Chazal say that since the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash, we should really be in a constant state of mourning. But we cannot live that way, so for most of the year we conduct our lives as if everything were normal and as it should be. For three weeks of the year, however, culminating in Tishah b’Av, we face the reality of our situation and adopt the customs of mourners. We recognize that things are not as they should be: There is no Beis HaMikdash, we are in galus, and we live in a time of hester Panim, when Hashem’s involvement in our lives is concealed. On Tishah b’Av in particular, we focus on the events in Jewish history that reflect this hester Panim, so we can internalize the terrible state of affairs.
It seems that in different eras the hester Panim manifests itself in different ways. For generations, its main expression was anti-Semitism. Jews steadfastly preserved the traditions of their ancestors and often gave their lives for them. More recently, with the Holocaust, Jews were murdered merely for being Jews. The untold suffering we have endured is something on which people rightfully focus a great deal on Tishah b’Av. By reading about such events, we feel more aware of the terrible consequences of hester Panim. While this practice is certainly commendable, it seems that the principal manifestation of hester Panim nowadays is not anti-Semitism. Take five seconds, and think what it is…
Most of you probably answered that the main manifestation of hester Panim today is the desperate state of Torah observance. We all have a vague, intellectual awareness that things are not as they should be, but how bad are they?
In 1950, the intermarriage rate in the U.S. was 6%; by 1990, it was 52% and rising. Two million Jews do not identify themselves as such. Two million self-identified Jews have no Jewish connection whatsoever. For every wedding between two Jews, two intermarriages take place. Some 625,000 American Jews practice other religions. Only 11% of Jews in the U.S. go to shul. Every day dozens of intermarriages take place, which means that in the time it took you to read this, some Jews were lost forever. These statistics make the situation a little more real to us, but it is still far from our hearts.
A couple of years ago, my son got a bad cut on his mouth on Tishah b’Av, so I had to take him to a plastic surgeon in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret. The surgeon’s office was in a mall, and there I saw what secular Jews do on Tishah b’Av: They go about their lives. I saw Jews eating in a McDonald’s, as if everything were normal. What’s more, the same scene would have greeted me on Shabbos. We all know some Jews don’t keep Shabbos, but to actually experience it! Baruch Hashem, we have no idea what it means to have no Torah, no Shabbos, no relationship with Hashem, no direction in life… but this is the lot of our brothers and sisters. And what’s the difference between us and them? Simply that we were born into Torah-observant families, and they weren’t.
So this is the time of year in which we strip away the illusion that everything is okay. Everything is not okay. We have to face the truth. What’s more, we have to take responsibility for the way things are. On Tishah B’Av in particular, we must feel the pain, not hide from it. Shabbos desecration is everywhere; intermarriage is everywhere. And the most important thing to remember is how Hashem “feels” about it. Just to make that idea more real: Imagine you had ten children, and you brought them all up to be fully Torah-observant Jews. Nine of them follow the path that you hoped they would, but one is slightly lax in his observance. How would you feel? Ask any person who has experienced such a thing, and he will tell you that it caused him considerable distress. What if that one child were not just slightly lax but abandoned Torah completely? Of course, that would cause the parents untold grief. Imagine if not one but two children went astray; how much additional pain would that cause? And if over half the children abandoned Judaism, and only one was fully observant, you would feel unbearable anguish.
All Jews are children of Hashem, and this is the state of His “family”!
Let us take this one day and face reality: This is what the galus is about today; and to end the galus, this is what must be dealt with. Hashem is hidden; His children don’t see Him, and they barely even know He exists. There is certainly plenty to mourn.
May this be the last Tishah b’Av of sadness, and may it be transformed into a day of rejoicing, when all Jews know what it means to be Hashem’s children.