends for this are very great, much greater than money. “Whoever mourns over Yerushalayim merits to see it in its rejoicing.” It will bring us both spiritual and physical gain (Mizkeinim Esbonan based on Mishnas Rebbi Aharon).
With the recent passing of the marriage legislation by the highest court of the land for the sake of liberty, kindness and compassion, society has taken another step away from being a ben adam. What next?
The Telzer Rov, Rav Yosef Yehuda Leib Bloch, was wont to say, “Just as there is no limit to gadlus, there is no limit to katnus.” Man is capable of descending to the lowest abyss of immorality, chalilah. We would be wise to add to our tefillos that we not be hurt by the middas hadin that this could invoke. And it should awaken us to intensify our tefillos that Hashem take us back home very soon to our land of holiness.