Thus says HASHEM: Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, nor the strong man boast of his strength, nor the rich man boast of his riches. But let him that boasts exult only in this, that he understands and knows me, for I am HASHEM Who practices kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth; for in these things I delight, says HASHEM. (Yirmiahu 9:22-23) (Haftorah on Tisha B’Av)
Life is an open book test. What does HASHEM want from us? What’s our goal? Look inside “The Book”, and see what Yirmahu the Prophet says, “So says HASHEM…” Those introductory words should be enough to invite any curious mind to read further. What’s really important? What’s ultimately valuable? What means the most to HASHEM? It’s not a trick question at all! The answer is explicit. In order to hear the answer though and be ready to absorb the shocking truth we need to prepare ourselves a bit first.
There was a farmer who came to the big city because he had a big fancy event that he needed to prepare himself for. He went to a fancy and high-priced tailor to get measured for a new suit for the first time in his life. The tailor invited him to come pick up the suit on the day of the actual event and he guaranteed it would be a perfect fit, ready on time. Weeks later the farmer came back to the tailor to get ready for the gala gathering. The tailor was busy at the time so he handed the suit to the farmer and told him to try it on in the fitting room while he took care of other customers. The farmer struggled mightily to just put the pants on and the jacket was nigh impossible without ripping the seams. Shouts were heard from the dressing room, “Tailor how can you do this to me!” and then again, “Tailor, it’s way too small!” Then the farmer stepped out to show the tailor how wretchedly poor his craftsmanship was. Instead of being humiliated the tailor broke into laughter. “Silly farmer, before you put on a new suit, you have to first take off your work boots and overalls!”
Before we hear what HASHEM wants we need to first strip away all of our preconceived notions and impressions of what society and people in general value and consider to be the highest priority. HSHEM says that he is not impressed with smarts, or strength, or wealth.
Only one thing is worthy of high praise and that is “knowing and understanding HASHEM, that it is HE Who does kindliness, and executes justices, and is charitable on the earth! That’s it!
I have an App on my phone for photos. I’m sure many of you do too. When you press that icon, suddenly a giant archive opens up with thousands of pictures, and family movies, and loads of interesting things. Now imagine you have an App called, Yud- Hey-Vuv -Hey! What comes up when you press that button, icon? What’s in the file? Is it empty? Is it full of pictures, and feelings, and associations with that holiest of names for HASHEM!?
Sounds surreal? Maybe it’s an interesting analogy!? Could it be science fiction!? The truth is that we push that button hundreds of times a day in Davening, and possibly all day in our pedestrian lives, Boruch HASHEM! There is a two-dimensional representation of that name scripted all throughout our Siddur. Does it sit flat on the page like all the other words? Is HASHEM a two-dimensional entity in our lives, flat and lifeless, to be mumbled without emotion!? Shouldn’t it jump out and off the page like a tower rising up to the heavens. King Solomon wrote in Mishlei, “The NAME of HASHEM is a powerful fortress! The righteous run there and are sheltered!”
On Tisha B’Av we mourn the fact that we, the Jewish Nation, find ourselves in exile. The deeper and more important point is that HASHEM is in exile with us. Every sports team has a stadium and every city and state a capital, but where is the House of HASHEM!?
The first question in human history that was asked by HASHEM to Adam after he sinned, persists in its asking. The same letters of the book we read on Tisha B’Av, Eicha, is made of the same letters of this one-word-question, but transposed, “Ayecha! Where are you!” Where are we? The Baal Shem Tov said, “Wherever a person’s thoughts are, that is where he is entirely!” We could be in Times Square and actually be in New Square. We can be at the Western Wall and yet our mind is in Walmart. What comes up on the screen when we press that App Icon Yud- Hey Vuv -Hey? That’s the answer to the question, “Where are you?”