The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40-plus-year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.
Mazal Tov to the Granek family on the marriage of Avigayil to Yehuda Levi.
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The Gemara (Megillah 31a) tells us that in Tanaitic times there was a custom to read the story of the spies from Parshat Shlach on Tisha B’Av. Our tradition is to read ki tolid banim from Parshat Va’Etchanan. While I could well understand the connection between Tisha B’Av and Shlach, what is the connection between ki tolid and Tisha B’Av?
Ki tolid banim foreshadows 3 things: 1) Exile and destruction. The Torah expresses Israel’s lack of tolerance for sin and sinners. 2) The availability of teshuva, repentance. And you shall seek Hashem with all your hearts and you will find Him. No matter how far removed from Hashem we may feel, the road back to Hashem is always open. We don’t mention teshuva much in kinot, but it is an important underlying theme and appropriate for Tisha B’Av. The Torah foretells that ultimately the Jew will do teshuva, but he will be driven by some mysterious force to do so. According to Rambam, the Torah promised that at the end of our exile, all Jews will do teshuva spontaneously and be driven back to Hashem. 3) The Torah promises that we will return to Hashem forever. Our first two entries to Israel were temporary and relatively short lived. However, the Torah promises that eventually there will come a time when our association with the land will be permanent. Parshat Va’Etchanan and ki tolid banim combine the theme of destruction that is consistent with Tisha B’Av with the promise of a brighter tomorrow that will usher in our reconnection with Hashem and Israel.
As opposed to the kriat hatorah, the content and theme of the Haftarah of Tisha B’Av is pure lamentation and speaks entirely of destruction. It expresses utter despair without any mention of consolation. While we typically conclude a Haftarah of rebuke with a positive statement, we don’t do so on Tisha B’Av morning. The concluding verses of the Haftarah contain rebuke, not consolation. Tisha B’Av is apparently the exception to the rule. Kinot means utter despair; there is no room for consolation within kinot or the Haftarah that introduces them. The kriat hatorah tells us to continue to hope, that ultimately Hashem will return us to our rightful station.
Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 13:2) notes the connection between various Torah readings and the calendar periods when they are read. He notes that we read the blessings and curses from Vayikra prior to Shavuot, the blessings and curses from Dvarim in Parshat Ki Tavo prior to Rosh Hashanah and we read Va’Etchanan after Tisha B’Av. Why did the Rambam refer to the readings prior to the festival for the other events, but referred to the reading after Tisha B’Av? Why not maintain the symmetry and state that we read Dvarim before Tisha B’Av? Perhaps the reason is that after Tisha B’Av we begin the 7 Haftorot of consolation that describe how we will ultimately return to Hashem and our land. The message of Tisha B’Av focuses on the mourning and sadness associated with the destruction. However we have been promised that Tisha B’Av will ultimately be a festival, and we anxiously anticipate and long for that day. We therefore focus on Va’Etchanan, the Torah reading associated with our redemption, and not on Dvarim, which contains the story of the roots of our exile.