A Dove in Exile
This article first appeared on meaningfulminute.org
One of the core challenges of our generation is our inability to be present with our pain. Being present with pain means to be brave enough to walk into the destruction of our lives, to take ownership of our mistakes, to give language to our feelings of devastation, to give those feelings over to Hashem, and to feel His love in return. The job of leadership though is to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. In the wake of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, Rav Yosi did just that.
The Gemara in Berachos (3a) tells the story of when Rav Yosi entered one of the abandoned ruins of Yerushalayim. Eliyahu HaNavi stood guard at the entrance of the ruin. After he finished davening, Eliyahu HaNavi asked Rav Yosi what happened in the ruin. Rav Yosi replied, “I heard a heavenly voice cooing like a dove and saying: Woe to the children, due to whose sins I destroyed My house, burned My Temple, and exiled them among the nations.” Eliyahu responded, “By your life and by your head, not only did that voice cry out at that moment, but it cries out three times each and every day. Moreover, any time that Hashem’s greatness is evoked, such as when Israel enters Shuls and Batei Medrash and says Yehei Shmei Rabbah Mevarach (May His great name be blessed), Hashem shakes His head and says: Happy is the king who is thus praised in his house. When the Beis HaMikdash stood, this praise was recited there, but now: How great is the pain of the father who exiled his children, and woe to the children who were exiled from their father’s table, as their pain only adds to that of their father.
As we consider this Gemara, several questions arise:
What is the inner meaning of the heavenly voice sounding like a dove?
What is the significance of the fact that Rav Yosi heard this voice while davening in a ruin?
If Hashem makes this statement three times a day and each time we say Yehei Shmei Rabbah Mevarach, what is the value of Rav Yosi hearing it specifically at this time?
Like a Dove
The Gemara (Shabbos, 130A) recounts the tale of Elisha, also known as “The Man of Wings.” The Romans banned the wearing of tefillin, and Elisha defiantly went out into the streets with his Tefillin on. When he was spotted by a Roman guard, he tried to flee but held onto his Tefillin. Eventually, he was caught and questioned about what he was holding in his hand. Elisha replied that it was “The wings of a dove.” The Sages wondered why he replied with these words, and responded because Klal Yisrael is compared to a dove. Just as a dove is protected by its wings, Klal Yisrael is protected by the Mitzvos.
The idea that Klal Yisrael is compared to a dove is well-sourced in Chazal. The Medrash (Tanchuma, Bereishis 8:11) states that Hashem told Klal Yisrael, “You are likened to the dove, which brings light to the world, as it is written ‘The dove came back to him in the evening.’ So, too, does Yisrael bring light to the world.”
The Medrash (Eicha Rabbah 1:29) compares “The dove could not find a resting place” (Bereishis 8:9) to similar wording describing Klal Yisrael after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash: “She dwelt among the nations, but found no resting place.” (Eicha 1:3)
Clearly, the significance of the Bas Kol sounding like the cooing of the dove is that it is the voice of Klal Yisrael. But, as we dive deeper into Chazal, we will find new layers of significance.
The word Yonah is related to the word yanah, which means either “to oppress or maltreat,” or anah, “to mourn.” The Medrash (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:63) teaches that just as the dove from when she recognizes her mate does not change from him, so too Klal Yisroel, from the time we recognized Hashem, we have not changed from Him. Finally, the Medrash (Tanchuma, Shemos 29) quotes Rav Akiva who said, “Similar to a bird that cannot fly without wings, so too our nation cannot stand without its elders.”
When put together, we can extract that Rav Yosi, standing in the ruins of Yerushalayim, heard the voice of an oppressed Klal Yisrael that while mourning the Beis HaMikdash remains loyal to Hashem in exile.
This idea is bolstered by the Mesoras HaShas, who points us to the Tosafos in Sanhedrin (11a Bas Kol), who suggests that a Bas Kol is not always a Heavenly voice from above but can also be understood as a voice that emanates from an original voice (like an echo). Tosafos compares it to someone who bangs hard and hears an echo of the bang in the distance. Rav Yosi, as the leader of Klal Yisrael, embodies the thoughts and feelings of the nation. In the echo of his own prayers, he hears the pain of Klal Yisrael as they mourn the tragedy of Churban Bayis while simultaneously remaining loyal to Hashem in their oppressed state.
Eliyahu HaNavi informs Rav Yosi that the sentiments of his prayer were not only echoed at that moment in the Heavens above, but are expressed daily and every time we praise Hashem. Just as Klal Yisrael is devastated by the loss of the Beis HaMikdash, so is Hashem above. Just as we miss our Father in Heaven, He misses His children who live down below. Just as we are in pain, He is in pain.
Hashem is with us in our pain, not just thrice daily, but every time we call out to Him. He knows our pain because He shares our pain. Sympathy means feeling for someone. It is an acknowledgment that someone else is in pain. But ultimately, sympathy is distant. Empathy means feeling with someone. It is actually understanding what they are feeling. Empathy is saying I know what it is like to be in this place, and I can be here with you. We don’t need people to respond in order to make something better. We just need them to sit with us in order to feel a sense of belonging. Empathy creates connection. In the face of a difficult conversation, Hashem does not respond with platitudes of hope but with empathy. He lets us know that he knows our pain because He experiences it too. It is a voice of compassion in the darkness of exile.
The dove is a loyal mate for life. Through thousands of years of exile, we have remained faithful to Hashem and His mission for us in this world. We do so because we know we are not alone in this exile. The Shechinah is in Golus as well. We are together in this pain. Dr. Chaim Soloveitchik, in his famous essay “Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy,” examined the transformation of contemporary spirituality. He argued that while the Jews of Eastern Europe felt “God’s palpable presence and direct, natural involvement in daily life,” we now prefer simply to follow the halacha to the best of our ability, or what he calls “maximum-position compliance.” He concluded his essay by saying, “having lost the touch of His presence, they seek solace now in the pressure of his yoke.” Thankfully, we are living in a generation that is no longer satisfied with a Yiddishkeit that is devoid of Hashem. Though we are far removed from the times of Rav Yosi, we continue to experience the pain of this bitter exile. Now more than ever, as the exile has dragged on for so excruciatingly long, we must amplify the voice of Eliyahu HaNavi in our communities. The Master of the Universe is not immune to our pain. Our Father in Heaven misses His children. To the degree that we are in pain, He is in pain. We must not lose the loving feel of Hashem’s embrace. Our homes, Yeshivas, Bais Yaakov’s, Shuls, and Batei Medrashim must be places that not only communicate the will of Hashem, but the word of Hashem. We must not be only a religion of law but a religion of love. To be a faithful dove means to call out to Him and to hear His voice in return. It is the key to our continued survival in exile.