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Friday, 16 July, 2021 - 4:48 pm

A man and his wife are sitting in the living room. He says to her: “Just so you know… I never want to live in a vegetative state dependent on some machine.  If that ever happens, just pull the plug.”

His wife gets up and unplugs the TV…

The Talmud states:

Whoever mourns for Jerusalem merits and sees her joy; whoever does not mourn for Jerusalem does not see her joy.

Those who are loyal during the low time, remain, friends when the good times come around.

Yet the grammar is strange. The Talmud should have said, “Whoever mourns for Jerusalem will merit and see her joy,” in the future sense. Why does the Talmud say, “Whoever mourns for Jerusalem merits and sees her joy,” in the present tense?

The Talmud relates a story:

It happened that Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar, Rabbi Joshua, and Rabbi Akiva went up to Jerusalem [around a century after the destruction of the Second Temple on the ninth of Av 68 CE]. When they reached Mt. Scopus, they tore their garments. When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox emerging from the place of the Holy of Holies. The others started weeping; Rabbi Akiva laughed.

Said they to him: "Why are you laughing?"

Said he to them: "Why are you weeping?"

Said they to him: "A place [so holy] that it is said of it, 'the stranger that approaches it shall die,' and now foxes traverse it, and we shouldn't weep?"

Said he to them: "That is why I laugh…. There are two prophecies, 'Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed as a field;’ the second: ‘Old men and women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem.' As long as the first prophecy had not been fulfilled, I feared that the second prophecy may not be fulfilled either. But now that the first prophecy has been fulfilled [Zion was plowed like a field to the points that foxes traverse there], it is certain that the second prophecy will be fulfilled."

With these words, they replied to him: "Akiva, you have consoled us! Akiva, you have consoled us!"

But why, when they asked Rabbi Akiva why he was laughing at the site of a fox emerging from the Holy of Holies, did he respond with the question why they were weeping? It is true that “Jews answer a question with a question.”

But when they asked Rabbi Akiva why he was laughing, he could have just explained the cause for the laughter at such a disturbing scene.

Besides, did Rabbi Akiva really not know why they were crying? Watching a fox roaming in what was the spiritual epicenter of the universe, where even the High Priest would enter once a year, is it not obvious why these great sages were crying upon this desecration?

The Chatam Sofer answers that all comes from an unforgettable biblical verse in Genesis.

Joseph has been sold into slavery. His brothers have dipped his coat in the blood. They bring it back to their father, saying: “Look what we have found. Do you recognize it? Jacob recognized it and replied, “It is my son’s robe. A wild beast has devoured him.

Jacob rent his clothes, put on sackcloth, and mourned his son for a long time.

And all his sons and daughters arose to console him, but he refused to be consoled.

Why did Jacob refuse to be comforted?

A midrash gives a remarkable answer.

One can be comforted for one who is dead, but not for one who is still living.

Jacob refused to be comforted because he had not yet given up hope that Joseph was still alive.

That, tragically, is the fate of those who have lost members of their family but have as yet no proof that they are dead as at Surfside Florida. They cannot go through the normal stages of mourning, because they cannot abandon the possibility that the missing person is still capable of being rescued. Their continuing anguish is a form of loyalty; to give up, to mourn, to be reconciled to loss is a kind of betrayal. In such cases, grief lacks closure. To refuse to be comforted is to refuse to give up hope.

Jacob continued to hope that Joseph was still alive. That hope was eventually justified. Joseph was still alive, and eventually, father and son were reunited.

Now we can understand the words of the Talmud: “Whoever mourns for Jerusalem merits and sees her joy.” The Talmud says it in the present tense, not in the future, to teach us that the joy lay in the very fact that we are mourning and weeping for Jerusalem and refuse to be comforted by our loss. The very fact that we cry for the Holy Temple, for Jerusalem in her full spiritual majesty, for the Jewish exile and for all the suffering in the world, means that the Holy Temple and Jerusalem have never “died.” We can let go of the dead, not of the living. We could never have “closure” with Jerusalem because we never believed it was gone. We felt it was alive and it would return to us.

“Whoever mourns for Jerusalem merits and sees her joy,” in the present tense!.

There is joy in the present outpouring of grief and anguish on the Jewish day of mourning the 9th of Av —On this coming, Saturday night and Sunday for the very sorrow is demonstrative that Jerusalem is still alive in our hearts, our memories, and our consciousness. It still stirs up the deepest heartstrings in the Jewish soul. We have not moved on from it; we have never forgotten it.

This may be the meaning behind the exchange between Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues. Rome has decimated Jerusalem, the Temple, and its people. Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Joshua, and Rabbi Akiva went up to Jerusalem. When they reached Mt. Scopus, they tore their garments. When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox emerging from the place of the Holy of Holies.

When the Rabbis start weeping; Rabbi Akiva laughs. Said they to him: "Why are you laughing?" Said he to them: "Why are you weeping?"

He was not asking a rhetorical question, or just deflecting theirs. He was giving them insight. Because you are weeping, that is why I am laughing! If you wouldn’t be crying, then I would start crying, for that would have indicated that you have come to terms with our destruction. The fact that you cry is the reason I laugh. If you are crying it means that we will return. You ask me “why are you laughing?” My answer is: “Why are you weeping?” The drive that makes you weep, the hope that all was not lost, is the very cause of my celebration.

Jews are the people who refused to be comforted because they never gave up hope that their love is still alive and it will return to them. We never came to terms with exile, destruction, and our alienation from G-d.

This explains, why Scripture refers to the 9th of Av as a holiday, and hence there is no confession on that day. It is strange. This is our saddest day; how did it become a holiday?

But the truth is the very fact that we are sad on this day is a cause for celebration, for it means that our past is alive in our hearts, and thus we still cry about it.

In 1996, Daniel Goldhagen, the Jewish Harvard historian, published Hitler’s Willing Executioners. The book, about the perpetrators of the Holocaust and ordinary Germans’ role in it, told buried truths about the tens upon tens of thousands who carried out Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews, willing to do it because they were anti-Semites who believed that exterminating Jews was right and necessary.

A number of years ago, at a public debate in Berlin, a German posed this question to Professor Goldhagen: It has been almost seven decades since the Holocaust. Perhaps it is time for the Jewish people to forget a little bit and focus on the future. Why do you not stop publishing books, holding conferences, producing documentaries, building monuments, and telling stories?

Daniel Goldhagen responded:

In the year 68 CE, the Roman burnt down a home in Jerusalem. Till today, Jews mention that home around 60 times a day! Don’t expect that after 70 years the Jews will ever forget the six million!

We, the Jews, are the “elephants” of history.

Jacob did eventually see Joseph again. Rachel’s children did return to the land. Jerusalem is once again the Jewish home and Moshiach will be here any moment. Jewish survival was sustained in that hope. Where did it come from? In the life of Jacob. He refused to be comforted. And so—while we live in a world still scarred by violence and injustice—must we remember.

Whoever mourns for Jerusalem merits sees her joy; whoever does not mourn for Jerusalem does not see her joy. May we see and celebrate that joy, speedily in our days, even before the Tisha B'Av fast, Amen!

Shabbat Shalom and good news very soon,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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