Parshas Devarim/Tisha B'Av
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
If Murphy (of 'Murphy's Law') was Jewish and had a day of the year,
it would be Tisha B'Av -- the most calamitous day of the year for the
Jewish people ever since our beginning. In 2449 (1312 BCE), the Spies
came back with their evil report about Eretz Yisroel. In 3338 (423
BCE), the First Temple was destroyed, and, in 3830 (70 CE) the Second
Temple was destroyed, and countless other disasters took place
According to tradition, the 'Golden Era' of Spain came to a complete
end with the exile of Spanish Jewry on Tisha B'Av in the year 1492.
According to history, World War II -- the beginning of the Holocaust
-- also began on a Tisha B'Av in 1939. And, who knows how many other
catastrophes have occurred, unrecorded on earth (but recorded in
Heaven), on this catastrophic day to individual Jews, and, the Jewish
people in general?
Tisha B'Av is a 'black hole' in the yearly cycle of the Jewish people.
Yet, the rabbis teach us that Moshiach will be born on this day (if
he hasn't been already), and that, after the Final Redemption, Tisha
B'Av will be transformed into one of the happiest days of the year.
That is hard to imagine, because, that is not the way it usually
For example, December 7 (Pearl Harbor Day), even after the war was
over and the Japanese had been contained, remained a 'Day of Infamy.'
November 11 (Remembrance Day), even after the wars have long ended,
remain days of sadness and reflection. Hence, even if Moshiach has
been born on Tisha B'Av, and the Final Redemption does occur -- may
it happen soon in our time! -- what about the fallen and all the
sacrifices along the way? Should they simply be forgotten amongst all
the celebration and joy?
The answer, of course, is no. However, the problem lies not in the
duality of the day itself, but, in mankind's understanding of the
dynamics of history.
For example, though the people who died in the Japanese attack on
Pearl Harbor, or, on a much greater scale, in all the world wars,
were part of those wars, they are still considered to be separate
'events' than the rest of the 'events' of the wars of which they were
a part. Victory cannot minimize the tragedy and loss of life,
because, it may have been possible to achieve the former without the
There is a book I read some time ago called 'The Fugu Plan', an
interesting book if only to gain a better understanding how Divine
Providence works in history. The book is about how the Japanese,
during their war with the Russians in 1905, sought international
financial backing to continue their war effort in order to avoid
However, the book is really about how some wealthy American Jews
'just happened' to become involved with the Japanese fundraising
effort, when the Americans turned down their request for financial
aid. As a direct result of this 'Jewish' funding, the Japanese were
able to reach an 'honorable cease-fire', which earned the Jewish
people respect in the eyes of many of Japan's top dignitaries of that
Did anyone know at the time that such a war would provide the Jewish
people with an opportunity to become friendly with the Japanese
people, with whom they have so little in common... people that only
thirty-five years later would align itself with the very nation bent
on destroying the Jewish people... a people whose own ambassador
would risk his life handing out visas left, right, and center to any
Jew who applied for passage to his country? Many of the Torah world's
most promising leaders, students of the famed Mir Yeshivah of Poland,
was saved this way.
And we've only barely scratched the surface of this one.
The Talmud says:
They [the Jewish souls] agree to the judgment pronounced on them,
saying before Him, "Master of the Universe! It is good how You have
judged us, good how You gave us merit, good how You found us guilty,
good that You have made Gehinnom for the Evil and Gan Aiden for the
Righteous." (Eiruvin 19a)
To which Rebi Akiva adds:
It is not enough that they agree to the judgment, but they even
accept it upon themselves! ... When the Evil of Israel see the face
of Gehinnom, they accept upon themselves the judgment of Gehinnom and
break their hearts in teshuvah before The Holy One, Blessed is He,
and with respect to them it says, "Close to Hashem are the
broken-hearted ..." (Tehillim 34:19). Then they are elevated and
seated next to the Shechinah and they receive the reward for each
transgression they had done [for which they did teshuvah and
suffered], and they will be in the World-to-Come with the righteous
and pious, and those who learned Torah and those who had faith.
(Osios d'Rebi Akiva 8)
Hence, this is why Tisha B'Av can, EVENTUALLY, be a day of joy. For,
once we lose the yetzer hara and gain sufficient clarity, we will be
able to see that there really was no such thing as 'accidents' in
this world, and that 'tragedy' is a term than emerges out of our lack
of understanding of how G-d runs His world, and why He does so that
How (eichah) can I carry your troubles, dealings, and arguments
alone? (Devarim 1:12)
When the 'Ba'al Koreh' (Torah-Reader) suddenly switches from the
regular Torah melody and intones the one for 'Lamentations' for this
posuk, you can feel Tisha B'Av in the air. A bit of Hashgochah Pratis
and some good planning makes sure that this posuk is read on 'Shabbos
Chazon' -- the Shabbos before Tisha B'Av, to inspire the mood that
will dominate the upcoming ninth day of Av.
It is not just that Moshe and Yirmiyahu used the same word -- eichah
-- to express their grief that we have this overlap of space and
time. Both are meant to be instructive, except that Yirmiyahu's comes
AFTER the fact, whereas Moshe's comes before the fact, a warning of
the latter to avoid the former.
What was Moshe Rabbeinu saying? Was he merely trying to explain, with
some bitterness, why he was unable to be the single leader of the
Jewish people in the desert? Or, was he trying to explain while they
could not have him as their single leader in the desert, a reason
that, if left unchecked, would lead to all the destruction of all the
Tisha B'Avs throughout history?
In other words, Moshe Rabbeinu was saying, "I SHOULD have, and would
have been able to deal with ALL of you, had you been l'shaim Shamayim
-- altruistic in your dealings. If you didn't all have personal
agendas, and if you were not concerned primarily for your own
well-being, then, we, as people could have remained united and
focussed, and I, as a leader, could have channeled all of your energy
in the direction of G-d and self-fulfillment."
"But, that had not been the case," Moshe Rabbeinu chastised before
his death. "And, ironically," Yirmiyahu cried after the destruction
of the First Temple, "you gained nothing nationally, OR personally."
The 'eichah' of our past resulted in the 'eichah' of our present at
the time of each Temple destruction, and all that has gone wrong
And, before then as well. For, that is what went wrong with the spies
as well, whose evil report on Tisha B'Av led to exile then, and since
then. And, we can go back even further in time, to the time of the
brothers of Yosef, whom, according to the Arizal, had been
reincarnated into the twelve spies Moshe had sent to spy the land.
This is why Yosef accused them of being spies, even in his time. It
was a warning to them that, if they didn't change their approach to
their mission as the Jewish people, they would result in the spies of
Moshe's generation, and all the straying Jews of history. Apparently
the teshuvah had not been complete.
Tisha B'Av is supposed to be an 'equalizer', a day when we all become
mourners and therefore, are denied some of the most basic pleasures
in life that money can buy. It is a day on which we ALL sit on the
floor together, listen to 'Eichah' TOGETHER, say 'Kinos' TOGETHER,
and mourn as a nation AS ONE. It is a day when we are supposed to
push aside all personal agendas, and, instead, focus on the national
one, that of bring redemption and returning the Torah to its former
Eichah is only the question. We, the Jewish people, are supposed to
be the answer.
Rebi Yosi ben Elisha taught: If you see a generation that has plenty
of troubles, check the judges of Israel, for all punishments come to
the world only because of Jewish judges... The Holy One, Blessed is
He, only allows His Presence to dwell on Israel once the evil judges
and enforcers are gone from Israel. (Shabbos 139a)
Judgment is a process that we take for granted in life; we use it all
the time. We are constantly judging people and situations, for better
or for worse, and, we think little of it. However, when it becomes
one's profession, and it has the potential to affect the lives of
many people, then, all of a sudden it can become an overwhelming
responsibility that has subdued many a good persons to date.
The pressure can be very great. Case after case comes before the
judge, and few are straightforward. To make matters even more
complicated, few of the people who come before the judge are
straightforward either, and that can evoke all kinds of emotions in
the judge that must be pushed aside in order to allow the judgment to
be well-balanced. Suppression of emotions is never a good thing for
anyone over an extended period of time.
Like in the world of medicine, it seems to be a trade-off. We tell
ourselves that doctors with poor bedside manners are that way because
they try to be good practitioners. To be a good practitioner in a
world of high stress and potentially explosive emotional situations
means becoming somewhat stoic about life and people, and that is not
something you can simply turn on and off like a light switch.
Is it any different with judges? A judge is there to guide the people
in the direction of truth, and, the enforcers are there to make sure
they walk the prescribed path when they don't want to of their own
volition. In a sense, they are like human computers whose job it is
to process information and output answers based upon the input of
certain information and data. Where is there any room for humanity in
In THAT, no where. But, THAT is not the Jewish concept of judgment.
The Talmud teaches that when three judges sit in judgment and do so
in the pursuit of truth, then, the Divine Presence dwells amongst
them (Brochos 6a). This is why, the Maharal explains, the Sanhedrin
(Jewish High Court) was located close to the altar on the Temple
Mount (Chiddushei Aggados), to indicate that judgment down here is a
function of judgment 'Up There.'
For, the Divine Presence does not just 'drop in' for the
entertainment aspect of it; It comes 'down' to join in partnership
with the human judges and 'offer' Divine assistance in the
decision-making process. This way, even the judges short-comings will
not distort the judgment if the judges themselves are trying the best
they can to be fair according to Torah law. They will even judge
better than there human capabilities might have otherwise allowed
given their human limitations.
However, when the judges cease to act in a way (lack of sensitivity,
too much pride, etc.) that allows the Divine Presence to 'sit in' on
their judgments, judgments become a function of human logic, reason,
and emotions alone. Simply put, the judgments will only be as good as
the judges themselves, which is usually far less than what the
situation and people involved demand. This is a severe form of
Can Heaven merely sit back and watch people suffer the 'slings and
arrows' of outrageous judgment? Says the Talmud, "NO!" And thus, when
troubles come to the world, it is time to go and check out the Jewish
judges, and see if they sit in judgment with the Divine Presence, or
merely on their own.
Techiyas HaMeisim, continued...
However, as we will see from the Arizal, it is not so simple which
body returns in Techiyas HaMeisim, or, for that matter, how many:
Thus, we find that every soul has many parts and sparks, and, they
all belong to a single soul. And, when the time for resurrection
arrives, each body will take its portion of the soul, according to
the portion of its time and the level it was on. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim,
According to this understanding, the soul is divisible, even in
Techiyas HaMeisim. This means that the totality of the person may
only be realized in many bodies during the period of resurrection,
though, eventually, unification must take place of all the parts-not
just of the individual, but, of all individuals into the totality of
The Ramchal writes:
Even before a soul enters the body and attains perfection through its
deeds, it has already has a high degree of intrinsic perfection. This
intrinsic perfection and brilliance is so great that it should be
able to purify man's physical being to such an extent that he would
no longer be considered a mortal human being...
This we see in the Torah at the end of Parashas Ki Sisa, after Moshe
had his request partially fulfilled to know G-d better. As Moshe hid
in the cleft of the rock, G-d' Presence passed by, so-to-speak. The
result was that Moshe's body became extremely elevated to the point
that it began to shine with the brilliance of his soul. At that
stage, Moshe became 'Ish-Elokim'-Man of G-d-which Kabbalah tells us
means that Moshe Rabbeinu became part angel. This is why he no longer
needed to eat as human beings do.
The soul, however, is held back by G-d's decree. Its power is
obstructed and its brilliance reduced, so that it cannot do anything
at all to accomplish this. The soul thus remains imprisoned and
restrained to the degree required by G-d's plan, and it can only act
upon the body to the extent that G-d's wisdom allows...
This is no question one of the greatest miracles of life: that the
body can contain the soul, and, not only contain it, but, hold back
its light and effect. Kabbalah explains that this is only so because
the light that originally made the body was a higher source of light
than that of the soul itself.
Therefore, even though the body may presently exist on a lower
spiritual plane than the soul, in truth, it has the potential to
exist on an even higher plane. This potential, it seems, is enough to
allow the body to not b overwhelmed by the soul's light. That's one
part of the miracle; the other part is as follows:
As the soul continues to participate in good deeds, it should
likewise be able to spread out and radiate, thus purifying the body.
The same decree, however, holds it back and prevents it from
functioning freely until it reaches the Soul World...
In other words, even if the body, from birth, has the ability to hold
back the light of the soul, the learning of Torah and the performance
of mitzvos should have an overwhelming effect on the body, and,
purify it completely. In truth, there is an effect on the body, which
does become holier and more inclined towards spiritual matters.
However, it is not nearly as powerful an effect as one would assume
When the soul is recombined with the body after the resurrection,
however, it will no longer be bound or restricted, and will enter the
body with all its brilliance and strength. The body will then
experience a great enlightenment, and will not have to develop
gradually as a child does now. The soul will immediately shine forth
and purify it to a very great degree. (Derech Hashem, 1:3:13; see
Brochos 17a, Zohar 2:83a, and Shaar HaGemul, p.309)
Thus, finally, the 'skin' or, to use the language of the Zohar, the
'clothing' of man will return once again to its former glory:
transparent as finger nails, but brilliant as Heavenly light. As the
... [Then] the Maskilim (Scholars) will understand, because they are
from the side of Binah (eighth sefirah), which is the Aitz HaChaim
(Tree of Life). Of them it says, 'The Maskilim will emanate light
like the light of the sky...' (Daniel 12:3)... with this sefer of
yours, Sefer HaZohar, which is from the light of Binah, which is
called teshuvah... In the future Yisroel will taste from the Aitz
HaChaim, which is this Sefer HaZohar, they will leave exile in mercy,
and "Hashem alone will lead them, and they will have no foreign god"
(Devarim 32:12). (Zohar 124b)
Thus, in the 'World of Pshat' it is the world of the body,
physicality, and darkness. However, in the 'World of Sod' (Kabbalah),
it is the world of the soul, spirituality and light-pure,
unadulterated G-dly light.