Tisha B’Av as a Holiday 1
“There was no Jewish holiday like the day the Beis Hamikdosh
was destroyed.” Holiday? Is this some awful mistake? It is
difficult enough to find a bit of consolation on our national day of
mourning for the loss of the mishkan Shechinah , and the
endless succession of horrors and outrages that have befallen us as a
people. How can we possibly call it a holiday?
But it is indeed. The very despair of Tisha B’Av yields dividends that are
cause for celebration.
Who wins the favor of the king? The easiest example we could find is that
of a beloved prince, whose every accomplishment and talent reflect
positively on his father, and who therefore brings him much honor.
Ironically, however, someone who brings the king no honor at all may win
more intense favor. Should the prince be mentally insufficient, he will
arouse powerful feelings of closeness in the king. Realizing that his son
cannot look out for himself, and depends completely upon his father for
protection and care, the king is overwhelmed by compassion.
We readily understand the parallel to Tisha B’Av. We reached the nadir of
our national existence when we forced the Shechinah to withdraw
from its chosen abode. Our complete helplessness leads to feelings of
compassion in Hashem, as it were, that surpass those of the actual
The Torah calls us banim, children of Hashem. Fatherly love comes in
different forms. The most obvious is the love shared at close range.
Separate the father from the son, and the love is now compounded by
yearning, by the gnawing pain of distance. If we push further yet, we can
detect another variety of love, still stronger than the others. Imagine a
child deathly ill, desperately in need of surgery. The father is a
surgeon, and only he can save the child. The child pierces his heart with
his cries. When he places the blade of the scalpel against the tender
skin of the child, the parent might as well be cutting into his own
flesh. The love that the father feels at that moment is the strongest of
all the contradictory and tempestuous emotions. Seeing the child in dire
peril, realizing its utter helplessness, save for the intervention of the
father – these produce a love beyond any other situation.
This is Tisha B’Av, and this is why it is a “holiday” like no other. The
love of HKBH for Klal Yisrael is without condition and without
bounds. In our moment of greatest weakness, and greatest vulnerability,
the compassion of our Father is moved as on no other day. He displayed
this love through the paradoxical embrace of the cheruvim,
signifying the closeness between Hashem and Klal Yisrael at a time
we might have expected Him to emphasize separation and distance.
An entirely different argument explains the holiday-like character of
Tisha B’Av from another perspective. We find very little spiritual
consistency in our world. Not all places and times are created equal. To
the contrary, they all appear very different.
We have no trouble isolating places that are holier than others –
including ten different levels of ascending holiness within the Land of
Israel. On the other hand, Mitzrayim is seen by Chazal as “ervas ha-
aretz,” or the most debased and spiritually deprived place on earth.
There are times of average kedushah, greater kedushah, and
These distinctions are all for our good. If they were not, they would not
We can readily understand at least one of the dividends of a world of
changing and shifting kedushah potential. We try to take advantage
of the opportunity that the special days of the year hold out for us. We
push ourselves to anticipate them, to prepare for them, and to act
differently on them. Contemplate the value of attaching ourselves to HKBH
not on the special days of the year, but on the ordinary ones. Then
consider the value of doing the same at times that we are particularly
distant from Hashem. Swimming against the spiritual current is a most
Now consider what transpired at the time of the churban. Jews
became aware that enemy soldiers were not only on Har Habayis, but had
entered the Kodesh Kodoshim. Ordinarily, only the Kohen Gadol
would enter, and only on Yom Kippur after elaborate preparation, and
as part of a complex avodah. Yet now the enemy impudently entered
and defiled it, mocking the Temple, its people and its G-d.
No greater insult to national pride could be contemplated. Their personal
despair was now compounded by national disgrace and degradation. All who
understood what had happened were tortured, broken souls. Those souls
still longed for Hashem, wanted desperately to feel close again, even
though – or because – they sensed that they had fallen into a spiritual
Hashem cherishes the soul that is broken and turns to Him. He reacted to a
nation of broken souls by displaying the cheruvim locked in
embrace, as if at time of great closeness. And indeed it was. Klal
Yisrael’s yearning for Him when He appeared distant led to His
reasserting His commitment to them. This is the stuff a moed is
made of – a time of special encounter and discovery. Tisha B’Av was indeed
It is no coincidence that the Torah reading for the first Shabbos in the
Three Weeks is Pinchas, which contains the musafim for all the holidays of
This moed-quality of Tisha B’av expresses itself in several ways.
The sefarim hakedoshim call our attention to a remarkable
identity. The most concentrated YomTov season we know occurs in Tishrei.
Altogether, there are twenty-two days inclusive between Rosh Hashanah and
the end of the Tishrei holiday period. The same number of days form the
period of mourning for the Beis Hamikdosh , between the Seventeenth
of Tamuz and Tisha B’Av.
This is not coincidental, say the sefarim hakedoshim. It was meant to be.
Once we grasp the notion that Tisha B’Av has moed properties, we
are somewhat better prepared to accept that the relationship between these
periods is not coincidental, but deliberate and tight. The next step is
still a bit of a shock.
If the periods are parallel, then each day in the Tamuz-Av period is
paired with one in Tishrei. Tisha B’Av – the last day of the summer group
of 22 - is matched with Simchas Torah, the final day of the Tishrei
holiday period. The joy of Simchas Torah, through which we sing and dance
our way to an affirmation of our love of Hashem’s Torah, has a parallel in
Tisha B’Av! In the midst of their despair and darkness – or more
accurately because of it – Jews learned on that day that Hashem’s love for
them was unending and unyielding. They understood that Hashem was still
with them, and in no lesser degree than when they merited His closeness by
performing as He expected.
Are we then to turn Tisha B’Av into a joyous occasion? Of course not.
But the joy modifies our practical avodah on that day. Consider
the contrast between two of the gedolei chassidus. The Saba
Kadisha would fall to the ground at the day’s beginning, weeping with
outstretched limbs, and continuing to weep this way the entire day. (A
doctor who observed this remarked that he had thought it humanly
impossible for a person to cry so much.) The Magid of Kozhnitz, however,
would occupy his day inspiring chizuk, banishing the fog of gloom
and desperation that can easily lead people to lethargy in their
One of his own meshalim helps explain his behavior. A small but
elite group of musicians were kept in the employ of a king. They weren’t
called upon too often, at least not when things were going well for the
king. When the world began to weigh heavily upon the king, however, and
he began sliding towards melancholy, they sprang into action to cheer him
On Tisha B’Av, said the Magid of Kozhnitz, the King’s heart is heavy. All
those who love Him will want to gladden the heart of the King Who followed
His people into exile.
It seems that the Kozhnitzer must have been a member of the Hashem’s
special elite group. Other Jews have to figure out their place, each one
according to who he is. While all must mourn, we must also find within
our avodah a way to go beyond the mourning. For some, it will be
in the form of resisting the natural tendency to become depressed and
crushed. For others, it will be a reaffirmation of Hashem’s kingship,
expressing undying loyalty and devotion to Him even at the worst of times,
keeping the Keser Malchus firmly in place.
1. Based on Nesivos Shalom, Bamidbar, pgs. 196-199
2. Medrash, cited by Ohev Yisrael. The medrash applies this thought to
Eichah 1:15, “He proclaimed a moed against me.” The plain meaning of the
verse has moed in the sense of “set time,” i.e. Hashem appointed a set
time to visit His destruction upon us. However, the medrash takes note of
the fact that moed also has the specific connotation of a holiday, a set
time for rejoicing.
3. Yoma 54B
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Torah.org