Jerusalem in flames
Forty years ago, on Tisha B’Av 1967, tears flowed out of the eyes of a Tzaddik.
Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av – this coming Tuesday – is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. On this day the two holy Temples were destroyed: the first Temple – by the Babylonians 2429 years ago, the second one by the Romans 1939 years ago. We mourn these and other losses every Tisha B'Av.
Yet, 1967 was unique. One witness described the scene: “Never did I see the Rebbe cry like that. His entire body was shaking as he recited Kinus [a series of lamentations said on Tisha B’Av]. The Rebbe was weeping so strongly that we could not hear one clear word of the Haftorah the Rebbe was reading that morning.”
Why was the Rebbe crying so? Tisha B’Av, every year, is a sad day. What distinguished Tisha B’Av 1967 that elicited such a strong reaction?
We can only speculate. But it doesn’t seem that difficult to infer that the tears were related to the events of that summer.
As discussed in this column over the last few weeks, the Rebbe that summer was heralding in the great spiritual awakening that took place as a result of the smashing victory of the Six-Day War. This was the beginning of the “great shofar’s” call touching souls everywhere, even those “lost in the land of Ashur” and “banished in the land of Mitzrayim.”
But then, despite the initial revival, people began gravitating back to their own machinations. Instead of the shofar’s sound leading people to “come and bow down to G-d on the holy mountain in Jerusalem,” the miracles were taken for granted, and even explained away as a result of mans’ self-made strength. Perhaps the Rebbe was crying over the unprecedented awakening that summer, waiting to be actualized.
People cry over many things. Some of us weep when we are in pain or experience loss. Others cry when they stub their toe or lose money. Yet others cry over their own dashed hopes and broken dreams.
But how many people cry over the suffering of others? How many cry over unfulfilled dreams of a nation? How many are saddened by the cosmic pain that affects the entire universe?
The tears of a Tzaddik are very holy and pure. They do not come out of weakness, insecurity or fear. They carry the power of history and reflect cosmic dissonance. A Tzaddik’s tears can teach us volumes.
Tears, the mystics say, bathe the soul in their warm waters.
For a moment let us put ourselves in the Rebbe’s shoes (if that is possible): Imagine seeing with your own eyes the call of the “great shofar” awakening the world. Imagine that you can feel G-d calling to you and to people everywhere, imploring, beseeching us: Please, please, act upon the call of the great shofar. Please use this great spiritual awakening and channel it into your day to day activities. Sanctify your corner of the material world.
Then imagine how, as the days pass, the call is ignored, the awakening forgotten, the miracles dismissed, replaced by “self-made” delusions of power. Would you not cry?
The deepest tears come from missed opportunities and lost hopes; from unactualized potential and unfulfilled dreams; from defeated idealism and broken promises. These tears express both the great possibilities and the anguish of those possibilities not being realized.
Was the Rebbe weeping for the great possibilities and the doors that opened in the summer of ’67? And then, for the deep concern that the great gifts may be left unfulfilled?
As the Rebbe was sitting alone reading the Kinus lamentations – which begins with the saddest description, “Woe, Alas, she [Jerusalem] sits alone” – was he feeling the deep pain of witnessing how such great events were being unappreciated and the opportunities squandered?
That summer of 1967 Jerusalem was redeemed and the entire nation was inspired. In direct contrast to this miraculous background the stark reality of a lonely Jerusalem sitting alone, waiting for the people to “come and bow,” could not have been more pronounced.
Perhaps the Rebbe was weeping over the way Jerusalem’s lonely sadness was playing itself out that summer: Would Jerusalem be abandoned, or would the people recognize the hand of G-d and allow the “great shofar’s” call to lead them to “come and bow down to G-d on the holy mountain in Jerusalem”?
All tears ever shed on Tisha B’Av are rooted in the first tears which were shed 3318 years ago over the Promised Land. Tisha B’av that year the Biblical scouts returned with their slanderous report about Israel, causing terrible tears – “the entire community rose in uproar and begin to cry; the people wept that night” – because they were afraid to enter the Promised Land slandered by the scouts (discussed also in this week’s Torah portion). As a result of these tears, ever since, Tisha B’av became a night of tears and grief – a “bechiya l’doros,” a “weeping for generations” (see Numbers 14:1. Talmud, Taanit 29a).
Many events in history brought forth those tears – the Temples were destroyed, Beitar was vanquished and Jerusalem plowed. The Spanish Expulsion of Jews (in 1492) and World War I (in 1914) began on that day.
In 1967, just as 3318 years ago, tears again flowed over the Promised Land. This time the sadness took on another shape: Tears of joy over the historic victory and redemption of Jerusalem, and tears of pain over the latest rejection of the Promised Land.
Perhaps the Tisha B’av 1967 tears were over a Promised Land that was again being “slandered,” as it was 3318 years earlier on the first Tisha B’Av.
As the Rebbe read the words of the Haftorah was he crying over Jeremiah’s lamentation: “There are no grapes on the vine and no figs on the fig tree… the whole land trembles…”? Or was it the words: “I would attempt to overcome sorrow, but I am sick at heart… Is G-d no longer in Zion…”
And then “The harvest is past, summer is ended, yet we are not saved” – was that running through the Rebbe’s mind that summer day in 1967?
“Oh that my head were water and my eye a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of people… For the mountains will I raise a weeping and wailing, and for the pastures of the wilderness a dirge… for a voice of wailing is heard out of Zion, ‘how have we become devastated.’”
And finally, G-d’s words of warning against vanity: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, and let not the vaunt his power, and let not the rich man boast of his riches. But if one indeed take pride, let him take pride in this: that he understands and knows Me, that I am G-d who renders kindness, justice and equity in the earth for in these attributes do I take pleasure, says G-d.” Taking these words to heart, can bring a tear or two to your eyes.
Look around today, 40 years later. Some are now arguing that the entire Six-Day war was a mistake. Israel should never have conquered – or in the commonly held distortion: “occupied” – the so called “West Bank” and Jerusalem. As if that would have solved the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews…
“Occupied” is a false word. Max Kempelman has already pointed out that at most the territories are “disputed,” but not “occupied.” The land never belonged to any “Palestinians, and for that matter there was never such an entity called “Palestinians.” Israel conquered the land from Jordan, Egypt and Syria – in a justified, defensive war, responding to Nasser’s menacing actions and Arab belligerence at the time, threatening the very existence of Israel. Yet, some continue to insist that the events of 1967 were a mistake. That alone can make you weep.
The Rebbe saw the great victory as the beginning of a new, unprecedented spiritual revival. And he weeped.
Now, as we approach Tisha B’Av 40 years later, there is much to think about: Where does Jerusalem stand today? Does she sit alone? Where do we stand today? Do we appreciate the gifts we are blessed with?
This is the time of year that we shed a tear. Not a tear of weakness and despondence. A tear of strength – sensitive to the losses and pains of the world in which we live.
Tisha B’Av is the most sensitive, the most vulnerable, day of the year, exposing the most vulnerable parts of our lives. A day like this must be honored and serve as a source of motivation. It is a day that should serve as a wake up call to appreciate the Divine blessings in our lives. That we must act on the awakenings and inspirations in our lives.
After 3318 year it’s about time that we should have the power to finally appreciate and respect the Promised Land given to us, and finally stop crying…
And it shall be on that day, that a great shofar shall be sounded, and those who were lost in the land of Ashur and those who were banished in the land of Mitzrayim shall come and bow down to G-d on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.