From Mourning to Comfort
Special Holiday Shiur
From Mourning to Comfort
by Rav Yehuda Shaviv
The days between the seventeenth of Tamuz and the ninth of Av, the period known as "yemei bein ha-metzarim" (the days between the straits), are characterized by mourning customs which become increasingly stringent as we approach the bitter day on which we commemorate the destruction of the Temple. Since the destruction of the First Temple these days have been days of mourning, and to this day - close to two thousand years since the destruction of the Second Temple - the Jewish nation continues to mourn and lament. Let us examine this phenomenon from the point of view of the laws and customs pertaining to mourning.
B. The Dead Are Destined to be Forgotten
The words of the prophet Yirmiyahu (22:10), "Do not cry for the dead nor lament for him," provided Chazal with the basis for their limitations on mourning as stipulated in Mo'ed Katan (27b):
Our bewilderment at the behavior of the nation is somewhat mitigated by looking back at the behavior of our patriarch Yaakov. When Yaakov saw Yosef's coat dripping with blood, and realized that his beloved son had been torn apart by wild beasts, he sunk into a state of prolonged mourning (Bereishit 37:35): "And Yaakov tore his garment and put sackcloth upon his loins and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and daughters rose to comfort him but he refused to be comforted. He said, 'I shall go to my grave mourning for my son.'"
Thirty days passed, a year went by, many more years followed, and Yaakov was still mourning. He did not experience the usual dulling of the pain; he made no effort to stop reliving the memories of the past or to behave as people usually do a long time after their loved ones have passed on. And all this despite the fact that Yaakov had other sons and daughters and even grandchildren!
D. One Is Not Comforted for the Living
Chazal explain this phenomenon as follows (Massekhet Sofrim, chapter 21): "'And he refused to be comforted' - for what reason? Because one is never comforted for [the loss of] someone who is still alive, whereas the dead are forgotten, as it is written (Tehillim 31), 'I have been forgotten from the heart like the dead.'"
Accepting the comfort of others means coming to terms with the loss, with the fact that the person is gone. A person's healthy natural instincts cause his soul to seek comfort in various substitutes, in order to fill the void left by the death of the beloved. (Compare "And Yitzhak brought her to the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rivka and he loved her, and Yitzhak was comforted for his mother" [Bereishit 24:67].)
The soul cannot be comforted for someone who is still alive, because in the depths of the soul there is a sense that the connection still exists, that the person is not really gone. On the surface, then, the pain of the separation never dulls. Moreover, there can be no substitute for someone who is still alive. The world that is each individual can never be filled by someone else, and so long as a person is alive there can be no substitute for him, nor can anyone fill his place.
Hence mourning over someone who is still alive but is considered dead is not an expression of sorrow over an event which once took place, but rather an expression of sorrow over the present, over the separation which one continues to feel, over the substitute which can never be found.
E. The House of Our Life
The Beit HaMikdash is our very life. It was burned - but never went away; it was destroyed, but continues to exist - whether in the heavens or buried underground. It continues to exist for us in the present, but is not with us - or, rather, we are not with it. For this reason the mourning and pain will never cease until its rebuilding. And each year when the season of the destruction comes around, we feel the pain anew as though it had just happened in front of us.
As mentioned above, the reason for a limitation being placed on mourning for the dead is, "From then onwards, God says, 'Are you then more merciful than I?'" When it comes to mourning for the Beit HaMikdash, however, no matter how hard we look, we can find no measure of mourning that would indicate an excess. God Himself mourns over the destruction.
"And when God saw the Temple He said, 'Surely this is My house, and this is My resting place, that the enemies have entered and done as they pleased.' At that moment God cried and said, 'Woe is Me for My house, My children - where are you? My priests, where are you? Those who love Me, where are you? What shall I do for you - I warned you, but you did not repent.'
"God said to Yirmiyahu, 'Today I am like a person who had a single son, and he made his son a wedding canopy, and the son died under the canopy. Have you no pain for Me, nor for My children?"
G. Exile is the Reason for the Redemption
The crying and shouting, from on High as well as here on earth, serve as a standing protest against the state of mourning - the feeling of loss, the inability to come to terms with the situation and an unbending demand for its correction. It is no coincidence that the verse with which we conclude our recitation of Kinot on Tisha Be-av is "Return us, O God, to You - and we shall return; renew our days as of old."
The Maharal (Netzach Yisrael, ch. 203) explains as follows:
From our first exile we learned that only when Bnei Yisrael cried out to God from their labor did God reveal Himself to Moshe and send him to save the nation from the Egyptian bondage. This idea may underlie the legend which describes Mashiach as being born on Tisha Be-av. It teaches us that it is in the very depths of our feelings of pain over the exile and destruction that the seeds of the future redemption are sowed.
(Translated by Kaeren Fish.)
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