Tears That Build

An artist and his apprentice toiled side-by-side for many hours, each working on a painting representing what they saw in the world. As they worked together, the apprentice saw that his mentor’s painting contained hope and beauty, while his own lacked that vitality.

“How is it,” he asked, “that you are able to see so much hope in this world?”

His mentor, seeing that his apprentice was ready to go out on his own, sought to teach him a lesson necessary for facing the world. He instructed his young charge to display his best painting in the marketplace with a note, instructing all who passed by to critique it by penciling an X over any area of the painting that needed improvement. He did so, and when the artist returned that evening to retrieve his painting, he was dismayed to see virtually his entire painting covered in Xes. Disheartened, he returned to his teacher, who told him that this was only the first part of the lesson.

“Tonight,” he said, “You will work to erase all the pencil markings on your painting, and tomorrow, return it to its display in the marketplace. This time, put a bucket of paints and brushes, all that anyone might need, and put a note inviting passer-bys once again to critique your painting, this time by using the provided paint and brushes to correct the flaws.”

The young man did so, and with an apprehensive heart came back the following evening to see what had been done to his painting. To his shock, the bucket of paint remained untouched, and his masterpiece was exactly as he left it.

“You see,” said his mentor, “It’s very easy to criticize, complain, and find fault, because words are cheap. Make it your habit to complain only about what you intend to fix, and you’ll see opportunity, hope, and potential wherever you look.”

The Tears of the Meraglim

The history of Tisha B’av begins with B’nai Yisrael’s traitorous cries in the midbar. Lacking faith in Hashem’s salvation, they cried that night and bemoaned the gift of Eretz Yisrael. They didn’t react to the fear that had been awakened in their hearts by praying for help and salvation. That in itself would have been a show of faith and would have been looked on mercifully by Hashem. Instead, they wretchedly complained, accusing Hashem of seeking their deaths, and bitterly wishing to be back in Mitzrayim. They saw the situation through strictly negative eyes, and submitted to hopelessness, mourning their future. Hashem’s response to their cries was to tell them that since they had cried in a meaningless way, the night would be destined for crying.

It strikes me that we seem doomed each year to repeat this exact aspect of the meraglim’s sin. Often, we spend the day of Tisha B’av trying to stir up sadness: Holocaust memoirs, tales of the Spanish Inquisition, stirring videos put out each year about the poor, sick, and starving. Things that are authentically sad, not meaningless at all, but as the same time, we seem to use them as emotional props: we know we’re supposed to be sad, so we look for what to be sad about. And we find ourselves seeking the next tear-jerker, the next ‘high’ that will get us into the Tisha B’av mood.

This isn’t a unique problem. It seems that Tisha B’av is set up this way. Uniquely shapeless, it’s a day when we fast, but we don’t do our typical fast-day rituals. We don’t daven selichos, as the day of Tisha B’av is not a day of action. It’s not a day of teshuva, and we dont say tachanun. We don’t learn Torah. We don’t even put on tefillin, abridging the morning tefillos in favor of just lamenting many individual tragedies of the past.

This seems hard to understand. Where is the growth, where is the action? What are we meant to be creating on this day? 

Lest you think that perhaps there is no goal, or deeper action, and it’s just a day of sadness, let’s remember that Judaism is big on action. This is pretty clear from all of our tangible mitzvos and customs, but we can demonstrate it easily with an example. We have a mitzva to remember Mitzrayim. We’re not just told to remember that Hashem took us out of Mitztrayim. No, that’s not how we roll. Instead, we make an eight day holiday, where we abolish from our homes and our possessions all leavened dough. We stay up late talking about the tortures we suffered there, and the punishments Hashem brought on them. We make a whole production of symbolic foods and rituals. But that’s not it. We then include it in every other holiday, too, and every Shabbos for good measure. We twice, or thrice, daily recite Shema, and recall our exodus. In fact, it’s the first thing we teach our babies when they learn how to talk, and we celebrate our heroes who died with these words on their lips. We write the words and attach them to each doorpost of our homes. We (well, men, anyway) literally write the words on parchment and tie them to their heads and arms as a reminder. It’s pretty safe to say that we’re not passive when something is important in our religion!

There’s a strong reason that we do this. We all know people who talk big but don’t produce. Who can find every flaw in a project, and can wax poetic about how things should be different, but make themselves scarce when it’s time to act. Like the passer-bys that the old artist warned his protege of, these sorts of actions don’t produce change and don’t produce goodness in the world. They instead encourage a negative world view, that will cause the meaningless crying of the meraglim. There’s no thought of praying for salvation, or moves to repent and hope for a better outcome in this kind of crying and fault-finding. As Yidden who seek to better the world and spread the light of the Shechina, we require action.

What, then, is the point of Tisha B’av? What is our avoda, our task for this day, beyond a general sense of sadness and tears? What are we meant to be producing with those tears?

Dovid’s Mikdash

Dovid Hamelech answers this for us, in his construction (yes, Dovid Hamelech’s construction!) of the very Bais Hamikdash we are mourning. He’s stirred by the plight of the Shechina, and wants to build its place in this world. He asks Nosson Ha’navi for permission to build the Bais Hamikdash, and is given a green light. Excitedly, wasting no time, Dovid starts his campaign to raise money that very day. His excitement is evident, and all of klal Yisrael join in generously, prompting Dovid to bless them, composing the tefilla, ויברך דוד. That very night, however, Nosson Ha’navi is told by Hashem that he had made a mistake, and that Dovid must be stopped from building the Bais Hamikdash, and that it would instead be built by his son Shlomo. And so it was.

Yet when we daven for the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash, we call it almost exclusively by Dovid Hamelech’s name. סוכת דוד, כסא דוד, מזמור שיר חנוכת הבית לדודbut why Dovid Hamelech if he wasn’t the one to build it? Tosefos is bothered by this very question, in Zevachim, when the Gemarah asks, ‘When Dovid sanctified the Bais Hamikdash, did he sanctify down to the tiles or through the tiles to the very ground beneath it?’ But Dovid Hamelech did not sanctify the Bais Hamikdash, and did not in fact live to see its tiles!

Our answer is found in the oddness of Nosson Hanavi’s mistaken response to Dovid. This is perhaps the only time that we see a true navi, who is consulted with a sincere question, give an incorrect answer. In answering Dovid, Nosson’s Divine intuition, his ruach hakodesh, is removed from him and his answer is hurriedly retracted the following day.

Hashem purposely hid His real intentions from Nosson, allowing him to give Dovid the wrong answer, so that the building of the Bais Hamikdash would begin with the complete cheshek and ratzon that Dovid would infuse it with. Tosefos learns from the Gemarah’s question that the Bais Hamikdash has two components. The second, and secondary in many ways, component is the physical building that Shlomo built. But the first, and primary, component, that Dovid Hamelech established, was made of pure and unadulterated desire, cheshek, and bone-deep will, ratzon, to build it. Without this aspect, the Bais Hamikdash could not be built. Dovid Hamelech needed to commit himself all the way, with absolute fervor to its construction, and with that foundation, he sanctified it for the future.

שמחתי באמרים לי בית ה’ נלך Even when Dovid knew that the Bais Hamikdash would only be built after his death, he rejoiced, was downright gleeful, when klal Yisrael would say in his presence that they wanted to go to the Bais Hamikdash, hinting broadly at wanting his death. Dovid’s commitment, the depth of his desire were real, and that is the true foundation of the Bais Hamikdash.

The Bais Hamikdash was more than a building, more than even a place to bring korbonos and seek atonement. It was the place from which came all the bracha in our lives. The place that our connection to Hashem was rooted, the place we had the ultimate intimacy with Hashem. The place were all doubt vanished, and all fears and thoughts of disloyalty were laid to rest. The building that Shlomo Hamelech built was as essential as it was magnificent. But the heart and soul of the Bais Hamikdash was earned and founded by Dovid Hamelech’s yearning for Hashem.

In the retelling of Shlomo Hamelech’s consecration of the Bais Hamikdash, the possuk describes in great detail the happenings of the day. The kohanim, ready with the multitudes of animals for korbanos; the levi’im with their trumpets; the whole nation gathered around for a special seven day chanukas ha’bayis, that would culminate on Yom Kippur. The nevi’im had declared that this year Yom Kippur was to be celebrated with a feast, in honor of the Bais Hamikdash’s construction. The pesukim describing the scene are chillingly beautiful,  but after placing the Aron and its keilim in their new home, the kohanim could not enter to bring the korbanos. The clouds of the Shechina filled the space, preventing them. Shlomo Hamelech stood before Hashem, and prayed, calling on the memory of Dovid and his great desire to build the Bais Hamikdash, and Hashem’s promise to reside in it. Immediately after Shlomo’s tefilla, the cloud lifted and the kohanim proceeded. It was made clear that it was Dovid’s Bais Hamikdash.

Yirmiyahu’s Answer

The great philosopher Plato once approached Yirmiyahu and asked him two questions. He first asked why a man of Yirmiyahu’s stature would lower himself to mourn over a mere building? Secondly, he asked, why not let the past remain in the past? What benefit is there in thinking of something that is gone? Why not look to the future?

To answer the first question, Yirmiyahu allowed Plato to ask him all of his unanswerable philosophical queries and proceeded to answer each one to Plato’s complete satisfaction. “I mourn a so-called building,” he said “Because it was the source for all the knowledge and goodness that I have, so its fitting that I mourn.”

But Yirmiyahu couldn’t answer Plato’s second question, telling him instead that as a gentile, he would never understand. What was Yirmiyahu’s answer that he could not explain? Yirmiyahu knew that when we mourn for the Bais Hamikdash, we are not mourning for something that was in the past, and is no more. These are not meaningless tears, of hopelessness and despair. The third Bais Hamikdash exists, it is Bais Hamikdash She’limalah.

On Tisha B’av, we are not crying tears that are meant to fall downwards and uselessly dry. We are building, cementing, creating a place in this world for it to descend with the power of our cheshek and ratzon. Our tears are going upwards, to the Bais Hamikdash Shelimalah, and creating its bricks, completing its construction.

In the secular world, tears are limited to the bechiya shel chinom of the miraglim. But Yirmiyahu, and Dovid Hamelech, knew that our tears can build. The meraglim had the power to use their tears, use their emotions to plead for Heavenly help as they went forward into Eretz Yisrael, but they didn’t.

The Steipler points out that B’nai Yisrael chose to follow Hashem, chose to be led through the midbar and into Eretz Yisrael. That, he explains is why we see them slip and test Hashem by saying, “If only we were back in Egypt!” Surely they didn’t mean back in servitude and torture! The Steipler explains that there was an option of returning to the now desolate and powerless Egypt and living as Jews there, but that B’nai Yisrael accepted the hardships and put their faith in Hashem, to their eternal credit: זכרתי לך חסד נעוריך אהבת כלולותיך לכתך אחרי במדבר Their desire to live on the higher level, to be Eretz Yisrael Jews and not Egypt Jews laid the framework of marriage with Hashem, just as Dovid’s desire built the Temple, in spirit if not in form. The crying of the meraglim reneged on this commitment.

When they cried that night, B’nai Yisrael didn’t direct their tears upwards. They cried uselessly, in an act of disconnection from Hashem, when they could have used every tear and every fear to connect ever more to Him, putting their faith in Him, praying for the chance to flourish in Eretz Yisrael.

If I would suggest one thing this year, it is this. This year, begin Tisha B’av a little bit early. This year, instead of starting with the pain and destruction, with all the heartbreak and bereavement, with the horrors of galus, instead, begin today to think about the joy and beauty; the healing of all pain and disfigurement, be it internal or external; the goodness; the justice; all the blessing that sprang from the connection we once enjoyed with Hashem in the holiest of all places.

And tomorrow, when you mourn the destruction of our Bais Hamikdash, and mourn the delay of its rebuilding, direct your tears upwards. Call on the deep desire your soul has for it, call on the power that Dovid Hamelech used to create it, call on the power that Yirmiyahu knew we had, and yearn for that connection with Hashem.

כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה

All those who mourn Yerushalyim, will merit to see its joy

Because Yerushalyim will be rebuilt only through the power of our cheshek for her.

As a father and son walked into galus together, the son cried to his seemingly stoic father. “How will we live outside of our land? How will we survive without Yerushalyim?” His father comforted him, reassuring him that Hashem would one day redeem them. As time passed, and they  sadly settled into their new home, the father made sure to keep strong, and to keep the memory of Yerushalyim alive for his son. Until one year, the son questioned the father’s insistence on mentioning Yerushalyim yet again: “Father, we are doing just fine here, we are prosperous and happy. Why do you keep mentioning the past?” With that, his previously somber father broke down and cried. He knew that once the yearning was gone in his son, the future would be bleak.

At the height of his despair, Yirmiyahu told the exiled Yidden, “Had you cried these tears then, had you had such passion and fervor for the Bais Hamikdash while it was standing, it wouldn’t have come to this!”

לא אבוא לירושלים של מעלה עד שיבוא לירושלים של מטה

May our tears this Tisha B’av come from a place deep in our hearts, where we yearn for the Bais Hamikdash, and may those very tears bring Hashem’s presence ever-so-more into our lives, and build His final dwelling place in this world.

May we merit soon to hear the call of Moshiach…


Last year’s Tisha B’av Post


This shiur is dedicated for the Refua Shelaima of Yaakov Ben Esther, a man in our community who has lived a life of chessed and giving, and is in dire need of a kidney transplant and Refua. Please keep him in your tefillos.

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