Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The Ninth of Av
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Asher Ben Haim

Destruction and Redemption

Why did R' Akiva alone laugh? Certainly he was not the only one of the sages to believe in the future redemption. What's more, when the Temple sits in ruins one must mourn the situation even if something good is bound to come out of it in the future.


Rabbi David Dov Levanon

1. Added Stringency
2. He ate the insides and discarded the peel.
3. Mourning in Stages
4. Creating and Destroying... and Creating

Added Stringency
Interestingly, we find that recent generations practice much greater stringency with regard to mourning the destruction of the Temple than that which the sages of the Talmud decreed. For example, according to the letter of the law as it appears in the Talmud, the prohibition against eating meat and drinking wine applies only to the meal eaten just before the fast, the "Seudah Mafseket." The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 551) records a custom to abstain from meat and wine during the week of Tisha B'Av up until the close of Tisha B'Av. "Others," continues the Shulchan Arukh, "have a custom not to eat [meat or drink wine] from the first of the month of Av; others begin from the Seventeenth of Tammuz."

Similarly, according to the Talmud, it is forbidden to cut hair or to launder from the week in which Tisha B'Av falls until the fast is over. "Rema" (551) adds that "we observe a custom of being stringent in all these matters from the first of the month of Av until the fast is over." And regarding the prohibition against haircuts the custom is to be stringent and refrain from the Seventeenth of Tammuz onward.

In addition, according to the Talmud, the prohibition against marrying and dancing takes effect from the beginning of the month of Av, for, "when the month of Av begins we lessen our joy." "Rema," however, writes that the custom is to forbid this from the Seventeenth of Tammuz throughout the three weeks. Especially surprising is the fact that according to the Talmud one ought to be stringent when it comes to honoring the Sabbath; therefore, if Tisha B'Av falls on a Friday it is permissible to launder on Thursday in honor of the Sabbath or on Tisha B'Av itself after the afternoon prayers. Today, however, we are stringent to the point where we do not wash clothes at all during the Three Weeks, even in honor of the Sabbath.

The question, then, which begs to be asked is why do later authorities practice greater stringency than did earlier authorities who were less far-removed from the destruction?
A possible answer might be that the further we get from the Temple's demise the less our hearts are able to grasp the pain of the destruction. The sages therefore saw fit to be stringent regarding our mourning so that we feel it more intensely. In addition, the length of our exile awakened the sages to the need to express our longing for redemption. The four fasts are themselves a good example of this. According to Jewish law, during periods wherein there are neither decrees against the Jews nor peace, the rule is this: "If they want to, they may fast, if they don't want to, they need not fast." Despite this, early authorities state that we have received upon ourselves to observe them as fast days, for we cannot allow ourselves to remain in a state wherein there is no peace and the Holy Temple sits in ruins. We must mourn over it and long for the redemption.

He ate the insides and discarded the peel.
I saw a novel idea expressed by Rabbi Yechiyel Yaakov Weinberg. The Talmud relates (Chagigah 15b): Rabba bar Shila saw Elijah the Prophet, and he asked him, "What is God doing?" Elijah answered, "He is reciting the words of all of the sages, with the exception of Rabbi Meir." "Why not Rabbi Meir?" asked Rabba bar Shila "Because Rabbi Meir learned Torah laws from 'Acher' (Elisha ben Abuya)." "Why,should this be a problem?" said Rabba bar Shila. "After all, Rabbi Meir merely 'found a pomegranate' - he ate the insides and discarded the peel."

Elijah said, "[God has accepted your argument on behalf of Rabbi Meir.] Now God says in the name of Rabbi Meir: When a man suffers [from the pain of a punishment handed down by the court], what does the Divine Presence say? It says, 'Oy, my head! Oy, my arms!' And if the Almighty is so pained over the suffering of the wicked, one can just imagine how pained He must be at the spilled blood of the righteous."

Rabbi Weinberg remarks that Rabbi Meir's colleagues clearly did not suspect him of having adopted ideas from "Acher." Rather, they had difficulty accepting that Rabbi Meir had learned Torah from "Acher." This being the case, what is meant by "he ate the insides and discarded the peel"? Rabbi Weinberg answers by explaining that Elisha ben Abuya became corrupted when he saw the death of the righteous, as related in the Talmud (Kiddushin 39b): "What was it that drove 'Acher' astray? Some say that... he saw the tongue of Chutzpit the Translator (a righteous sage that had been killed by Roman authorities) as it was being dragged in the dirt by a swine. He said, 'How can it be that a tongue which produced such pearls should end up licking the dirt.' It was this that drove him astray."

We see here, then, on the one hand, the greatness of Elisha in the fact that he was so completely shaken up by what he witnessed. And though, on the other hand, he was driven to heresy, Rabbi Meir "ate" the good insides and managed to gain a deep appreciation and love of the Torah from Elisha while "discarding the peel" - heresy.

When things are so intermixed in a single person there is good reason for reservation when it comes to learning from his behavior. There exists a possibility that the negative aspects will be learned as well. The sages therefore had to assume that Rabbi Meir had been very careful about what he chose to absorb and made sure that it was deserving of such. We can learn from here to just what extent one must be filled with love for the truth, the nation, and the land of Israel in order to properly mourn over the exile.

Mourning in Stages
The Book of Proverbs (12:25) states, "Anxiety in a man's heart dejects him ('yaschena'), but a good word gladdens him."
The sages explain (Yoma 75a): "Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Yose - one says that the word 'yaschena' means to divert his thoughts; the other says that it means to speak of them with others."

It appears that what we have here are three separate stages of coping with anxiety. The first stage follows the plain meaning of the word: "Anxiety in a man's heart dejects him." It humiliates him to the point where he cannot free his thoughts of it and act freely. The second stage comes after he has accepted his situation; he can now divert his thoughts from the anxiety. The final stage is that wherein he can speak of it to others. Now he understands that everything is for the best. Therefore he can even discuss his troubles with others.

It appears that the morning hours of the Ninth of Av may be likened to the first stage mentioned above. We mourn to the point where we cannot rid our hearts of the anxiety, and therefore we are unable to put on Tefillin. After noon we can divert our attention from the mourning and put on Tefillin. Immediately after the Ninth of Av begin the Seven Weeks of Consolation and Tu B'Av. According to our sages, no Jewish holiday could compare to Tu B'Av. With the help of these two occasions we are able to rid ourselves of anxiety; we gain renewed hope and faith in the imminence of the redemption. We immediately begin to feel that everything was for the best. Even the destruction of the Temple was played out in order that a more splendid edifice than the previous one be erected, "and the later Temple shall be greater than the first."

Creating and Destroying... and Creating
The Midrash teaches that God created other worlds prior to creating that which we presently live in.
He "created and destroyed, created and destroyed" until He finally created ours. Yet why did God bother creating the previous worlds if He was not going to be happy with them. Clearly the reason for this was that they were to serve as the foundation to the creation of our world. Regarding the Temple, too, there was no doubt an element of "creating worlds and destroying them." The Almighty destroyed the previous Temples in order to build a more beautiful one. The Maharal explains Rabbi Akiva's laughter upon viewing the Temple in ruins in a similar manner:

"Once they (Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues) were going up to Jerusalem... and when they reached the Temple Mount they saw a fox come out of the Holy of Holies. They began to cry, yet Rabbi Akiva laughed..."Before witnessing the fulfillment of Oriah's prophecy," He said, "I was worried that Zechariah's prophecy would not be fulfilled. Now that Oriah's prophecy has been fulfilled, I am certain that Zechariah's prophecy will be fulfilled." In this manner did they respond: "You have comforted us Akiva, you have comforted us Akiva."

Why did Rabbi Akiva alone laugh? Certainly he was not the only one of the sages to believe in the future redemption. What's more, clearly when the Temple sits in ruins one must mourn the situation even if something good is bound to come out of it in the future. Rather, Rabbi Akiva's happiness stemmed from the fact that he could truly feel how the destruction led to the redemption, like the birth-pangs of labor and the suffering which precedes the coming of the Messiah.

The Book of Lamentations ends with the words, "Turn us to You O Lord and we shall be turned, renew our days as of old - unless You have utterly rejected us and are exceedingly angry against us."

The sages of the Jerusalem Talmud ask: Why is it that Lamentations ends in such a manner - after all, the prophets generally end on a consoling note? In response, they explain that the emphasis is on the first verse, i.e., it is a request that God return us to Him because we have reached such a terrible state that He has rejected us and become exceedingly angry against us.

However the question remains: Why did the book not then actually end with the words: "Turn us to You O Lord..."? It would seem that Jeremiah the Prophet, the author of Lamentations, wanted a sense of hardship and severe suffering to remain at the close of this book. At the same time, though, the fact that we have arrived at the very lowest ebb possible indicates that from here onward God will return us to Him. From the void will come new, longed-for life, and one who grasps the true depth of Jeremiah's words knows that he indeed ended with words of comfort.

Translations of biblical verses in the above article were taken from or based upon The Jerusalem Bible (Koren)

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