How to realize what we’re missing…and genuinely feel sad and cry.
The pool is closed, music speakers are stowed away, and meat is off the menu. In camp, our daughters chant, “The Nine Days, a time of tzarah; we don’t cheer, because we’re marah.” But what if we don’t feel that way? What if I’m just going through the steps but, in my heart, I don’t feel sad about the churban?
For starters, whether we feel the pain of the churban or not, we are obligated to observe the halachos and customs that are required of us at this time of year. Not only, as our Sages tell us, does the external influence our internal, but Torah observance is not dependent on emotion. But what more can we do to fulfill the words of the Shulchan Aruch, who writes that during the days of Bein Hametzarim “it is appropriate for every person to feel pained and worried”? Is there anything we can do to start feeling sad if we aren’t?
A Yid once came to the Kotzker Rebbe with exactly this question. “What can I do,” he asked, “if I can’t cry over the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash? It simply doesn’t bring me to tears.” The Rebbe’s advice was this: Cry about the fact that you can’t cry and be sad.
What does that mean? If the churban doesn’t evoke tears for me, how can thinking about it do the trick? I simply don’t feel emotional about the destruction. But here’s the depth that lies behind the Kotzker’s words. The message he conveyed was, “Cry over what does hurt you.” Obviously, we can’t cry over something that doesn’t arouse pain in us, but we certainly could cry over that which does. Start with that, was the Kotzker’s sage advice. Focus on the things in your life that hurt you. You wish you had a better marriage? Your child’s behavior tears at your heart? Your financial situation keeps you up through the night? You feel that the people in your life don’t understand you? Cry about that.
How is crying over what does pain me related to mourning the destruction? In Tehillim (62:2), Dovid Hamelech writes the famous verse, “tzamah lecha nafshi… my soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for you, in an arid and thirsty land, without water.” He doesn’t compare himself to a nomad who’s wandering in a desert and is bereft of all possessions, but rather to someone who’s in a land, even perhaps a city, where he may have all of his comforts, everything he needs—except water. He may have the best meats and fish, a house, a car, and whatnot, but no water. And so, from everything he does have, he seeks to draw water because water is what he’s lacking. He attempts to quench his thirst from the juice in the fruits, the fat in the meat, but all this time he’s still desperately thirsty.
The same is true for all of us galus Yidden. We live in this world, desperate to feel connected to Hashem. Like Dovid Hamelech, whether we’re aware of it or not, our soul thirsts for Him, our flesh longs for Him. As long as we don’t feel His presence in our lives, we feel perpetually thirsty. Like the person in the parable, we try to quench this thirst in various ways. We try to draw comfort from physical pleasure, to draw connection from our other relationships, but we’re still in dire need of our water.
During the times of the Bais Hamikdash, we had crystal clear clarity. We knew that when we felt disconnected, it was time for another trip. When we felt despondent, it was time to trek upward and reignite our relationship with Hashem. Being in the presence of the Shechinah filled us in a way that nothing else in the world could.
Nowadays, when we’re sadly missing this vital stronghold of connection, this thirst is still alive and kicking in all of us. Whether we recognize it as our longing for Hashem is irrelevant; it burns inside each of us nevertheless. All it takes is one look at our blood-drenched history to notice that. This thirst is what led us to cling to our faith with such fastidious courage and resolution. Throughout the ages, we’ve always sensed that there’s something more.
It is this thirst that drives us until today. The thirst that we may think is for more money or attaining more respect? It’s all a thirst for connection to Hashem, one that suffered a severe blow at the hands of the churban. Like a young orphan who appears to be crying for a lollipop but is really longing for his mother, everything that pains me today is essentially a result of the destruction. It’s not my marriage or the behavior of my children or my lack of parnassah or my loneliness that’s at the core of my pain. Rather, it’s my disconnection from Hashem, as a result of the churban. Had the Bais Hamikdash still been standing, I would not only recognize the core of my pain, but I would have a way to ease it, to fill myself up with the happiness and pleasure I really yearn for.
Thus, when I cry over what does make me sad, I’m essentially mourning the churban, in my own way. It’s my way of saying, “Hashem, this hurts me so much. I recognize that what I think I’m missing is not what I’m really missing. What I’m really missing is the feeling of closeness to You.” We may not be aware of this at first glance, but if we allow ourselves to express our pain over what does bother us, as opposed to shoving it under the rug or denying ourselves the permission to feel, we will eventually reach this place of clarity, one that will enable us to mourn wholeheartedly for everything we’ve lost on the terrible day the Bais Hamikdash went up in ashes.
May we rejoice in its rebuilding very soon!