The Tamlud (Kiddushin 31b) relates the following: Rav Avahu said, “”My son Avimi has fulfilled the precept of honor (honoring one’s parents) . . . One day he (Rav Avahu) asked him (Avimi), ‘Give me a drink of water.’ By the time he brought it he had fallen asleep. Thereupon he bent and stood over him until he awoke. It so happened that Avimi succeeded in interpreting, “”A song of Asaf”” (Psalm 79).””
The great commentator Rashi explains what Avimi now understood about that particular Psalm. The Psalm begins “”A song of Asaf – Oh G-d! The nations have entered into your inheritance, they have defiled the Sanctuary of Your holiness, they have turned Jerusalem into heaps of rubble.”” The Psalm continues to lament the murder of Jews and the desecration of the corpses. All of these events associated with the destruction of the Bais HaMikdosh, the Holy Temple, in Jerusalem were tragic. Considering the somber nature of the Psalm, a more appropriate introduction would have been “”A lamentation of Asaf.”” Yet, we find that these verses were called a song. It was this choice of terminology that troubled Avimi.
What Avimi now understood is that the destruction of the Bais HaMikdosh was indeed tragic. However, Hashem allowed His wrath to be appeased by the defilement and other indignities that the Bais HaMikdosh – an inanimate building of sticks and stones – had suffered. If that had not been the case, only the total destruction of His people would have sufficed. As it was, many in the nation of Israel were mercilessly slaughtered at the time of the destruction. The destruction could have been one not only of the Bais HaMikdosh – but of the nation of Israel as well. Therefore, in as much as Hashem did have mercy on the nation as a whole, and allowed the nation to survive, there was a reason for Asaf to characterize his prayer as a song, thanking Hashem.
The lesson of Asaf is an important one, especially in these times when anti-Jewish sentiment is high throughout the world. We must remember Hashem’s love during this mourning period that culminates with the Fast of Tisha B’Av. Notwithstanding the significance of the lesson, a question still remains: Why was Avimi was privileged to discover this particular insight?
A parable, offered by the Vilna Gaon in his commentary of the Megilla of Esther, may help to explain: There was a king who had only one child, a son who he treasured more than anything imaginable. The love that the king showed to this child was so great that officers of the king, who devoted their life to the king’s service, began to feel jealous of the attention and affection the young boy received from the king. As the young boy grew older, he did not always treat his father in reciprocal fashion. Finally, the boy did something that angered his father so greatly that the king had no choice but to banish him from the castle. He forced his son to wander in a forest. The son, while in the forest, was sure that his father had forgotten him. In reality, just the opposite was true. The king realized that his son would be faced with countless dangers in the forest, and he wanted to assure that no harm would befall his son. He therefore appointed a select group of servants who were to keep a watchful eye on his son, albeit from a distance. These servants were under instructions to never reveal that they were there on order of the king, so that the son could reflect on what he had done and his current situation, and possibly repent.
One day, while the son was walking through the forest, he heard sounds, a grumbling from behind him. He turned to see a large bear poised for an attack. He started to flee from the bear. While running, he heard a commotion behind him. He saw some of his father’s officers trying to hunt down the bear. They were successful in killing the bear and the son was saved. The son never got the opportunity to ask the servants what they were doing in the forest, and he assumed that their presence at the time he most needed help was mere coincidence. Not long after this incident, those officers who were jealous of the son got together and decided that now was the opportune time to rid themselves of the person who they despised – the son. A group of these officers went into the forest, looking for the son. They soon found him, and started attacking him. The son tried fighting back, but he was clearly outnumbered. However, moments after these officers started their attack, another group of the king’s servants arrived on the scene and began fighting off the son’s attackers. This group was victorious and again the son’s life was saved. Now, the son realized that there was no way that the appearance of these officers was mere coincidence. To be saved by the same group of people twice while wandering through a forest could not be a stroke of luck. It had to be that his father was watching out for him, even while he was banished to this exile. The son, after realizing this, felt great remorse for his evil acts against his father, and felt a deep love for him. He truly regretted his actions, and repented from his evil ways. When his father heard about the change that came over his son, he happily welcomed him back to the palace.
Avimi obeyed his father’s will. He brought him a drink of water. Yet, his father was asleep when the water arrived. Avimi did not leave the water by his father’s side. Avimi did not merely stand by his father’s side, waiting for him to wake. He stood bent over, ready to serve his father in the most convenient fashion possible for his father, waiting. Standing bent over is not comfortable. Standing bent over, not knowing when the task will end, can cause anxiety. Yet Avimi understood the nature of the relationship between parent and child. Parents, in a true loving relationship, do not desire the pain of their children. There are times when the actions of a parent will cause a child pain. The child often will not understand why he is being made to suffer. The child may think his parent is not there to help, his parent does not care. Yet, ultimately, there is benefit to that pain. Because Avimi, in his desire to properly honor his father, put himself in a position that could cause pain, he gained the benefit of understating that the pain the nation of Israel experienced through the actions of Our Father in Heaven, had benefit.
Avimi, because he excelled in his father-son relationship, was allowed to gain an insight into the relationship that the nation of Israel has with G-d, a relationship that the Vilna Gaon characterizes as that of a father-son relationship. He understood, as we must, that even when our situation seems hopeless, and it appears that G-d is allowing His nation to languish in exile, G-d is truly there with us. G-d took his wrath out many years ago on sticks and stones so that we would survive. G-d desires our survival, just as a father desires the survival of his children. While we may suffer, we have to remember, as the Vilna Gaon illustrates, that G-d is always there, making sure that punishment never gets too bad. It may be difficult for us to fathom, just as it was difficult for Avimi to fathom. Yet the fact we survive must give us comfort, and must move us to come closer to our Father.
May our suffering end soon, and may the month of Av be turned from a month of mourning to a month of rejoicing.