Pain and Gain

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Living lives of comfort and ease, it’s difficult for many of us to fulfill the direction of the first siman in the Shulchan Aruch to “be pained and distressed over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh.”  Do we experience agony at the fact that the holiest spot in the universe lies in picturesque ruin, trampled daily by the feet of deluded masses? Do we feel sick over the reality that, no matter how nice the weather and the house and the bungalow and the cars, we are in golus?

It’s easier these days, unfortunately.  We’re reminded.

It will be less of a challenge, too, to access the sadness of Eicha and our kinos this Tisha B’Av, when (unless we’re wonderfully surprised first by Moshiach’s arrival) we will focus entirely on the churban Beis Hamikdosh and its appalling offspring, the subsequent tragedies of Jewish history.

Because, no matter how one chooses to regard past weeks’ events in Eretz Yisrael, and no matter what may have been accomplished or might yet be, the situation is in fact dire and seemingly hopeless.

Some may take heart in the elimination of terrorists who, in their happiest dreams, and all too often in reality, exult in the murder of innocents.  To be sure, it is certainly not improper to feel relief in the removal of destructive forces from this world.  But anyone who thinks that there isn’t a steady supply of others ready to step into the bloody boots of recently dispatched psychopaths is fooling himself.

And the same is true of anyone who feels satisfaction at the discovery of so many “offensive tunnels.”  (The phrase’s adjective is doubly apt; the subterranean structures are not only intended as means for killing and kidnapping Jews, but offend morality itself.)  To be sure, each tunnel destroyed is one less conduit for murder and extortion.  But there are governments and groups that will be only too happy to send the necessary funds and materials to burrow new holes in the ground for the vipers and rodents.  (Yes, dehumanizing words.  Claims to humanness can be forfeited.)

And then there are the korbonos, the brave young men whose lives were abruptly ended as they were protecting their friends and relatives by fighting evil.  In our world, sometimes, at least in the short run, evil wins.

Even the dream-within-imagining of Hamas’ destruction, though still far from coming true, would lead, experts warn, to worse.  Other groups of (if it can even be envisioned) even more murderous Islamists wait in the wings; and a Gaza serving as their pernicious playground would not bode well at all for Israel’s citizens, or for civilization itself.

We may not overlook, either, the global anti-Semitism that has found a convenient reason to resurrect and invigorate itself, and is expressing itself so openly and honestly, with Jews being attacked, shuls besieged, swastikas brandished.  And the “soft” anti-Semitism of some of nations who ignore body-counts everywhere but in Gaza.

Yes it seems hopeless.  But pain, in the end, at least in Judaism, must not lead to despair.  On the contrary, anguish is what paves the way to redemption.  “All who mourn Yerushalayim,” Chazal inform us (Bava Basra 60b), “merit to see its rejoicing.”

There’s a reason, in other words, why Tisha B’Av is followed by the Shiva Dinechemta, the “seven weeks of consolation.”  The reassuring Haftoros we will read over those weeks offer not platitudinous comfort but, rather, pointed reminders of how things are destined to end, with a world enveloped by “knowledge of Hashem as water covers the seas.”

And so our pain on Tisha B’Av is rightly felt.  And it is more accessible than ever for those of us who in the past might have felt only pain, as the Chiddushei HaRim put it, at the fact that we weren’t feeling pain.

The key is to realize that all the world’s evils, all the wars and hatreds, all the terrorists and despots, all the bloodshed and madness, derive their power, in the end, from the distance we have put between ourselves and Hashem, a distance manifest in the fact that the Beis Hamikdosh is still absent.  When we look at Gaza today, and the West Bank, and all the Jews living under the threat of implacable, rabid and irrational enemies, we need to understand that it is the churban, in fact, that we are seeing.

The month of Av, we might remind ourselves, leads to that of Elul, in which we begin to prepare for Rosh Hashana, when we will declare Hashem’s Kingship over creation.  That Divine dominion is a reality, even if the King isn’t making it evident to all the world.  The day will come, though.

And may our mourning merit that we see it ourselves, and soon.

© 2014 Hamodia