The 17th of Tammuz: A Hopeful Mourning
Rabbi Yehudah Prero
The Fast of the 17th of Tamuz is almost upon us. We are to recall those
events and circumstances that led to our present exile, with no Bais
HaMikdash, Holy Temple in Jerusalem to serve as our spiritual center. We are
supposed to take the lessons we have learned from our long and painful exile
to heart, and better our relationship with our fellow man and G-d.
It is difficult, in these troubled times, to find any silver lining to the
cloud in which we are currently enveloped. Yet, our Sages stated explicitly
(Ta'anis 30b) "All who mourn over (the destruction of) Jerusalem merit to see
her in her joy." We are assured that if we properly appreciate the enormity
of our loss, we merit to share in the joy of seeing Jerusalem reestablished
in all its glory. Commentators discuss the interesting syntax of this
assurance. The Sages did not say that those who mourn _will_ merit seeing her
in her joy, in the future tense; they said that they _do_ merit seeing her in
her joy, in the present tense. How is it that we can currently see the joy of
a reestablished Jerusalem in a time of exile?
The Medrash (Bereshis Rabbah 84:21) discusses the sale of Yosef into slavery
by his brothers. The brothers, not wanting to disclose that they had sold
Yosef, implied to their father Yaakov that an animal had killed Yosef. Yaakov
was overcome with grief over the loss of his most cherished son. The Torah
relates that as much as people tried to console Yaakov over the loss of
Yosef, "he refused to be comforted." Regarding this inability to be
comforted, the Medrash relates that a matron asked Rav Yosi: It is written,
"For Yehudah prevailed above his brothers" (meaning that Yehudah was the de
facto leader of the brothers, and his actions were to be viewed an example to
follow), and yet we read (upon the death of his wife), "And Yehudah was
comforted;" while this man (Yaakov) was the father of them all, (and would
presumably act in a similar fashion to that of his son Yehudah) and yet he
refused to be comforted! "You can be comforted for the dead," Rav Yosi
answered, "but not for the living."
When someone has truly died, there is a certain despair associated with the
absolute finality of the situation felt by the mourner. Because of this
despair, all hope evaporates, and there is nothing realistically left for
which to long. The person will not return. This finality allows a person to
accept consolation and condolences. Comfort over the loss will eventually
come. However, as long as a person is alive or the possibility of life
exists, it is impossible to totally comfort or console someone over the
tragic situation that they mourn. There is still some scintilla of hope that
the person will recover, that the person will be found. As long as that tiny
bit of hope exists, no finality exists to the situation, and that bit of hope
will be clung to with great strength. There is no consolation. Yaakov, deep
down in his heart, somehow sensed that Yosef indeed alive. He therefore was
incapable of being consoled. And that is what made Yaakov's mourning
different from Yehudah's.
However, Yaakov's mourning is the same as ours over the city of Jerusalem and
the Bais HaMikdosh. For so many years we, and our ancestors before us, have
been engaged in a process of mourning. Every year at this time, that mourning
is highlighted, and we ask G-d for comfort. But that comfort and consolation
never seems to erase our ability to mourn. We know that something is still
lacking, a piece of our nation is missing. The fact that we can still mourn,
that we cannot be comforted over our loss, is indicative of the fact that
hope still exists. Jerusalem and the Temple are indeed alive. They will be
restored to vibrant health once again. However, until that time comes, we
mourn. And when we mourn properly, we appreciate the fact, in the here and
now, that Jerusalem is indeed alive. We can share in the joy of knowing that
Jerusalem is not totally lost, and a time will come when it and the Holy
Temple will be restored to their former glory.
May that time come soon.
Check out all of the posts on The Three Weeks: 17 Tammuz - 9 Av Mourning the Destruction. Head over to
http://www.torah.org/learning/yomtov/ to access the YomTov Page. Then click on the icon for the holiday of your choice.
For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.
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