â€œEicha yashva vadad â€“ Alas; she sits in solitude (Eicha 1:1).â€
The haunting words of Megilas Eicha resonate in our hearts and minds as we prepare to sit on the ground this coming Tisha Bâ€™Av and commemorate the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash 1,939 years ago.
Sadly, history is repeating itself once again. It was only one year ago that our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel were subjected to horrific destruction and terror with thousands of rockets raining down on them for over a month. A sea of enemies sworn to our destruction surrounds us. The leader of Iran repeatedly calls for the eradication (G-d forbid) of Israel, and publicly states that, â€œIsraelâ€™s destruction is the solution [to the conflict]â€. The vile, hate-filled, anti-Semitic rhetoric emanating from many leaders in the Arab world â€“ and most of the â€˜Arab Streetâ€™ â€“ is at least equivalent to that of the Nazi propaganda machine in the late 1930â€™s. The vast majority of nations would deny us the right to protect our women and children by any means possible.
It is hard to avoid the feeling that Klal Yisroel is isolated and alone â€¦ again.
So what does this mean for us? How do we, who live in comfort and security in America, prepare to commemorate Tisha Bâ€™Av properly? What are the messages we ought to internalize, and what actions should we be taking?
I guess I would divide the â€œtake-awaysâ€ into two groups:
1) Offer material and emotional support to our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel. Purchase items online in Israeli stores. Support the organizations that are helping our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel and daven for the soldiers who are risking their lives to protect them.
Adopt a family, community or school who have been hard-hit by last yearâ€™s rocket attacks or is still suffering from the effects of the disengagement. Two years ago, Yeshiva Darchei Noam, where I serve as Menahel, â€˜adoptedâ€™ the elementary school of Atzmonah, Gush Katif, as they relocated to the Netivot area. We bought them school supplies, sports equipment, and for Pesach, we partnered with a chesed organization and bought each of the children a brand-new bicycle. Our children and theirs exchanged letters and cards throughout the year. It was so much appreciated by them â€“ and so rewarding for my talmidim. Many schools and shuls in North America have conducted similar programs. The need is great and the time for action is now.
2) On a more personal and spiritual note; I think we all ought to read the stirring and timeless words of our neviâ€™im in the haftoros of Shabbos Chazon and Tisha Bâ€™av â€“ and make a sincere cheshbon hanefesh.
There are two recurring themes in these lines. One relates to the Jews of those times serving idols and forsaking Hashem. At least on the surface, this does not seem to be very relevant today. The second theme, on the other hand, is very much germane to our lives. It speaks to the fact that the Jews of those times were concentrating on spiritual trappings (bringing korbanos) and not on the essence of Hashemâ€™s Torah (honesty, integrity, and kindness).
â€œWhy do I need your numerous sacrifices? (Yeshaya 1:11),â€ asks Hashem. The Navi exclaims that Hashem is â€œweary of your korbanos (1:14)â€, and that He â€œwill not listen to your prayers (1:15).â€ Why was that so? It was certainly a great mitzvah to purchase and bring karbonos to the Beis Hamikdash. But, as the Navi relates, those mitzvos were mere adornments to the core values of our Torah. And the Navi clearly describes what the Jews needed to do in order to redeem themselves. â€œPurify yourselves, seek justice, strengthen the victim, and take up the cause of the widow/orphan (1:16-17).
I suggest that we engage in a constructive cheshbon hanefesh regarding the essential elements of the qualities noted by the Navi â€“ honesty, integrity, true ahavas Yisroel, supporting those among us who are weak and unable to conduct their lives with simchas hachayim. We should be asking ourselves if we are doing all we can to make a true kiddush Hashem in our interactions with non-Jews, non-religious Jews, and frum Yidden who may be of different backgrounds. For these qualities is the essence of what Hashemâ€™s Torah produces.
In these troubling times, surrounded by our enemies, isolated and alone, we ought to be striving to fulfill the timeless charge of Yirmiyahu in the closing words of the haftorah of Tisha Bâ€™Av, â€œFor only with this may one glorify himself; become wise and [get to] know Me [contemplate how to better emulate the ways of Hashem], for I am Hashem who does kindness, justice and righteousness â€¦â€ (Yirmiyahu 9:23).
May Hashem dry our tears and comfort us with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash.