Rabbi Daniel Stein
Rabbi Daniel Stein

Missed Opportunities and the Afternoon of Tisha Bav

While recounting the sin of the meraglim, the spies, in Parshas Devarim, Moshe mentions that upon realizing the costly mistake of maligning Eretz Yisrael, Bnei Yisrael expressed a sincere desire to rectify the situation, as the pasuk states, "then you answered and said to me, We have sinned against Hashem, we will go up and fight, according to all that Hashem has commanded us" (Devarim 1:41). Hashem instructs Moshe to refuse this gesture by saying, "Neither go up nor fight, for I am not among you, lest you be struck down before your enemies." Bnei Yisrael did not heed Hashem's warning and they subsequently waged an unsuccessful battle to conquer Eretz Israel where they are slaughtered en masse. Why did Hashem thwart the attempted repentance of Bnei Yisrael? Why were they prevented from repairing their initial rejection of Eretz Yisrael and their preliminary lack of enthusiasm?

The Ralbag explains that Hashem did not rebuff their teshuvah per say, rather it was simply ineffective in gaining them entry into Eretz Yisrael because it came too late. The window of opportunity to enter Eretz Yisrael at this time had already expired. Often times, and in all aspects of life, if an opportunity is not capitalized upon immediately, it can disappear, and it may be impossible to fully recapture it or reclaim it at some later point. Opportunity knocks once, maybe twice, but then it is gone. The period of the Bein Hametzarim, and specifically the morning of Tisha Bav, also seem to represent a similar type of limited and confined opportunity.

The pasuk in Eichah (1:15) refers to Tisha Bav as a moed or holiday. Indeed, the Apta Rav (Ohav Yisrael) observes that the entire period of the Bein Hametzarim, consisting of the twenty-two days from the seventeenth of Tammuz until the ninth of Av however see Rashi to Koheles 12, 6) corresponds to the twenty-two days of festivals that we celebrate in the diaspora throughout the year, including the eight days of Pesach, the two days of Shavuos, the two days of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the nine days of Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres. Moreover, we regularly begin the period of the Bein Hametzarim with the reading of Parshas Pinchas, which enumerates the entire gamut of moadim, perhaps indicating further that the Bein Hametzarim and Tisha Bav are also part of the "holiday" cycle.

How can the mourning of the Bein Hametzarim and Tisha Bav possibly be included or equated with the celebrations of the other holidays and moadim? What characteristic do they share in common? Rav Mordechai Gifter quoted in the name of Rav Avrohom Yitzchak Bloch, that the Bein Hametzarim and Tisha Bav can be considered moadim, because a "moed" refers to any period of time that presents us with an opportunity to interface directly with Hashem (see Shemos 25:22). Throughout the regular cycle of the moadim we have an opportunity to interact directly with Hashem on positive terms and for happy occasions. The Bein Hametzarim and Tisha Bav are rightfully considered moadim because they also afford us an opportunity to encounter Hashem directly, albeit in the guise of sadness and mourning. Therefore, the Bein Hametzarim and Tisha Bav, should not be viewed as obstacles in our summer that must be endured and overcome, but rather as opportunities to interact and encounter Hashem directly, that should be grasped and exploited.

However, it seems that this rare opportunity begins to dissipate and slip away in the afternoon of Tisha Bav. Even though, the halachos of mourning build progressively throughout the Bein Hametzarim, climaxing on the night and morning of Tisha Bav, after midday on Tisha Bav they abruptly change course, and begin to loosen and relax. In fact, the Bnei Yisaschar notes that the entire period of the Nine Days, from Rosh Chodesh Av through Tisha Bav, contains two hundred and sixteen hours, corresponding to the numerical value of the word "aryeh" or "lion." This is because, just like the pasuk states "when the lion roars who does not fear" (Amos 3:8), similarly, who amongst us does not tremble from the devastation and mourning of the Nine Days which lasts for two hundred and sixteen hours. However, when the word "aryeh" "lion" appears in Eichah (3:10) it is missing the letter "heh", corresponding to the number five, perhaps reflecting the notion, that during the final five hours of Tisha Bav, after midday, the intensity of the mourning has already started to subside.

This is surprising because the Gemara (Taanis 29a) tells us that historically the Beis Hamikdash only began to burn in earnest on the afternoon of the ninth of Av, after which it continued to burn throughout the tenth of Av. In recognition of that historical reality, Rav Yochanan claims that personally he would have instituted the tenth day of Av as the day of extreme mourning instead of the ninth of Av. If the destruction primarily took place in the afternoon on the ninth of Av, why do our practices of mourning subside in the afternoon, if anything they should become more severe? Rav Tzvi Meir Zilberberg suggests that upon witnessing the beginning of the burning of the Beis Hamikdash in the afternoon of Tisha Bav, Klal Yisrael was utterly shocked and transformed. At that point, they sincerely expressed remorse and began to repent. Therefore, our practices of mourning weaken and decrease in the afternoon of Tisha Bav, because after midday, Bnei Yisrael had already begun to do teshuvah!

In fact, the Gemara (Yoma 54b) states that when the gentile marauders entered the Holy of Holies at the time of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash the keurivm on top of the Aron were facing one another. The Shita Mekubetzes finds this difficult to reconcile with the statement of the Gemara (Bava Basra 99a) which resolves that the keruvim would only face each other when Bnei Yisrael enjoyed a harmonious relationship with Hashem, but when there was distance and discord between them, the keruvim would face apart from one another. Since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash was precipitated by a religious rebellion and rampant lack of observance, why were the keruvim facing each other at the time of the churban? Rav Tzadok Hakohen asserts that the keruvim were facing one another because in the middle of the day on the ninth of Av, once the Beis Hamikdash had started to burn, Klal Yisrael had undertaken to do teshuvah and repent, thereby restoring and repairing their relationship with Hashem.

However, if Klal Yisrael had accepted to do teshuvah in the afternoon of the ninth of Av, when they witnessed the Beis Hamikdash starting to burn, why were their efforts not effective in stemming the tide, and averting the remainder of the calamity? Rav Tzvi Meir continues that their repentance could not halt the developing churban, because it came too late. The churban had been triggered and set in motion, and the window of opportunity to do teshuvah in a fashion that would arouse injunctive relief, had already passed. Therefore, we should and must learn from the mistakes of our past, to capitalize on the precious and timely opportunity of the Nine Days and specifically the morning of Tisha Bav to do teshuvah with alacrity and purpose, and not allow this precious opportunity to slip through our fingers once again. If we do so, may Hashem grant our desperate plea "Restore us to You, Hashem, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old" (Eichah 5:21).

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