Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | August 8, 2016

I Could Care Less


As I cleaned up my deck, I looked over to the above-ground pool I got for my kids and made a mental note that I had to buy more chlorine.  Then I started to think about when they would use it next, and how when it came to the Nine Days I would try to explain to them why I wasn’t swimming. “It’s because the Bais HaMikdash was destroyed and we feel sad, so we don’t swim or eat meat.”

Now, my five-year old is smart, but I can’t imagine her understanding that.  I mean, she can understand that the Bais HaMikdash was destroyed, but will it mean anything to her?  I remembered what Chazal say that each generation understands less about the churban than the previous one.

The Midrash relates that R’ Yochanan elucidated sixty interpretations of the verse in Megilas Eicha, “Bila HaShem v’lo chamal, HaShem consumed and was devoid of compassion,” while his rebbi R’ Yehuda HaNasi only revealed twenty-four.  Was R’ Yochanan a greater Talmid Chacham than his teacher? No.  After R’ Yehuda HaNasi expounded twenty-four meanings of the verse he broke down with uncontrollable tears and was unable to continue.  He didn’t even live at the time of the Churban, yet he was so distraught.  His disciple, however, was a generation removed and did not feel the same level of anguish.

I thought about that.  My children will not feel the loss of the Bais HaMikdash as much as I do.  It will mean less to them.  Then a scary, scary thought crossed my mind –

Is that even possible?!

Is it possible for my children to care less about the Bais HaMikdash than I do?  Do I really have any deep emotion about it or am I just going through the motions of the Nine Days because that’s the thing to do?  What kind of connection and loss do I feel for the home of the Al-mighty?  To think that I am so far removed that I might question if there was a further disconnect was frightening indeed.

In Shulchan Aruch, Hanhagos ha’adam baboker (1:3), the Mechaber says, “It is proper for every Heaven-fearing person to be distressed and concerned over the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash.”  It is not just a nice thing, it is a halacha!  Yet do we do this? Are we concerned about the Bais HaMikdash?

My wife and I were just discussing the Nine Days and the common practice in camps to have a siyum so they can eat fleishig meals.  Often, campers may not even realize that it’s the Nine Days because every night they are eating meat.  One camp I know used to have three or four siyumim during the Nine Days, but because they wanted to impress upon the children that there is a period of mourning going on, they limited it to one or two.

The question for us is, could we care less?  Do we have a connection to the churban, the loss of the Bais HaMikdash which was the starting point of all light and bracha in the world through which HaShem conducted His power?  If we don’t have a connection, is there anything we can do?

The answer is yes, we have a connection, and yes, we can strengthen it.  We have a connection because each Jew feels the loss in his heart, no matter how faintly.  This holy spark realizes it’s missing the fuel of the manifest presence of HaKadosh Boruch Hu on earth.

Now how to strengthen it?  Simple.  We must reflect on the troubles surrounding us, and realize that just as the Bais HaMikdash was the source of all bracha, so is the lack of the Bais HaMikdash the source of all suffering and pain.  Every rocket fired on an innocent home, every young child who dies suddenly, every family left without a father or mother and every person maimed in accidents all link back to the vacuum left when the Bais HaMikdash was taken away from us.

We can learn about the churban, the Midrashim, the stories.  We can study the Holocaust, a churban of unbelievable proportions which only happened a generation or two ago and realize that HaShem is talking to us, wistfully wishing Himself for the Bais HaMikdash to be rebuilt.

In Shemona Esrai, we pray for the flourishing of the salvation of our people through the descendant of Dovid HaMelech, Moshiach.  We say, “Ki l’yishuascha kivinu kol hayom, for your salvation we hope each day.”  In Nusach Sfard, many siddurim have the words “U’mitzapim l’yishua, and we hope for salvation” written in parentheses at the end of that phrase.  Many say these words, but it is said that these words were not part of the prayer, but a “stage instruction” as it were, to the mispallel.

When you say these words, that you wait for HaShem’s salvation each day, do you mean it?  Do you really look for HaShem’s return to us?  Therefore, there is a reminder, “Hope for Salvation!”  At this point in the davening, focus on what that means and truly yearn for it.  It is possible to strengthen our connection and deepen our understanding of the churban, but we must make a conscious effort to do so.

To that end, I have a challenge for all of my dear readers.  The Mishna Berura on the above-mentioned halacha regarding being distressed over the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash quotes the Shelah that one should recite Al Naharos Bavel (Psalm 137) before bentsching during the week and Shir HaMaalos (Psalm 26) on Shabbos.  We all say Shir HaMaalos before bentsching on Shabbos, but how many of us say Al Naharos Bavel before bentsching during the week?

This challenge is this: During the Nine Days, make sure that you wash and eat bread at several weekday meals.  When it comes time to bentsch, say Al Naharos Bavel and think about what you’re saying.  Concentrate on the meaning (look it up if you need to.)  See if you can feel disconnected and distant from the churban.  See if you can help being drawn to tears as you read the words of Dovid HaMelech, the king who captured the emotions of our nation in his songs.

I bet you care more than you realize.

Copyright 2006



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