Chazal say that since Churban Bayis Sheini we should really be in a permanent state of mourning. However, we could not permanently live that way so for most of the year we conduct our lives as if everything is normal and how it should be. For three weeks of the year, culminating with Tisha b’Av we face the reality of our situation and adopt the customs of aveilim. 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 hashgacha over us is not evident to the eye. On Tisha b’Av in particular we focus on the events in Jewish history that reflect this hester panim as a way of internalizing 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 through anti-Semitism. Jews steadfastly kept to the traditions of their ancestors and often had to give up their lives for it. More recently with the Holocaust, Jews were murdered merely for being Jews. The untold suffering that we have endured is something that people rightfully focus on a great deal on Tisha B’Av - by reading about such events we feel more aware of the terrible consequences of heseter panim. Whilst this hanhaga is certainly commendable, it seems that the ikar manifestation of hester panim in the present era is not anti-Semitism. Take out five seconds and think yourself what it is……..
I imagine that most of you answered that today the main manifestation of hester panim is the desperate state of Torah observance in Klal Yisroel today. We all have a vague, intellectual awareness that things are not as they should be but how bad is it? The intermarriage rate in USA in 1950 was 6%, by 1990 it was 52% and rising. 2 million Jews of Jewish origin do not identify themselves as Jews. 2 million self-identified Jews have no Jewish connection whatsoever. For every wedding between two Jews, two intermarriages take place. 625,000 US Jews are now practicing other religions. 11% of US Jews 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 I had to go to a plastic surgeon in Mevasseret on Tisha B’Av when my son got a bad cut on his mouth. I found myself in a Kanyon and was met by a scene of what chillonim do on Tisha B’Av; they go about their lives as normal. I saw Jews eating in a Macdonalds, acting as if everything was normal. What’s more, is that the exact same scene would great you on Shabbos. We all know that chillonim don’t keep Shabbos but to actually experience it! Baruch Hashem we have no idea of 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 a Torah-observant family and they were not - that’s it.
So back to the initial point - This is the time of year that we strip away the illusion that everything is okay - EVERYTHING IS NOT OKAY. We have to face the truth - and what’s more is that we have to accept the responsibility for the way things are, and, on Tisha B’av in particular, we must feel the pain, we can’t hide from it. Chillul Shabbos is EVERYWHERE, inter-marriage is EVERYWHERE. And the most important thing to remember is how Hashem ‘feels’ about it. Just to make that idea more real - Imagine that you had 10 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 this 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 was not just slightly lax but had 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 that would cause. If over half the children totally abandoned Yiddishkeit and of the remaining few only one was fully observant, you would feel unbearable anguish.
All Jews are banim l’Makom - Hashem is their father, and this is the state of Hashem’s ‘family’ - let us take this one day and face the 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, they barely even know he exists - there is certainly plenty to mourn. May this be the last Tisha B’Av of sadness and may it be transformed into a day of rejoicing when ALL Jews know what it means to be Banim l’Makom.