Recently, the expression that Jews traditionally wished each other before
the start of the Tisha B'Av fast was replaced by what one might call a more
evocative one. What was once "have an easy fast" has been transformed into
"have a meaningful fast." While "easy" or "meaningful" are not necessarily
contradictory, nevertheless, in order to make any fast meaningful, we first
must understand why we are fasting. And in order to understand why we are
fasting, we must think. A good place to begin is a verse in Eicha, the
Book of Lamentations, composed by the prophet Yirmiyahu as he watched the
Temple, and the society of his times, erode and crumble, and the Jewish
people go into exile.
Despite suffering a terrible fate, seeing his leaders, his beloved people,
and his cherished Temple all destroyed, he tells the nation: "Of what
shall a living man complain? A strong man for his sins! Let us search and
examine our ways, and return to Hashem" (Lamenetations 3:39-40).
The prophet's question, "Of what shall a living man complain?" is difficult
to understand. People always complain. Didn't Yirmiyahu experience enough
to complain about? Also why does Yirmiyahu ask about a living man? Dead
men don't tell tales, and they don't complain either. So why the extra word?
Perhaps the second question answers the first, and the second verse
emphasizes the answer.
The Chasam Sofer once met a very old man and asked him the secret of his
"I know that long life is a gift," the great sage said. "Tell me, what
exemplary act did you do that merited you these long years?"
The old man looked up and smiled. "Actually, I did nothing special. You
see I have a different theory about long life. I stuck to my theory, and
it worked for me."
"And what is that theory?" the great sage inquired.
The old man wrinkled his deeply lined face. "Like myself, all my friends
went through their share of tzorus and misfortunes. We all do. They are,
however, not here any longer. I am."
"But why?" prodded the Chasam Sofer. "That was exactly my question. What
is the secret of your longevity? Yes! We all have our tzorus. But they
didn't break you! You are still alive and in very good health. What is
the difference between you and your friends?"
"You see," answered the old man., "my friends asked 'Why?' I, however, did
The Chasam Sofer seemed puzzled, but the man continued his monologue. "You
see, every time tragedy struck, my friends would ask the Almighty, why did
this happen? How did I come to deserve this? They would plead and prod the
Creator for answers that no mortal mind could understand. And you know
The Chasam Sofer shook his head, careful not to interrupt the man's train
"Hashem said, 'Do you really want to understand? Come, I will show
you.' And so He took them to a place where all the mysteries of life are
revealed, a place where the past and the future collide and today's actions
are the answers to history's expostulations."
The man continued. "I, on the other, hand, was not so curious. And if I
was, I did not turn to Hashem and ask, 'Why?' Rather, I accepted what
Then the man's face began to glow. "And do you know what? He never
invited me upstairs to explain anything!"
Perhaps the essence of our annual mourning service can be summed up with
Yirmiyahu's word's that analyze a mortal approach to immortal justice.
"Of what shall a living man complain? A strong man for his sins! Let us
search and examine our ways, and return to Hashem."
We may have questions, but such questions do not require us to obsess about
finding new answers. Instead, the only answer we can have is to search our
own souls with introspection and return to Hashem.
In truth, we are not put in this world to demand answers. We are here to
improve ourselves and ultimately, the world. And we are here to understand
when to turn to our own lives for answers, instead of to the Almighty with
questions, so that we may survive the tragedies with both faith and life
Have a meaningful (and easy) fast.
Dedicated in memory of Oscar Oliner by Mr. and Mrs. Marty Oliner
Liluy Nishmas Reb Oizer ben Reb Shaul: 13 Av.