תשעה באב always falls between the parshiyot of Devarim and V’etchanan. This is very appropriate, because in the parsha of Devarim we read of חטא המרגלים, and the gratuitous crying which prompted the Almighty to say that He would one day give us good reason to cry; while the parsha of V’etchanan which contains within it the passage of כי תוליד בנים ובני בנים, which we read on תשעה באב – speaks of exile, teshuvah, and redemption. And so תשעה באב falls between these two parshiyot which span the whole cycle of חורבן and גּאולה – beginning with the very root of חורבן, at the חטא המרגלים, through גלות and finally reconciliation and redemption.
תשעה באב is also situated between two sets of הפטרות: the 3 הפטרות of פרעניות, which tell of the threatening calamity, culminating in the הפטורה of חזון; followed by the 7 הפטרות of consolation, beginning with נחמו נחמו עמי.
These numbers – 3 and 7 – are very opposite. They are numbers, of course, that constantly come up in Judaism: The seven days of the week immediately come to mind, and the three festivals.
Generally it may be said that seven represents a full cycle. Thus seven days complete the cycle of the week, and the full course of a Yom Tov; seven days complete a cycle of טהרה, as in the פרה אדומה and the שבעה נקיים of a נדה; and seven times seven completes the cycle of the עומר. And there are many other examples.
The number three, on the other hand, represents rootedness. There are three אבות, who are the foundation of the Jewish People. A tree is deemed to take root in three days, as reflected in many halachot. And the Mishnah tells us that the world rests on the three pillars of Torah, Avodah and Gmilut Chasadim.
Likewise, the mekubalim teach that there are seven attributes which define how Hashem created and relates to the world; these seven, in turn, being rooted in the three attributes of Divine wisdom: חכמה בינה ודעת.
R’ Moshe Shapiro shlita, once pointed out a striking template for this pattern of three and seven in the Torah itself. The Torah describes the land of Israel as: ארץ נחלי מים עינות ותהומות יוצאים בבקעה ובהר, ארץ חיטה ושעורה וגפן תאנה ורימון ארץ זית שמן ודבש. Note that there are three sources of water (נחלי מים, עינות ותהומות; streams, wells and aquifers), which, in turn, produce seven kinds of fruit. And this is a paradigm: Three sources, out of which comes a fullness of seven.
Perhaps we are used to thinking that first we have 3 sad weeks, and then the sad part’s over, and we move on to the happy part. But if we understand the significance of the pattern of three and seven, we can gain a clearer perspective: The fullness of the comfort of the שּבעה דנחמתא is rooted in the אבילות of the three weeks that precede it. And, more generally – that the completeness of the נחמה to which we ultimately look forward, grows out of our אבילות today. As Chazal say – “כל המתאבל על ירושלים, זוכה ורואה בנחמתה.”
The three weeks of mourning are the font and origin of the subsequent consolation, because by participating in that mourning and sharing in our people’s collective suffering, we root ourselves in its history and join ourselves to its ultimately glorious destiny.
There is a very profound truth here, which needs to be amplified: Chazal speak with disdain of someone who is פורש מדרכי ציבור, a person who separates himself from the Jewish people. As the Rambam writes in הלכות תשובה:
“הפורש מדרכי צבור ואף על פי שלא עבר עבירות אלא נבדל מעדת ישראל ואינו עושה מצות בכללן ולא נכנס בצרתן ולא מתענה בתעניתן אלא הולך בדרכו כאחד מגויי הארץ וכאילו אינו מהן אין לו חלק לעולם הבא
One who separates himself from the community, even if he does not sin at all, but simply segregates himself from the community of Israel, and does not do mitzvos with them, participate in their troubles, or fast in their fast days, but goes his own way like one of the nations of the world, it is as if he is not one of them, and has no share in the world to come.”
The Rambam is not necessarily describing someone who does עבירות. Rather, even if he is personally observant, by choosing to cut his connection and empathy with the Jewish People he writes himself out of their story; and once he stands outside that story, he is lost.
Conversely, when a non-Jew wishes to convert to Judaism, the Rambam writes that we tell him the following:
“כיצד מקבלין גירי הצדק כשיבוא אחד להתגייר מן העכו”ם ויבדקו אחריו ולא ימצאו עילה, אומרים לו מה ראית שבאת להתגייר, אי אתה יודע שישראל בזמן הזה דוויים ודחופים ומסוחפין ומטורפין ויסורין באין עליהן, אם אמר אני יודע ואיני כדאי מקבלין אותו מיד (הלכות איסורי ביאה פרק יד הלכה א).
How do we accept a convert? … We say to him: Why do you wish to convert? Don’t you know that Israel in these times are suffering, oppressed, downtrodden, and troubles afflict them? If he responds: Yes, I know, and I am not worthy in sharing in that burden, we accept him immediately.”
A גר is not just accepting a set of rules. He is attaching himself to Jewish history and must recognize that becoming part of that history – with all its difficulties – is a gift. יודע אני ואיני כדאי – I know, and I don’t deserve it.
The model גר צדק is Rut. When Naomi tried to dissuade her, to send her back to Moav, she responded: “עמך עמי, ואלקיך אלקי“. With these words she expressed two commitments: One to the Jewish people, and one to the Jewish G-d. And every גר צדק must likewise make these two commitments: Through קבלת המצוות he says, along with Rut: אלקיך אלקי; and by saying יודע אני ואיני כדאי, I am not worthy to share the burden of Jewish history, he says, along with her, עמך עמי.
To be a Jew doesn’t mean only to do מצות and avoid doing עבירות. To be a Jew means to live beyond our particular small lives; it means to live with an abiding sense that my individual story is part of a larger story. It means to be held in the grip of history and destiny; and to share that history and destiny with every other Jew. It means to carry the freight of our shared past, to share in the burden of our collective present, and to be responsible towards our united future.
כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בנחמתה. To mourn for ירושלים means to feel our collective loss as a personal loss, and our national degradation as a personal degradation. It means to attach oneself to Jewish history, by saying: יודע אני ואיני כדאי, I know it is hard, and I am not worthy of the privilege of sharing that hardship.
By identifying with the Jewish past, we become part of the Jewish future, because the two are connected. It’s all one story, with many different chapters, but one Author, and one connected narrative.
I once heard a stunning observation: We end קינות with אלי ציון, a song of mourning for ציון. The melody is very old – as old, perhaps, as the קינה itself. That same melody occurs in another place in davening, in the חזרת הש”ץ of יום טוב: בנה ביתך כבתחילה וכונן מקדשך על מכונו. Our tragic past and our triumphant future are part of the same melody.
As we pass from שבת חזון through תשעה באב to שבת נחמו, and as we go from the three weeks of mourning to the seven weeks of comfort, let us use this time to root ourselves in the past of our people, and thereby prepare ourselves to share in its future. Let us not forget what a privilege it is to be part of this unique history, with all of its pain, saying - יודע אני ואיני כדאי. Let us be attuned to the sweep and grandeur of the chords that bind אלי ציון to בנה ביתך כבתחילה, and may we soon hear their triumphant crescendo, בביאת גואל צדק בב”א.
About the Author: Rabbi Eli Baruch Shulman serves as Rosh Yeshiva and holds the Rabbi Henry H. Guterman Chair in Talmud at YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.
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