5779 – Va’eschanan – Nachamu
Some 70 years ago, construction and development work was happening in Yerushalayim as Jews were slowly retuning home. But Rabbi Yaacov Moshe Charlap, the Talmid of Rav Kook, who was the Rabbi of the Sha’arei Chesed neighborhood, was lying in bed at his home, sick. Digging and drilling machines were being used right under his bedroom window. His family members were thinking to do something about it and move the source of the noise away to a more distant place, but Rabbi Charlap told them: “Until recently I was privileged to go out of the house and see Jerusalem being built. Now I am bedridden, and can no longer go out, but when I hear the noise that the machines make, I know that Jerusalem is being built. Do not take away from me this privilege, let me at least hear Jerusalem being built.”
This Shabbos is a Shabbos of comfort – a Shabbos of moving forward, moving on from the tragedy of Tisha B’av, and of rebuilding Yerushalayim. Not just the Yerushalayim on Har HaBayis, but the Yerushalayim of our own hearts and minds and souls. The next seven weeks, the Shiva D’Nechemta, bridge the gap between the destruction of Av and royalty of Tishrei. From an intellectual and emotional perspective, we’re on the road to the Yerushalayim of our own lives.
Chazal tell us (Taanis 30):
כל המתאבל על ירושלים – זוכה ורואה בשמחתה. ושאינו מתאבל על ירושלים – אינו רואה בשמחתה
Whoever mourns for Jerusalem will merit and see her future joy, and whoever does not mourn for Jerusalem will not see her future joy
Rav Kook explained that when the rebuilding of Yerushalayim will happen, everyone will be there, but not everyone will be able see it.
Apparently, it is possible for a person to witness the greatest events of history and not be moved at all. I dare say, that on a national level, we are already living that world.
But I’d like to suggest that we’re also living that reality in our personal lives. All too often, we are unaware of greatness of our lives and the potential that we hold.
So Hashem gives us a window into the world of what could be. It happened yesterday, in the blink of an eye, it happened on Tu B’av.
The Gemara in Taanis tells us of six reasons to be happy on Tu B’av. But it is the final one which we will focus on:
רבה ורב יוסף דאמרי תרוייהו יום שפסקו מלכרות עצים למערכה (תניא) רבי אליעזר הגדול אומר מחמשה עשר באב ואילך תשש כחה של חמה ולא היו כורתין עצים למערכה לפי שאינן יבשין
אמר רב מנשיא וקרו ליה יום תבר מגל מכאן ואילך דמוסיף יוסיף
Rabba and Rav Yosef who both say: The fifteenth of Av was the day on which they stopped chopping down trees for the arrangement of wood that burned on the altar, as it is taught in a baraita that Rabbi Eliezer the Great says: From the fifteenth of Av onward, the strength of the sun grows weaker, and from this date they would not cut additional wood for the Alter, (Rashi: as they would not be properly dry, and they would therefore be unfit for use in the Temple.)
Rav Menashya said: And they called the fifteenth of Av the day of the breaking of the scythe, as from this date onward no more trees were cut down. The Gemara adds: From the fifteenth of Av onward, when the days begin to shorten, one who adds to his nightly Torah study will add years to his life.
There are many questions to ask on this Gemara. Why is stopping to chop wood for the Mizbeach a cause for celebration? The lengthening of the night and the heralding of winter a cause for celebration? Furthermore, why break the axes? Are we not going to use them next year? Isn’t this Baal Tashichis?
The Medrash in Bereishis Rabba (5:10) tells us:
כיון שנברא הברזל התחילו האילנות מרתתים.
אמר להן: מה לכם מרתתין?
עץ מכם אל יכנס בי ואין אחד מכם ניזוק
When Hashem created steel, the trees began to tremble. Said the steel to them: “So long as none of you serve as my handle, no tree will be harmed.”
The Maharal (Chidushei Agados Sanhedrin 39b) explains:
כי רגיל הוא שפורענות יבא על האדם מצד עצמו
Most of the calamities that happen to us, come as a result of us.
Taking Control of Our Own Lives
There are only two ways to live life. Either as victims of our circumstance, or as captains of our ship.
This decision effects every part of our lives, from our careers, to raising our children. From marriage to davening. From success to failure. This decision effects the way that we look at everything – is this failure a setback, or a trend? Is this challenge a speed bump or a road block?
Because it is possible to see Yerushalayim being rebuilt and complaining about the sound of the diggers. It is possible to see children growing up and complaining about the late nights and early mornings. It is possible to see the sun rising and gripe about getting too little sleep. It’s possible to see our community grow by leaps and bounds, and get upset about not getting more herring at Kiddush.
Those that live as victims, get stuck in perpetual cycles of negativity. Those that live as captains, guide the ships of their lives over the challenges that Hashem sends our way. Optimism doesn’t mean everything is great, it means you can respond to everything with greatness.
Breaking the Axes
So how should a Jew respond to the aftermath of Tisha B’av, where the night is growing longer, and the world is growing colder? Where we can no longer dry out the wood for the mizbeach?
There are plenty of reasons to be upset. Plenty of reasons to throw our hands up and say that the task ahead is too formidable. But there is another way. We could look at the lengthening of the night, and the coldness of the world, and say “Hey, this is a great time to dive deeper into learning.” This isn’t an obstacle, it’s an opportunity.
The celebration of breaking the axe was a display of abandoning the self destructiveness that led us to the Churban in the first place. It was a bold deceleration that we won’t be responsible for our own demise.
This Shabbos, Moshe teaches us (4:29):
וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּם מִשָּׁם אֶת י”י אֱלֹהֶיךָ וּמָצָאתָ כִּי תִדְרְשֶׁנּוּ בְּכל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכׇל נַפְשֶׁךָ.
But from thence ye will seek the Lord thy God; and thou shalt find Him, if thou search after Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.
The Baal Shem would teach: Wherever you are is the place from which you should seek Hashem. In essence, be a captain of your ship.
Rebbe Nosson writes (ליקוטי הלכות הלכות ראש חודש ו:יא):
וּבָזֶה טוֹעִים רֹב בְּנֵי אָדָם שֶׁכָּל אֶחָד אוֹמֵר אִם הָיָה לוֹ פַּרְנָסָה הָיָה עוֹבֵד ה’… רַק יֵדַע וְיַאֲמִין שֶׁבְּחִירָתוֹ תְּלוּיָה דַּיְקָא בְּאֹפֶן זֶה,…
So many people are mistaken in this area; “If only I was wealthy, I would serve Hashem! … But know and trust that you have the freedom of choice specifically in this area.
When the Rebbe was still a young man, and before he became the Rebbe, wrote to his future mother-in-law some months before his wedding and dated the letter “erev Tisha b’Av, the birthday of the righteous Mashiach”. That is the way in which the Rebbe related to the saddest day on the Jewish calendar.
This perspective colored the Rebbe’s life, and indeed, many of his talmidim and chassidim. Lord Rabbi Sacks tells the story:
“Many years ago, I came to the Rebbe’s residence in New York, and eventually the moment came when I was ushered into the Rebbe’s study. I asked him all my intellectual, philosophical questions; he gave intellectual, philosophical answers, and then he did what no one else had done. He did a role reversal, he started asking me questions. How many Jewish students are in Cambridge? How many get involved in Jewish life? What are you doing to bring other people in? I’d come to ask a few simple questions, and all of a sudden he was challenging me. So I replied: “In the situation in which I find myself…” The Rebbe did something which I think was quite unusual for him, he actually stopped me in mid-sentence. He says, “Nobody finds themselves in a situation; you put yourself in a situation. And if you put yourself in that situation, you can put yourself in another situation.” And Rabbi Sacks concluded: “That moment changed my life.”
Hashem should help us to break the axes of self destruction. To see the opportunities and not the obstacles. To be captains and not victims. To, Be’ezras Hashem, put ourselves, our families and each other into a world of Geulah.