The Three Weeks
In the Eye of the Beholder
By Rabbi Yehudah Prero
In the Megillah of Eichah (1:12), read on Tisha B'Av, we find the following
statement: "Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by? Behold, and see if
there is any pain like my pain, which was brought upon me, with which
Hashem has afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger."
On first blush, the statement seems difficult to comprehend. The prophet
Yirmiya is discussing the destruction of the Bais HaMikdosh, the Holy
Temple. Clearly, this loss was one felt by the entire nation of Israel.
How then could Yirmiya say that, in essence to "those that pass by, it is
nothing..?" Why was the destruction of the Bais HaMikdosh personalized in
this passage, to the extent that Yirmiya writes "see if there is pain like
my pain, which was brought upon me." Wasn't this an affliction that
affected every member of the nation of Israel?
The poor man and his wife were counting down the days. His wealthy cousin
was marrying off his child this week, and the wedding was to be an
occasion not to be missed. The celebratory meal, sure to be composed of
the finest delicacies in bountiful supply, would be a welcome change from
the meager rations to which he was accustomed. In order to ensure that he
would be able to appreciate the vast repast at the wedding, the poor man
decided that he would not eat for two days prior to the wedding. In this
way, he would be able to savor every morsel and appreciate the unique
assortment of sumptuous cuisine he was sure awaited him.
Finally, the day arrived. He was awaiting his personal invitation and
accompaniment to the wedding as was customary with an affair such as this
wedding. The man and his wife took out their finest clothes and prepared
themselves for this long-anticipated event. As the day progressed, the man
became increasingly agitated, for two reasons: he was famished, as he had
not eaten for two days; and his personal invitation had not yet arrived.
The hour-hand on the clock moved forward and closer to the appointed hour,
yet the invitation had not yet arrived. The man, now totally despondent,
realized that it was increasingly looking like his dream may not come to
fruition. He was too hungry to wait any more, and he begged his wife to
please feed him something so that he would not succumb to his hunger.
After searching through the cupboards and scraping up whatever she could,
she put before him some dried bread, a clove of garlic, slices of onion
and one lonely radish. The man devoured all that was before him in a
matter of moments. As he was wiping the crumbs from his lap, he heard a
knock on the door: his personal escort to the wedding had arrived.
He and his wife went to the wedding, yet the man went with heavy heart.
His great plan had failed all because he was too impatient. Yet, he was
hopeful that he could make the best of the situation. After the ceremony,
the guests were seated in a resplendent banquet hall, at tables adorned
with the finest embroidered linen and set with the most elegant china,
crystal and silver one could imagine. Waiters, attired in clothing
suitable for royalty, attended to the needs of all the assembled. An
orchestra, composed of the most renowned philharmonic musicians,
entertained. And with great fanfare, the first course was served. Fresh
fish, plucked that very morning from the ocean, prepared by celebrated
chefs, was served on platters of gold, adorned with an exotic array of
vegetables. It looked absolutely delicious. Once served, everyone
immediately began sampling this delicacy. There was complete consensus at
the table: they never tasted fish like this in their lives, it was simply
the best they ever had. Only the poor man refrained from commenting. All
he could taste was that radish he devoured right before the wedding. No
matter how much he drank or ate, the radish taste just would not go away.
The taste of the fish, for him, was overpowered by that of the radish, and
he therefore did not share in the delight expressed by the others.
This scene repeated itself over and over as the night progressed. The
soup, with a heavenly scent and superb texture, tasted like onions to the
poor man. The main course, with select cuts of the finest meats and
succulent fowl, tasted like garlic. This unique and sure to be unrivaled
gastronomic experience was one totally lost on the poor man.
After the meal ended and people were making their way out of the hall, the
poor man heard a group of his relatives discussing how amazingly tasty the
food was. Each person in this group related his favorite part of the
feast. When the time arrived for the poor man to offer his opinion, he
simply stated his perception of the food: nothing tasted particularly
amazing or out of the ordinary. Of course, everyone recoiled upon hearing
this. They could not imagine how anyone could be of such opinion. The
servant of the evening's host who had accompanied the poor man to the
wedding heard that opinion as well, and he offered the group his insight
on the matter. "What can one expect," he opined, "when right before
partaking in this meal, the man ate garlic, radishes and onions? How is
possible, right after eating such things, to possibly enjoy the tastes of
a meal fit for kings?"
Rav Gedalya Schorr explains that it's true that the entire nation of
Israel felt the loss of the Bais HaMikdosh. Yet, the loss was not the same
for all. For some, for "those that passed by," they saw that an edifice
was missing. The building that had been central to religious life was no
longer there. But to Yirmiya, much more was missing. The revelation of G-d
that occurred on a daily basis, the spiritual vibrations that emanated
from its hallowed halls, the epitome of spirituality that influenced the
entire nation was gone. Hence, for Yirmiya, the loss was much greater, the
pain was much greater, and the tragedy was personal.
Two different people tasted the same item of food, yet only one was able to
appreciate its true quality. Our experiences and focus in life clearly
impacts our value system. Yirmiya and other in the nation of Israel
suffered the same tragic loss. Yet only Yirmiya and those like him truly
appreciated how terrible a fate they were forced to suffer. When the time
comes for us to recall that we are still in exile, we have to make sure
that we truly appreciate why we are mourning. We have to understand why we
are in exile. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Yoma 5:1) writes that every
generation in which the Temple is not built is considered as if it was
destroyed in that generation. Clearly, we have the ability to understand
the enormity of the loss. We can prevent prior experiences, prior tastes,
from interfering with this ability. And we have the ability to be the
generation that sees a rebuilt Bais HaMikdosh, with all its splendor and
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Yehudah Prero and Torah.org.
The author has Rabbinic ordination from Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, NY.