426 years ago, a few days before Tisha B'Av, R. Yitzchok Luria, zt"l, the Ari Hakodosh, passed away in Tzefas.
The outpouring of grief at his untimely death merged with the terror and despair running rampant through the streets of Tzefas, then in the grip of a deadly plague epidemic.
The Ari had known his end was near. He had gathered his closest talmidim and relocated them and their families in a series of rooms within the compound of his courtyard. Here they were isolated from all contact with the outside world. They organized classes for the children, set up a communal oven for baking bread and confined all their activities to the area sealed off by the courtyard.
The Torah learning and brotherhood of the Ari's talmidim in those fearsome days were powered by their discovery of a profound secret their rebbe had disclosed; only one line of defense stood between them and the Malach Hamoves in that critical time - the life-sustaining force of Sholom and Achdus.
Haunted by fear of the plague and the mounting death toll, and imbued with their mission of maintaining love and unity among themselves, the talmidim and their families conducted their lives with exemplary harmony. As weeks went by, however, and not one of their group took ill, a degree of complacency sprung up among some of them, a sense of being immune to all harm. The total lack of friction and perfect harmony began to make some
people feel... restless.
At that point disaster struck.
It began with a petty children's quarrel that somehow mushroomed out of control, ultimately embroiling mothers, fathers, friends, and neighbors. The Ari's small community was soon rent with bickering and strife, the Ari Hakodosh himself unable to reestablish peace.
One Friday, as the epidemic continued to rage in Tzefas, the Ari brokenly informed his talmidim that the spiritual form of the plague, Machlokes, had succeeded in destroying the net of safety surrounding them. "The Malach Hamoves has been given power over us!" grieved the Ari.
That very week he passed away, along with a great number of his talmidim. He was thirty eight years old.
Today, over four hundred years later, Klal Yisroel continues to grapple with the same deadly forces of Pirud and Machlokes that swept away part of the holy Ari's community on an Erev Tisha B'Av, 1572. The same forces that fifteen hundred years before the Ari's time caused the Churban Beis Hamikdosh. The same forces that have kept us in bitter exile for the past two millennia.
Will we ever rise above the achingly human pitfalls of rancor, bickering and strife to merit redemption?
"Aimosai Ko'osi mar?" asked Rabi Yehoshua ben Laivi of Eliyahu Hanovi. "When will my master come to announce the Geulah?"
"Hayom, Im B'kolo Tishma'u," answered the prophet. "Today, if you but hearken to His voice."
If you but hearken to His voice. The most powerful messages are sometimes couched in deceptively simple language. Before we can possibly hearken to His voice don't we have to first learn to listen to our own respective voices? We must learn to recognize in our voice the unbidden harshness we sometimes speak with, the anger and vindictiveness that stifle love.
"Who, me?" we may wonder. "But I'm an aidele mentch, I'm not the aggressive type."
Listen carefully to yourself the next time things don't go your way. When you've had a bad day, when you haven't been treated with the respect and consideration you deserve, when your spouse or employee or child disputes your opinion. Listen to your voice and the words you choose when you're tired, inconvenienced, disappointed, frustrated. Listen to yourself when the car keys aren't where you left them and the newspaper is missing the pages you most wanted to read.
Words are so powerful that their misuse caused the destruction of the Second Temple and drove the Divine Presence from our midst. Words are so powerful that sacred speech can actually reverse the fatal process.
Words can help us heal rifts and regenerate our bond with one another. They can help us imbue relationships with kindness and love.
When we go beyond ip service and truly revolutionize our habits of speech, these efforts can open the floodgates of Divine compassion and reunite us with H-shem.
Pretty words on paper? An unrealistic scenario? Mired in habit as we are, it may be hard to visualize ourselves and others, as capable of true, lasting change. Change demands catalysts, inspiration, shock treatment.
From the Yated Ne'eman E-Mail Edition