Last Friday, things were getting a bit hectic and stressful. After something fell and spilled on the floor, I asked my wife if we should “go to Red Alert.” After she agreed, I turned to my 10-year-old and said, “Chaim...take us to Red Alert!” He gave me a confused look and in his “perfect” English replied, “Where that is?”
Two languages. Two countries. Billions of miles apart.
“For you I remember the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal times, how you followed Me in the wilderness” (Yirmiyahu 2:2).
Remembering the past seems to be a very big thing within the Jewish world. We are constantly reminding ourselves of the exodus from Egypt, of the receiving of the Torah, of the splitting of the Sea, Hashem’s Presence in the world, of the destruction of both Beis HaMikdashes, of all the calamities that have befallen us, etc. And in a way, Tisha B’Av is a Day of Remembrance, it’s a time that we connect to our past and mourn over our present.
Rav Shimshon Pincus asks, how do we connect to the past?
The Torah commands us not to desire things that belong to other people, yet, the Ibn Ezra asks, how is it possible to command a person not to be jealous, when it is an emotion of the heart? He answers that a person does not desire something which he has no connection to. And as long as a person does not connect to the thing he desires, he will no longer desire it. For example, I might be jealous of my neighbor’s car. He has a nice one, and I don’t have one at all. Yet, on the other hand, I’m not jealous of a rich man’s personal plane. Why? It’s not in my reality. I’m never going to have the ability to own one. Heck, I don’t even have a car!
Following on the same lines, you will find people who will say, I want to be like my rav; or like my neighbor, who does so much chesed; or like my friend, who always has complete faith; or like my brother, who is able to learn an incredible amount despite having a large family, etc. Yet, you don’t hear people saying, “I want to be like the Chofetz Chaim or like the Rambam, etc.” Why? Because your rav, neighbor, friend, and brother are all connected to you. You know deep down inside that if you work hard enough, you can attain some degree of greatness that they have. Yet, the Chofetz Chaim and the Rambam? We can’t relate to them, and we know that they are above and beyond our reach.
However, there is a still a bond between us and them. Perhaps we don’t aspire to be like them, but we still learn from them and appreciate who they were and their greatness. And through that appreciation, we maintain a connection, however slim, with them.
Throughout the years, I’ve been fortunate to be able to not only visit the graves of such tsaddikim (living in Northern Israel has its perks), but I’ve also been fortunate to stand in the remains of shuls that stood during the time of the Second Beis HaMikdash, or shortly after. Recently, I walked the exact streets as Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi, who compiled the Mishnah, when he lived in Tzippori. When you visit such places, and you understand the history of them, it’s not just a matter of, “something important happened here.” Rather, it’s “there was greatness here.” You feel and understand that our fathers lived here, and lived here at a far higher level than we do. Perhaps it’s beyond us for now, but the recognition of the greatness that once was, and continuing to learn from that greatness, allows us to keep our connection to the past.
During the next three weeks, starting right after Shabbos, until Tisha B’Av, we begin a period of mourning over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, and all that has happened to us since then. It’s not a time of simply "remembering" what has occurred, but rather a time of strengthening of the real connection between us and the past, and bringing that past into the present.
Have a great Shabbos!