The Selected Speeches by R' Shimon Schwab zt"l
Simchah is a basic, natural emotion. Every healthy child is born with a tendency towards happiness. If a child is constantly sad, it is a sign that something is wrong. Simchah is a necessary and welcome component of life; and, in fact, of avodas Hashem. After all, we are told, "Serve Hashem with joy."
On the other hand, there are times when happiness is inappropriate. If a calamity occurs, public displays of joy are out of order.
Therefore, one should view simchah somewhat like a pilot light of a gas range. It should always be present - but sometimes it should be turned up and sometimes it should be turned down. There are occasions to be marbe b'simchah, sucha as during the mont of Adar; and there are periods when simchah should be significantly toned down. Chief among hte latter are times when we recall the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish nation over the centuries.
Certainly we have gone through more persecutions in our history that any other people. We have experienced Crusades, pogroms, religious restrictions, gettoization, massacres and the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust in our very own century. Each was a great cause for grief in itself. Yet, they are all typified by and stem from two of the earliest and most grievous calamities: the destruction of the first and second Batei Mikdash. The loss of our independence and full spiritual power can be traced to this overwhelming misfortune.
In reality, considering all we have undergone over the years, we could spend each day of the year mourning over past disasters. But we cannot weep forever. Life must go on. Simchah cannot be terminated on a permanent basis. The pilot light must always burn.
I had an aunt who was engaged to be married. The wedding was to take place upon her chassan's return from abroad. Unfortunately, he was traveling aboard the Titanic, and he was one of the fifteen hundred people who perished when it sank. She, of course, mourned him, and she never married. But she did not deny herself all pleasure for the rest of her life. She was basically a happy person; and although she always missed him, she couldn't remain sad forever.
Recognizing this basic human attitude, Chazal decided that our mourning be concentrated during a specific period of time: the three weeks beginning on the seventeenth of Tammuz and continuing through the ninth of Av. This marks the period during which the Romans penetrated the defenses of Yerushalayim and destroyed the second Bais Hamikdash; the first Bais Hamikdash was also destroyed on Tishah B'Av. The entire three weeks are marked by a reduction of pleasurable activities. We do not take haircuts, listen to music or hold weddings. - and we intensify the mourning from Rosh Chodesh Av through Tishah B'Av. During these nine days, we do not eat meat or drink wine (except on Shabbos) and we do not wash clothing or bathe for pleasure. Finally, on Tishah B'Av itself, we fast and sit on the ground, reading Kinos in diminished light. These acts of mourning are carried out not only in remembrance of the churban Bais Hamikdash, but also in memory of all the other sorrowful tragedies that becloud Jewish history.
And, of course, our days of difficulty are not yet over. Even though there is a Jewish State recognized by the United Nations, the Jewish tzoros have not come to an end. We no longer have ghettos in foreign lands, but the Jewish State is, in a way, itself a ghetto. It is surrounded by deadly enemies: nations that have pledged to annihilate it. (Thankfully, Hashem also put it next to the Mediterranean, because otherwise we would have no way of traveling to Eretz Yisrael without encountering hostile territory.) And certainly there is still anti-Semitism felt all over the world - in Russia, in Europe, in the Middle East, and on this continent. We still live with threats and persecutions. We commemorate and mourn for all this during the Three Weeks.
Even on Tishah B'Av, though, our "pilot light" of simchah is not entirely extinguished, for we do not say Tachanun, and we put on tallis and tefillin at Minchah. And the Shabbos following Tishah B'Av is called Shabbos Nachamu, meaning the Shabbos of Comfort. We cannot sustain intense mourning endlessly. Furthermore, we cannot remain a downcast depressed people. We Jews have been constantly disappointed and frustrated, constantly kicked around and put down - but we have never given up. As baalei emunah, we have kept the faith and retained our hope for better times. This is something that our bitterest enemies have not been able to shake. Every year we say, "Le'shanah haba'ah b'Yerushalayim". My grandfather said it, my father said it. I have said it, and my children and grandchildren say it. We always look forward to the future, always anticipate the joy of the final geulah.
So despite our national tragedies, we maintain our positive attitude and nurture our sense of simchah. We celebrate private joyous occasions, like weddings and births, as well as national commemorations like Purim and Chanukah.
Yet, even though simchah is very much with us, there remains an undercurrent of sadness in our lives. Consider the fact that when we are very happy, we "weep for joy". Why should we shed tears during times of joy? Crying is, after all, connected with pain sorrow. One way of looking at it is that when someone is extremely happy, his emotions get stirred up, and his emotional status is overlaid with a coating of sadness. There is a realization that, as good as things might seem to be, they are not as wonderful as they could be. Something is still missing.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch notes that the word aveil, meaning mourner, is closely related to the word aval, meaning but. What is the connection? One can lead a very happy and contentec life - but ..... There are always reminders, such as the loss of a close family member, that we still live in a world of suffering and death, and that happiness is never fully assured.
One can also compare simchah to the stars in the sky. They sparkle brightly in the night sky, but they are surrounded by utter darkness, by the blackness of empty space. We certainly experience simchah in this world, but the joyous moment are tempered by times of trouble. There is and underpinning of peril, and we know that life can plunge us, chas veshalom, into the abyss of darkness at any given moment.
Something is missing here. Something is not the way it should be. And that is what is tainting our simchah, and making us feel uneasy and anxious. But what is it?
I once heard from Reb Mordechai Pogromansky ztvk"l an explanation that he gave to a Midrash that comments on the passuk "Hashem will wipe away tears from all faces." The Midrash says, "Even tears of joy." Rav Pogromansky explained that nowadays tears are shed when there is great happiness. For with every joyous Jewish event there is also an overwhelming sense of loss over that which is the only real source of all joy, and that is the Bais Hamikdash.
The Bais Hamikdash is described as "the wellspring of joy for the entire earth." The more we stir up our own emotions of joy, the more we sense the lack of the true source of simchah. Hence, tears of joy are, in essence, tears of lack of joy. As long as we do not have a Bais Hamikdash, we feel a void in our lives.
Yet, what exactly does this mean? After all, we have shuls and yeshivos, and Torah communities exist throughout the world. What are we really lacking without a Bais Hamikdosh?
The answer is korbanos. We are no longer able to bring korbanos, which were restricted to the Bais Hamikdash. Some will say, "Fine. Who needs to bring bloody sacrifices before Hashem? Besides, we have tefillos instead."
It is true that prayers have replaced korbaos in our days, but this is not the prefeerred state of affairs. Note that when we say the Mussaf prayers on Shabbos, we state, "May it be Your will, Hashem, our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, that You will bring us up in joy to our land and plant us within our borders, so that we will bring there the required korbanos." Thus, we see that the chance to serve Hashem once again through the bringing of sacrifices will be even greater than the tefillah which we offer as a second - best alternative in its place.
What are korbanos? How does one pay tribute to Hakadosh Baruch Hu by slaughtering and animal, burining its fat and sprinkling its blood on the mizbeiach? We do not understand it fully, and neither, it seems, did some Jews even during the days of the Bais Hamikdash. This is why the Navi scolded the people on behalf of Hashem, telling them, "Why do you come to My Temple just to trample on My courtyard? I do not want your korbanos together with evil."
The object of bringing a korban was not just to sacrifice an animal. That alone did not atone for sins. The root of the word korban is karov, meaning near. In short, one offered a korban to draw closer to Hashem.
In what way did this occur?
For the korban to have full meaning, it was essential that the one bringing the sacrifice realized one thing: the animal was meant to represent him. Whatever happened to the animal was meant to happen to the person himself. After all, every human being has the same basic physical components as an animal - bones, skin, muscles. But there is a major difference: the human has a neshamah from Hashem.
Therefore, they take the animal and put their hands on it, in a process called semichah. This would signify that the person bringing the korban was, in effect, making the animal his representative to Hashem. In other words, he was offering himself up to the A-mighty. He was giving his body, his blood, his entire being in service of G-d. (The same was true of menachos, in which grain - man's basic sustenance - was offered in one form or another instead or in addition to an animal.) The desired effect of the bringing of the korban, then, is to draw as close as possible to Hashem. And, on this earth, man can reach no higher elevation.
Unfortunately, as time went by, not everyone appreciated the significance of this ceremony. Then the bringing of a korban became nothing more than an exercise in slaughtering, and as such was denounced by the Navi. Nowadays, too, we do not appreciate this ritual. What is missingin our lives is the unique opportunity to come close to G-d, to receive kirvas Elokim. We are too distant and too lacking in our spiritual well-being to even remotely comprehend it.
Shlomo Hamelech, though, was of a stature to appreciate it. He wrote a book, Shir Hashirim - a sefer misunderstood by most people - which describes, through a mashal, his loving relationship with Hakodosh Baruch Hu. Shlomo Hamelech was close enough to Hashem, through building the Bais Hamikdash, to experience the supreme emotions for Him described in the sefer.
What does it mean to have a close emotional attachment to Hashem? It can be viewed as follows.
We were all born with a desire to be loved. We want other to care for us, to look out for our needs. Suppose you get a series of anonymous letters in the mail. Theletters say, "I am a secret admirer of yours. I'm watching you all the time, and looking out for you. You're really marvelous: others should treat you better. And you are important to me."
Undoubtedly, you would be ecstatic, because you would know that someone really likes you and has a special concern for you. And even if, in another letter, your "secret admirer" told you that you were doing something wrong and that you should correct your ways, you wouldn't mind. In fact, you would welcome the constructive criticism, because you'd know it was advice in your best interests, offered by a person who really cared about you.
This is exactly the relationship one can build with Hashem. It is the relationship that tzaddikim who are always happy have with Hashem. It is possible to achieve this relationship even today, to an extent. Yet, it is much harder now, when we no longer have the Bais Hamikdash. Our opportunity to go to the holiest place on earth, and to bring a korban and achieve closeness to the A-mighty, no longer exists. It is this that is missing today in our lives.
To be sure, the site of the Bais Hamikdosh is once again in Jewish hands. Still, it is not the same; what we have is only a ruin.
When I first came to the Kosel, in 1934, Eretz Yisrael was under the control of the British. I went down a small, narrow street, and there it was: a wall of old stones, in a cramped and restricted area. It was fitting that it was called the Wailing Wall. All that was left of this holy, magnificent House of Hashem were some old stones; I coudn't help but shed bitter tears. Now they have expanded the area and made it into a nice plaza, but that can't hide the fact that it is still only a remnant of what was once something truly glorious. Being, nevertheless, without the Shechinah plunges even those in Eretz Yisrael into a state of aveilus.
All this was alluded to in the Torah's account of Yosef Hatzaddik revealing his identity to his brothers. The Torah says that, after telling them who he really was, he fell al tzavarei Binyomin, literally, on the necks of his brother Binaymin. Binyamin had only one neck; why, then, is the plural used here? Rashi replies that "necks" refers to the Batei Mikdash. Yosef was in reality mourning for the loss of the two Batei Mikdash, which would be situated in the territory of Binyomin.
In what way can the Bais Hamikdash be compared to a neck?
The purpose of the neck is to connect a person's head to the rest of his body. In this way it attaches the rest of the body, with its animalistic functions, to the head, which containds the spiritual center: the brain. It is the brain that controls the animal instincts and allows humans to rise above the level of an animal and to communicate with G-d. In a similar sense, the Bais Hamikdash connects this physical world with the spiritual world, the world of Hashem. The Bais Hamikdash was the one place in the world free frome gashmiyus, where a person could reach out and have a direct attachment to the Shechinah.
Now that opportunity is lost. And, like Yosef, we cry - even amidst our simchah - over that deprivation.
So our aveilus will continue, for the time being. It can be lifted, to an extent, through the joy of learning Torah and performing mitzvos. There is yet so much learning that we must do. It is like exploring outer space. Just as scientists are discovering new facts about the planets every day, so can we find new insights into Torah thoughts at each opportunity. However, we will still be trouble by suffering, illness, and death.
That is why we must look forward to the ultimat simchah - to the time when Mashiach will come and the Bais Hamikdash will be rebuilt. It is then that we will know no more wars or oppression; when men will live in peace with each other, and all will acknowledge the greatness of G-d. Then we will once again be able to offer korbanos and establish the closest possible personal relationship with Hashem, as we say every day: "V'shom na'avadcha b'yirah kimei olam uchshanim kadmoniyos."
In the zechus of our Torah learning and mitzvah peformance, may we experience this day soon in our times, and may our underlying aveilus be transformed into permanent and complete simchah.
With written permission from C.I.S. Publications, Lakewood, NJ