SPARKS OF HOLINESS
Rabbi Shlomo Freundlich
The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) records that with the advent of the Hebrew month of Av (which began on Friday) we diminish the level of joy and celebration normally practiced.
The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) records that with the advent of the Hebrew month of Av (which began on Friday) we diminish the level of joy and celebration normally practiced. Indeed, the month of Av has historically been a month of misfortunes for the Jewish people. Halachah (Jewish law) mandates that the week leading up to Tishah B'Av be marked with various practices that express our national mood of mourning. Basic amenities and pleasures such as washing clothes and bathing are curtailed during this week. We also refrain from partaking of meat and wine, with the exception of Shabbat meals and mitzvah occasions.
Our mourning reaches its climax on Tishah B'Av as we accept a 24-hour fast and assume a more intense level of mourning. After all, Tishah B'Av represents the churban (destruction) of our people and homeland. It is the anniversary of the destruction of both our holy Temples in Jerusalem. Our people were driven into exile and the spiritual splendor that once characterized the holy city of Jerusalem has yet to be recaptured. To be sure, this gives sufficient reason for setting aside this season as one of mourning for our glorious past and beseeching G-d to bring an end to our dark and painful exile. But there is yet another subtle but perhaps more critical component of churban that we must be cognizant of on Tishah B'Av.
Our sages teach us that the earthly abode of Hashem's shechinah (presence) is not confined within the walls of the holy Temple. There is a spark of G-dliness within each and every Jew. Living lives ennobled by adherence to Torah and mitzvot ignites that spark within us into a spiritually nourishing energy source that transforms our lives into models of kiddush Hashem, sanctification of G-d's name. While our enemies pushed holiness out of Jerusalem, only we can snuff out the embers of spirituality simmering within each and every one of us. By living lives inconsistent with Torah values, we smother the spark of G-dliness within us. It is then we, and not our enemies, who have pulled the plug on the spiritual resources that the Jewish community needs to flourish. Are we not furthering the efforts of those who sought to deny the Jewish people of its holy Temple and all that it stood for? Doesn't this in a sense lend to the destruction of Jerusalem?
If mourning not only for the ruins of Jerusalem but also for our personal spiritual debacle spawns us to realize how we have strayed and redirect us to being worthy hosts to the Divine spark within us, then Tishah B'Av has been a catalyst for the rebuilding of our spiritual lives as well as setting our sights more clearly toward the Third Temple and the Mashiach (Messiah). In fact, our sages tell us that it is on Tishah B'Av that the Mashiach will be born. Perhaps our sages are suggesting that a proper observance and understanding of Tishah B'Av has the wherewithal to put into motion the process that leads to the Messianic era.
May Hashem grant us the wisdom to discover the great potential within us so we can sow the seeds of redemption by our ennobled behavior. Then all of Israel will witness the transformation of the month of Av from one of pain and sorrow to a season of great joy and celebration.
Based on an essay by Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler in his classic work of Jewish thought, Michtav M'Eliyahu.
Rabbi Shlomo Freundlich has been an educator at the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta for over a decade.
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