Tisha B'av

Why Cry? - a Tale of Two Cities

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Today, why do we mourn for Jerusalem?
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How can a Jew weep on Tisha B'Av for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Beis Hamikdash which took place thousands of years ago, when he sees how beautifully Jerusalem has been rebuilt in our days?

Perhaps we can learn a lesson from Rabbi Gershon Kitover, brother-in-law of the Ba'al Shem Tov, who arrived in Jerusalem two and a half centuries ago with the first group of Chassidim to settle in the Holy Land. He looked around at a city which sported foreign legations and all the signs of a serene community restored, in sharp contrast to the desolation described by Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban) in his famous letter reporting on his visit to the city some five centuries earlier.

Rabbi Gershon broke into tears. Now, he said, I fully understand the words of the prayer that Jews say at the end of the final ne'ilah service on Yom Kippur, when the gates of Heaven are about to close. As they stand at this dramatic moment, weakened in body from a long day of fasting and strengthened in spirit from prayer and repentance, they strive to send one more prayer heavenward, invoking the 13 attributes of Divine mercy. The opening lines, sounding more like a Tisha B'Av lamentation than a Yom Kippur prayer, cry out: "I recall, O G-d, and I am overcome by emotion, as I see every city solidly built on its foundation, while the City of G-d is reduced to the depth of the grave. Nevertheless, we are with G-d and our eyes are turned to G-d."

Until Rabbi Gershon saw the rebuilt Jerusalem of his day, he assumed - as we all do - that the above lament contrasts a desolate Holy City with the mighty capitals of the world, Rome, Paris, London and Berlin. But when he saw the beginnings of a rebuilt Jerusalem and contrasted it with the ruins of the Beis Hamikdash he sensed a deeper meaning in those words:

'Every city' - said Rabbi Gershon - refers to the Jerusalem of Below, the city of brick and mortar; while the 'City of G-d' refers to the Jerusalem of Above, the heavenly city characterized by the Beis Hamikdash.

It is certainly painful to contrast these ruins with the prosperity of foreign cities. But the pain is indescribably greater when one sees the contrast between material prosperity and spiritual ruin before his very eyes. Small wonder that this great man of spirit, who finally realized his lifelong dream of reaching Jerusalem, was moved to tears when he sensed the awful contrast.

The above account of Rabbi Gershon Kitover's experience and observation is recorded by one of the great halachic authorities, Rabbi Yosef Tumim, who served as rabbi of Frankfort, Germany two centuries ago. In his classic commentary on Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, "Pri Megadim" (661a Eshel Avraham), he quotes his father as the source for this moving story about Rabbi Gershon Kitover.

A footnote to this is the sentiment expressed in the last line of the above mentioned prayer - "Nevertheless, we are with G-d and our eyes are turned to G-d." This sense of hope amidst mourning reminds us of the story of a father who took his young son to the Western Wall for the first time. It was Tisha B'Av, and the youngster asked his father why grown men were weeping.

"Here," said the father, "our Beis Hamikdash once stood. The Har Habayis (Temple Mount) on which it stood was surrounded by four large walls. Now the Beis Hamikdash is destroyed, as well as the walls around the Har Habayis. All we have left of all our sacred glory is this one wall where you see people praying. Is it any wonder that they cry when they remember what once stood here?"

"But Father," responded the son, "isn't it true that Mashiach will soon come to redeem us, rebuild the Beis Hamikdash and the four walls around Har Habayis? We should take comfort in the fact that one of those walls is already standing, and there are only three more to go!"

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