Devarim – Tisha B’Av 5778


The Haftarah of Shabbos Chazon is the Nevuah of Yeshayahu foreseeing the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the exile and degradation of the Jewish nation. Everyone is enjoined to grieve. But what are we missing in our lives to mourn its loss? True, we do not have the Beis HaMikdash, but in life as we know it, we never did! True, we are in exile, but why should that distress us?
The answer lies in the next Parsha, Va’eschanan, read on the Shabbos following Tisha B’Av. The Pasuk says, שמע אל החקים ואל המשפטים אשר אנכי מלמד אתכם לעשות למען תחיו (דברים ד:א), “Listen to the laws and rules that I teach you in order that you should live…” (Devarim 4:1). The Torah is endowing us with the remedy to Galus – and the preventative from it happening in the first place – by learning the Mitzvos of the Torah, we will live and be ensured, as the Pasuk continues, ובאתם וירשתם את הארץ, “And you will come into and inherit the Land.”
What is the meaning of למען תחיו, that you should live? The Netziv (Haamek Davar ibid.) definitively states that Chazal never lent any explanation to these words. He, therefore, suggests his own take, which gives them epic meaning. “Life” and “living” in the human psyche contain only as much value as the person living instills in them. This is evidenced by those who turn toward other experiential means such as thrill rides or, Lo Aleinu, drugs, in order to “feel alive.” However, the truth, as everyone feels deeply in his being, lies way beyond these physical things. Hashem crafted the human to feel alive only when he has connected to the world above him – when he experiences Ruchniyus, spirituality. Only then does he feel his spirit ignite within him the sense that he is truly living. The Netziv says the Pasuk is referring to this idea. If we “listen” to the laws and rules of the Torah (a reference to Gemara study) then we will be Zoche to an intellectual “high” and an elevated mode of existence derived from the Ruchniyus with which we are connecting.
This theme is reechoed in the Netziv’s Perush on Shir Hashirim. The Pasuk says,סמכוני באשישות רפדוני בתפוחים כי חולת אהבה אני (שיר השירים ב:ה) , “Sustain me with cakes, spread apples about me, for I am sick with love.” (Shir HaShirim 2:5). Many Meforshim understand this phrase to mean that Klal Yisrael is portraying that we have so much love toward Hashem that we are ill from longing. However, the Netziv proves this reading wrong from a Braisa in Maseches Sofrim. Consequently, he understands that it refers to Klal Yisrael beseeching Hashem to bring us close to Him through our learning Torah, i.e., the “cakes” of Halacha or the “apples” of Aggadah, because we are unwell due to our insufficient Ahavas Hashem. We feel this void in our lives and desperately want to fill it with Ruchniyus. However, despite our awareness of what needs to be done, we are challenged by the love of Gashmiyus, materialism, which competes with Ahavas Hashem. Therefore, Klal Yisrael begs for assistance from Hashem in conquering the pull towards earthliness and replacing it with a desire for holiness. That is our only hope for a cure. The Netziv says this undercurrent runs throughout Shir Hashirim, as Klal Yisrael collectively realizes that their lives verily depend only upon their attachment to Torah.
Later in Shir Hashirim, the Netziv develops this insight, as Klal Yisrael entreats the nations of the world, השבעתי אתכם בנות ירושלים, אם תמצאו את דודי, מה תגידו לו שחולת אהבה אני (שיר השירים ה:ח), “I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem [a reference to the non-Jews], when you find my Beloved, won’t you tell Him that I am sick from love?” (Shir Hashirim 5:8) Based on the previous understanding of חולת אהבה, lack of Avodas Hashem, Klal Yisrael is articulating that their penchant for sinning comes not from an independent desire to do so. Rather, it is a result of the way we are “wired” to appreciate spiritual pleasure. When we do not find it, we have the unfortunate tendency to look to earthly means to achieve a similar “high.” This is why even Bilaam recognized that לא הביט און ביעקב (במדבר כג:כא), “[Hashem] can find no fault in Yaakov,” (Bamidbar 23:21), because He sees that even when we sin, it is a misled result of our intense desire for a spiritual relationship.
With the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, Bnei Yisrael lost the tangible allure of G-dliness in this world. We mourn the emptiness of searching for we-know-not-what and the vacuum that threatens to suck us in. This void can be filled with only one thing – Torah. And that realization is the beginning of the end of this long Galus.


One of the Minhagim of the Nine Days of Bein HaMetzorim is to refrain from drinking wine. In Shulchan Aruch, the Mechaber Paskens that for Motzei Shabbos which falls during the middle of the Nine Days, one should drink the wine for Havdalah in the same manner as he would do for the rest of the year. One is also permitted to drink wine for Birchas HaMazon.
The Beir HaGra explains that the reasoning is that Chazal were not Mekabel the Minhag of not drinking wine for instances of Mitzvos.
The Rema argues that the common Minhag is to be Machmir and to refrain from wine for both Havdalah and Birchas HaMazon. The Rema reasons that for Havdalah, since handing over the wine to a minor in order to fulfill the drinking of the Havdalah wine is a viable alternative, one should do so if possible. If there is no minor present, the Rema concedes that one is permitted to drink it himself.
It seems from the Rema that one does not have to go out of his way to find a minor for the drinking of Havdalah, since this Din is only a Chumra. One may question why the Rema did not present the alternative of performing Havdalah on other beverages that are permitted for Havdalah during the course of the year, so that the Mavdil himself may taste the beverage. Perhaps the Rema insists on performing Havdalah on wine, even if it requires the Mavdil to not taste the wine, as opposed to performing Havdalah on an alternative beverage and drinking it himself.
One may question whether the Mechaber holds that one may not follow the Rema’s suggestion. Since under normal circumstances it is preferable for the Mavdil himself to drink the wine, there is no reason to compromise the fulfillment of Havdalah in order to avoid drinking wine during the Nine Days. While the Rema maintains that it is a Chumra to avoid drinking wine where there is an alternative, perhaps the Mechaber holds that it is an equal Chumra to fulfill Havdalah in its optimum fashion by allowing the Mavdil to drink, as opposed to compromising the performance of Havdalah to fulfill the Minhag of not drinking wine during the Nine Days.
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The Gemara (Taanis 30b) states that one who eats and drinks on Tisha B’Av is treated as if he were eating on Yom Kippur. Why, then, once there is an Issur of eating on Tisha B’Av, do Chazal feel the need to present a parable to give one who transgresses the same status as one who had eaten on Yom Kippur? Although the prohibition of eating on Tisha B’Av is not Min HaTorah, it is a clear prohibition, and everyone is well aware that we are mourning the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the other terrible occurrences that Tisha B’Av commemorates.
One approach is that the difference between Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur is that Tisha B’Av is a communal day of mourning, where the emphasis is on the status of Klal Yisrael as a whole. We realize that we are incomplete as a nation without a Beis HaMikdash, and we are still in exile. On the other hand, Yom Kippur has an element of each person as an individual, where the final judgment on a person is made. A person is obligated to do Teshuva for his Aveiros and be Mekabel to rectify his ways. On Tisha B’Av, one may lose focus and consider that the Churban Beis HaMikdash is not his fault but the fault of Klal Yisrael as a whole. Why, the individual might think, does he have to mourn for the mistakes of others?
Therefore, Chazal emphasize that Tisha B’Av is like Yom Kippur in that each person must view the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash as if he individually had an integral part in its destruction. This is analogous to the realization that Yom Kippur is an individual judgment.