“Eichah Yashva Vadad”
Those who are regular readers know that I respond to experiences much more than ideas. That is to say that I am much more moved and motivated by things that I can engage with my senses than I am with something I hear in a lecture or read in a book. The physical sensations allow me to more fully engage with the idea or experience. I suspect that many people react in the same way.
This leads to some of the many religious “rituals” that I like to perform here in Israel, which I did not do in the USA. I bake my own matzot. I plan on harvesting locally grown grapes and making my own grape juice for Rosh Hashana this year. And, I go to the Kotel for Eichah each year.
I have tried to describe (and fallen short) the feelings I have each year on Tishah B’Av as I sit in the Kotel plaza reading Eichah. It is there that one can see the literal results of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, there that we can gaze upon its remnants and grieve over them, there that we can see how Hashem has given us over to our enemies who have built their mosques and churches over the rubble and ruins of our city.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of spending a Shabbat with a few young couples. They were newly married and talking of how they looked forward to the changes in their lives. One of them commented how this summer would be his first summer not in summer camp, either as a camper or a counselor. And then he added something totally unexpected.
One of the things he will miss the most, he said, is Tishah B’Av in camp. Tisha B’Av in camp is something special. The lights are turned out and Eichah is read by candlelight. People take turns giving divrei Torah, and the sense of community is overwhelming and uplifting.
I didn’t comment, but I could not help thinking that something was missing.
Last year, Goldie and I had to be in the USA for Tishah B’Av. It was the first time since 2007 that I did not read a perek of Eichah at the Kotel, an experience that I have already described as incredibly emotional. I remember the emptiness I felt in not being at the Kotel and not being able to personalize the loss in graphic, visual terms. Being at the Kotel triggers (at least for me, and those who I have spoken with who join me each year) the sense of loss and mourning over the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash which is the essence of Tishah B’Av.
Last year I simply did not feel the loss as greatly in my heart, in part because I wasn’t able to immerse myself in it as I have in prior years. When I made aliyah with my family and began to experience the land not as a tourist but as a citizen—someone with a huge stake in the land—I found that my experiences deepened and my emotional connection to G‑d and the land He gave us strengthened.
It is only at the Kotel that I can truly feel the loss. It is only there that I can say, “I came here to serve as a Kohein, but I am denied that zechut because there is no Beit HaMikdash.” It is only at the Kotel and the Old City that I can see and feel the loss more than in any other physical location in the world.
This is what I think my young friend missed. Tishah B’Av is all about mourning the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. Each and every one of us is supposed to feel the loss and personally grieve over it. Being at camp, not being at camp—we are not at the Beit HaMikdash! If we were truly mourning the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, this is what we should be bemoaning—not the fact that as adults we can’t go to camp anymore.
I am sure that my understanding of this topic and many topics having to do with the holiness of our land is certainly lacking. Yet, as someone who has made aliyah and has the opportunity to live within the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, a land of kedusha, I have gotten a bigger glimmer of what I perceive to be the truth than I had ever glimpsed in chutz la’aretz.
There is a famous mishna in Sukka that says, “Whoever has not seen the Simchat Beit HaShoeiva, has not seen simcha in his life.” He therefore has no frame of reference for the experience of simcha as compared to the Simchat Beit HaShoeiva. I think this metaphor can be extended to many other parts of living in Israel, day by day. You simply cannot conceive of what it is like, without a common frame of reference.
So I guess what I am saying is this: I, my sons, brothers, cousins, and all Kohanim and Leviim look forward to greeting you in Bayit Shlishi next week (as I adjust to my new duties as a Kohein) and helping you and your families fulfill your needs and obligations there. However, on the slight chance that we still lack the geula, as an advocate of aliyah (in the right time) for everyone, I also invite you to join us at the Kotel to mourn our continuing loss.
Join us as we witness the sites of our destroyed home, see the broken paving stones of the bridge that was used to enter its walls, see the marketplace where people bought animals for their korbanot, see remnants of what G‑d has left us, and experience the true loss for which we should all be mourning.
I am firmly convinced that living here, experiencing the land in its natural splendor and magnificence, being a part of the fabric of Israel and its people, will lead you to greater and greater heights. Isn’t that the goal?
May we all enjoy a wonderful chag OR have a meaningful tzom.
Shmuel Katz, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Prior to his aliyah, Shmuel was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.