On this coming Shabbos Parshas Matos-Masai we bentch Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av. Rosh Chodesh (on Yom Sheini – Monday, July 8) marks the start of the mournful “nine days” during which we restrict many activities normally taken for granted, such as eating meat and drinking wine (Shabbos is an exception), the purchasing and wearing of new clothes, doing laundry (the washing of children’s clothing may be permitted; consult your halachic authority), listening to music, swimming and participating in joyful pursuits.
Multiple tragedies have befallen us on the ninth of this month (Tisha B’Av). Like fools, we cried all the night (of the eighth of Av), falling for the tall tale spun by the spies sent by Moshe to investigate the Holy Land, who didn’t recognize a good thing when they saw it. This senseless sobbing paved the way to an endless torrent of tears, for on this date both the first and second Batei Mikdash went up in smoke; the city of Beitar fell under siege during Bar Kochba’s revolt; the Jews were expelled from Spain (in 1492); the first World War broke out and the first transports were dispatched to the gas chambers in the Second World War.
The Talmud says that whoever mourns Yerushalayim will merit being consoled. Even the sun and the moon will be consoled when Hashem will heal our wounds, for they mourned Yerushalayim at the time of its devastation by hiding their light. “Vehaya ohr ha’levana ke’ohr hachamah v’ohr hachamah yihye shivasayim ke’ohr shivas hayamim…. When Yerushalayim will be reborn, the light of the moon will be as bright as the light of the sun, and the sun’s light will shine seven times brighter than today.” [Yeshaya 30:26]
Why do our Sages refer to Tisha B’Av as a moed – a holiday? Two thousand years of dispersion hasn’t dulled our reminiscence of our glorious Bais HaMikdash; we never stop mourning our cataclysmic loss. That we cannot be consoled nor be made to desist from praying and hoping for the day when we will reunite with the Shechinah in the holy city of Yerushalayim is a consolation in itself — for something gone for good is in due course laid to rest in one’s mind. The dream that doesn’t die is what makes Tisha B’Av a holiday, for we know for certain that it will one day be fulfilled. [Kedushas Levi]
In the interim, the glass is broken by the chosson under the chuppah… the plate is shattered at a Tenoyim… the bride’s face covering is bare of gold threading… just some of the halachos of the Shulchan Aruch that define zaicher l’churban (remembrance of the Churban).
Tzaddikim whose Yahrtzeits fall in Av: Aharon HaKohen and R’ Shlomo ben Bentzion Halberstam of Bobov (1 Av); R’ Bentzion ben R’ Shlomo Halberstam – Kedushas Tzion of Bobov (4 Av); R’ Yitzchak ben R’ Shlomo Luria – the Arizal and R’ Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky of Vilna (5 Av); R’ Sholom Noach ben Moshe Avrohom Brezovsky – Slonimer Rebbe and author of the Nesivos Sholom (7 Av); R’ Yaakov Yitzchok ben R’ Avrohom Eliezer HaLevi – Chozeh of Lublin (9 Av); Yissachar ben Yaakov Avinu (10 Av); R’ Nosson Nota ben R’ Shlomo Shapiro of Krakow, author of the Megaleh Amukos (13 Av); R’ Tzvi Hirsch ben Aharon Friedman of Liska (14 Av); Nachum Ish Gamzu, R. Shimon Libya of Tripoli – Kesem Paz and R’ Dovid Yosef ben R’ Shlomo Yechiel Biderman of Lelov (15 Av); R’ Yaakov ben R’ Machir Culi – Me’am Loez (19 Av); R’ Levi Yitzchok ben R’ Boruch Schneur Schneerson (20 Av); R’ Chaim ben R’ Yosef Dov Ber Soloveitchik, R’ Aharon ben R’ Yissachar Dov Rokeach – Belzer Rebbe, and R’ Dovid Hager of Zebultov – Tzemach Dovid (21 Av); R’ Meir Hagodol of Premishlan ben R’ Yaakov Tam (22 Av); R’ Yaakov Yisroel ben R’ Chaim Peretz Kanievsky – Steipler Gaon (23 Av); R’ Yaakov Meshulam Orenstein – Yeshuos Yaakov and R’ Yoel ben Chananya Yom-Tov Teitelbaum – Satmar Rebbe VaYoel Moshe (26 Av); R’ Yehoshua Charif of Krakow – Maginei Shlomo and R’ Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin – the Netziv (27 Av); R’ Avrohom Yaakov ben R’ Meir HaKohen Pam (28 Av); R’ Shmuel ben R’ Yosef Zundel Salanter, and R’ Eliezer Zusha ben R’ Yisroel Avrohom Portugal – Skulener Rebbe (29 Av).
In view of the fact that the second Bais HaMikdash was destroyed due to sinas chinam, baseless hatred rampant in society of the time, we can hardly afford to disregard the legacy bequeathed to us by Aharon HaKohen, whose yahrtzeit is observed on the first day of Av. But how, one might ask, does Aharon HaKohen’s distinction as a lover of peace correlate with the Annanei Hakavod, the clouds of glory (attributed to Aharon) that accompanied the Jews during their trek in the wilderness? Simply, when there is peace and achdus among the Jewish people, they are made invincible and their enemies are powerless against them. Their ahavas chinam becomes their shield, like the Annanei Hakavod that protected them from harm on all sides.
By conferring respect for one another and avoiding strife, we emulate the midos of Aharon HaKohen who made it his life’s mission to promote peace among men.
* * *
When Yermiyahu HaNavi witnessed the terrible carnage and the blood flowing unabated, he wended his way to the Me’aras Hamachpeila to awaken his forebears from their repose and yelled for Ben-Amram to arise at the bank of the Jordan.
“Master of the World,” pleaded Avraham Avinu. “At the age of one hundred you blessed me with a son, then called upon me to bring him as a sacrifice when he was 37 years old. I set aside my emotions as a father, in readiness to do your bidding. Will you not have pity on my children?”
Yitzchak protested: “I arched my neck and stretched toward the knife with no hesitation. Will you not have mercy on my children?”
Argued Yaakov Avinu, “Ribbono Shel Olam, after all the years of struggling to raise my children, will you now deliver Am Yisroel into the hands of their enemies like sheep to the slaughter? Please have mercy!”
Moshe Rabbeinu cried: “My Master, for forty years in the wilderness I was a dedicated shepherd, only to be told that my bones will remain in the desert. Now when my children are being driven from the Holy Land, I am summoned to witness their tragedy…”
Moshe Rabbeinu and Yermiyahu HaNavi descended together to see the calamity in progress. Along the way they encountered the corpses of the fallen victims. At the shores of Bavel, the exiled exclaimed, “The son of Amram has come to redeem us!” Countered a pained Moshe Rabbeinu, “My children, only One can help you now.” As he retreated, the heart-rending cries by the waters of Babylon pierced the heavens.
Moshe updated the anxious Avos. “Some have their hands bound behind them, others are shackled in iron fetters; those who collapsed are fodder for the animals and the birds, while others lie parched under a scorching sun…”
As the Fathers broke down in lamentation for the wretched fate of their children, a soft, anguished cry could be heard… “Ribbono Shel Olam, you know the truth, that Yaakov your servant served my father for seven years on account of me, and yet when my father traded me for my sister I took pity on her and did not allow her to be shamed. I was but a mortal being and yet suppressed my human emotions. You are Almighty and All-merciful . . . should your indignation be so protracted? Won’t you be compassionate toward my children?”
G-d’s mercy was awakened. “Because of you, Rachel, I will return the Jewish children to their homeland.”
We eagerly await the day.
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