An Av Letter to the Nitzotzos Community from our Mashpia, Rav Burg
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Dear Nitzotzos Community,
A gutten Chodesh Av.
Chazal say, when Av comes in we should minimize our simcha. But how does a Jew diminish simcha? How can we? We are privileged to have a unique mission in this world. We delight in the opportunity to serve Him. Eskimos have many words for snow. We create nuanced language for the things we know. The Torah has ten different words for happiness. Joy is what we know. We are familiar with its every nuance. We are told that unimaginable curses will fall upon the person who serves Hashem without joy. This is not simply because God demands that we serve Him with joy. It is because it is unnatural for us to serve him without joy. Without joy ours is a marriage of going through the motions. Lifeless. Functional but lacking intimacy. We don't want to be in a marriage like that. God doesn't want to be in a marriage like that. And now it seems we are being told to diminish the simcha we have in serving God?!?
Interestingly we continue to say Hallel on Rosh Chodesh Av. We would perhaps expect a dispensation from the joyous occasion of singing Hallel. It runs counter to the dictum of diminishing our simcha in this month. How do we resolve this conflict?
It is said that the definition of emotional maturity is the capability of holding two conflicting emotions at once. Av has a fascinating duality to it. On the one hand the 9th of Av is the day of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. On the other hand the fifteenth of Av is the greatest Yom Tov of the year. Yom Kippur is a close second. It is a day where we are forbidden from saying tachnun (confessing our sins) because of its joyous nature. On Tu B'Av the “daughters of Jerusalem would go dance in the vineyards” and anyone who was unmarried to go there to find themselves a bride. In Av, Ezra and his entourage arrived in Israel to be near the newly built second Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Surely this is a joyous occasion and yet it is marred by the fact that the entourage was a relatively small group. The majority of Jews, including great Torah scholars, chose to remain in Bavel.
The zodiac for the month of Av is the lion, which again represents the duality of tragedy and the potential for redemption. Our sages teach, “The lion [Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar] came, under the constellation of lion [Leo], and destroyed the Lion of G‑d [Jerusalem] . . . so that the Lion [Mashiach] shall come, under the constellation of lion, and build the Lion of G‑d [Jerusalem]."Mashiach will be born in the month of Av. Mashiach is a descendant of Shevet Yehuda whose symbol is the lion.
Av, like Jewish history itself, represents two tales. One of destruction and the other of rebirth. Chazal say that while the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed in the month of Av it will also be rebuilt in the month of Av. Tisha B'Av is followed by Tu B'Av. The true name for this month is Menachem Av which literally translates as the comfort of the father. It is in Av that we will ultimately be comforted by God himself as he brings Mashaich and rebuilds the Beis HaMikdash.
Pure unadulterated joy does not reflect the true nature of the time we are living in. Eleven months a year we serve God with joy. We will always love God. Our love for God is not diminished because we are in Av but our simcha is. We are in mourning now. It is not appropriate to experience simcha in the same way we generally do. By paying attention to the losses we have suffered we tap into the pain that brings redemption. The pain that we experience in Av is the birth pangs that precede Mashiach himself. Those who do not experience the pain of our losses do not hasten the redemption that is sure to follow. To be completely without joy is impossible. Serving God is always an experience of simcha. There is simcha to be found in the month of Av, it is why we say Hallel, but in order to get there we must first diminish our simcha. We must mourn in order to rebuild.
May it be Hashem's will that we merit to see the lion's arrival so we can experience the total joy of Av as we rebuild the Beis HaMikdash speedily in our times.