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Gadol Gibor v’Nora – Great, Mighty, and Awesome
Why are the Anshei Knesses Ha’Gedolah, asks the Gemara in Yoma (69b), called by that name? Because they reinstated the practice of referring to Hashem as “great, mighty, and awesome”. Yirmiyahu and Daniel had omitted (respectively) “mighty and awesome” for in relation to the destruction of the Beis Ha’Mikdash and Klal Yisrael’s exile from Eretz Yisrael, they exclaimed, “Where is His might?!” and “Where is His awesomeness?!” The Anshei Knesses Ha’Gedolah, though, averred that the miraculous survival of Klal Yisrael despite dispersion amongst the Gentile nations, and the fact that Hashem holds down His wrath, as it were, are expressions of His might and awesomeness.
In the zemer, “Baruch Hashem yom yom”, we find the following words: “l’hagdil shemo ha’gadol ha’gibor v’hanora sheh’nikra aleinu, to greaten His great, mighty, and awesome name that is called upon us.” On the one hand, we are clearly saying that Hashem’s name is great, mighty, and awesome; yet, at the same time, we are yearning for a greatening of His name. How does that make sense? The answer is that we are calling it great, mighty, and awesome in the sense that the Anshei Knesses Ha’Gedolah saw it – that even during the current state of churban and galus, Hashem’s greatness, might, and awesomeness is still manifest. However, there is a greater level of Hashem revealing His might and awesomeness in the world. Yirmiyahu and Daniel saw the might and awesomeness of Hashem as it was revealed when we had a Beis Ha’Mikdash and the Shechinah was with us. From their vantage point, anything less could not be considered might and awesomeness. And it is for that greater level – as Yirmiyahu and Daniel saw it – that we are expressing our yearning in this zemer. That Hashem’s name which is called upon us – that is great, mighty, and awesome even now as expressed by the Anshei Knesses Ha’Gedolah – should be greatened and be restored to the level of revelation as Yirmiyahu and Daniel perceived it, which will happen when we once again have the Beis Ha’Mikdash and the Shechinah will be with us.
(Related by Reb Avrohom Twersky)
An Embrace at the Time of Destruction
There is a machlokes regarding the positioning of the keruvim in the Kodesh Ha’Kadashim. One opinion maintains that they faced the Heichal, whereas the other opinion maintains that they would only face the Heichal when Klal Yisrael was not fulfilling the will of Hashem, and they would face each other when Klal Yisrael was fulfilling the will of Hashem (Bava Basra 99a). Rashi elaborates there that, according to this opinion, the keruvim were initially made facing one another in the manner of the endearment that a man and woman have for one another in order to symbolize the love of Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu for Klal Yisrael, and they were made like that for the Shechinah to dwell within Klal Yisrael. Only when Klal Yisrael turns away from fulfilling the will of Hashem do the keruvim likewise turn away from one another.
With this in mind, it is, at first glance, very difficult to understand a Gemara that we find in Yoma 54b: “Said Reish Lakish, when the Gentiles entered the Heichal, they saw the keruvim locked in a tight embrace. They brought the keruvim out to the marketplace and exclaimed, “These Jews – whose blessings are [supposed to be] real blessings and whose curses [are supposed to be] real curses – involve themselves in such things?!” And immediately they denigrated the Jewish People, as the pasuk says, “All those who [used to] show her honor denigrated her for they saw her nakedness.” The kashya is obvious: this was at the height of the destruction – which was, of course, because of the terrible aveiros that Klal Yisrael had been committing for years – so how could it be that the keruvim were locked in a tight embrace which is supposed to be a sign of the great love Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu has for Klal Yisrael when they fulfill His will?!
We find in the mefarshim three approaches to resolving this question. Some explain that this was a miraculous occurrence to punish Klal Yisrael. That the other nations should see this expression of Klal Yisrael’s “intimacy” as a way of “uncovering their nakedness” and thus lead those nations to sharply denigrate them. Another approach is that it was not a punishment, but it was a function of the fact that the day the Beis Ha’Mikdash was destroyed was Shabbos. Although the keruvim face away from one another when Klal Yisrael is not fulfilling Hashem’s will, that is only during the regular weekdays. On Shabbos, though, the keruvim would always face one another and be locked in a tight embrace. And the third approach is that this was like Hashem giving Klal Yisrael a goodbye-kiss, as it were, since they were now leaving Eretz Yisrael to go into galus. A mashal to understand this idea is like when a child leaves home for a period of time. So long as the (older) child is home, a parent does not necessarily feel constant concern for the child’s welfare. To a great extent the feeling is one of, “there’s the fridge, you know what to do”. The moment the child is gone, though – outside of the parent’s immediate “jurisdiction” – the parent is filled with a sense of constant concern and worry that all the child’s needs be met. That is why parents – even those who do not regularly “check in” with their children – will often contact a child who is away at summer camp, for example, to make sure he has everything he needs. Because Klal Yisrael were now leaving the immediate, intimate Hashgacha that is exclusive to Eretz Yisrael, there was a powerful expression of care and closeness from Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu. That is why the keruvim were locked in a tight embrace.
(Related by Reb Avrohom Twersky, supplemented with what the editor heard)
Tisha b’Av Now and Then
The Gemara says that there are three categories regarding the four fasts (of Asarah b’Teives, Shiva Asar b’Tamuz, Tisha b’Av, and Tzom Gedalyah) : 1) when there is gezeiras malchus (persecution) all four fasts are obligatory as fasts, 2) when there is no gezeiras malchus but also not shalom only Tisha b’Av is obligatory, and the rest are optional, 3) when there is shalom all four are Yamim Tovim. These different situations directly impact the status of the four fasts. However, it is a machlokes Rishonim regarding how to understand this.
Rashi holds that the time period of the second Beis Ha’Mikdash was considered a time of shalom and therefore all four “fasts” had the status of Yomtov, even Tisha B’Av. Nowadays, it depends. When it is a time of persecution, it is obligatory to fast on these four days, and when it is a time that there is no persecution, they are optional. That is how most Rishonim hold, just that they add that Klal Yisrael has already accepted upon themselves to fast nowadays even when there is no persecution.
Within this approach, there is the opinion of the Ramban who holds that, essentially, there is no difference between Tisha b’Av and all the rest. Therefore, holds the Ramban, when it is a time of persecution – which makes it a full-fledged obligation (and not just a minhag) – the other three fasts are a full twenty-four hours and all five inuyim apply, just like by Tisha b’Av.
The Rambam, though, says differently. If you read it carefully, it is clear that the breakdown according to the Rambam is as follows: 1) the time of the first Beis Ha’Mikdash was considered a time of shalom (when all four “fasts” were Yamim Tovim), 2) the time of the second Beis Ha’Mikdash was considered a time of no persecution but also not shalom, and 3) nowadays, since we live with the churban, it is inherently always considered time of persecution.
So we see from the Rambam two chiddushim: number one, that during the time of the second Beis Ha’Mikdaash, Tisha b’Av was observed as a fast! This is corroborated by the fact that the Rambam says this explicitly in Pirush Ha’Mishnayos (in the first perek of Rosh Ha’Shana). But even without that, it is clear from the Rambam in Yad Ha’Chazakah that this is how he holds, if you read it carefully. Chiddush number two is that the Rambam holds not like the Ramban who says that when it is a time of persecution the other three fasts are just as severe as Tisha b’Av and have all the same restrictions. How do we see that the Rambam does not agree with this? Because the Rambam says that nowadays it is inherently always a time of persecution – which means all four fasts are totally mandatory and not subject to minhag – and yet he does not assign the other three fasts the same halachos as Tisha b’Av. Only Tisha b’Av is a full 24 hours and has all five inuyim, but the other three fasts only are during the day and do not have all the other restrictions.
“Tziyon will be plowed like a field”
The Rambam, in his description of the events of Tisha b’Av, includes the fact that Titus plowed Har Ha’Bayis, and he adds, “in fulfillment of that which it says, Tziyon will be plowed like a field.” What does the Rambam mean by including this? My father, Rav Yitzchak Asher Twersky zt”l, would always say that the Rambam is alluding to the account where Rabi Akiva was smiling when the other Chachamim were crying because he saw in the fulfillment of the negative prophecies a guarantee that the positive prophecies will also eventually come to fruition. However, if that were what the Rambam meant, it seems that he should have elaborated a bit more. Perhaps you could say that what the Rambam means is that Har Ha’Bayis being plowed was the final “nail in the coffin” of the churban.
“Remember, even the last few minutes of Tisha b’Av are still Tisha b’Av.”
Men from the age of twenty years and up are referred to by the pasuk in this week’s parsha (2:27) as “anshei ha’milchamah”. Soldiers. Rav Twersky once related a story that he heard from Rav Mendel Zaks (son-in-law of the Chafetz Chaim) that sheds a unique light on this expression. It happened during World War I.
Rav Mendel was part of a chaburah that was led by Rav Itzeleh Ponovezher who served as the Rosh Yeshiva. This was no ordinary chaburah; it was comprised of some of the greatest talmidei chachamim of the generation. As a group, they were very meticulous about teffilah b’tzibur, and never missed forming a minyan for any teffilah. One day, there was a gargantuan snowstorm. A gezunteh Russian snowstorm; the snow was so high that many doors and windows were covered by the snow! In those days, there were no dorms and bachurim would sleep in local families’ homes. The family that housed Rav Mendel told him – when they saw that he was actually considering the option of going to yeshiva – “You’d have to be insane to go out on a day like today!” But Rav Mendel decided to go anyway. Why? Because he looked out one of the windows that was not completely covered by the snow to see if there was any human activity outside. What did he see? The Russian soldiers trudging through the snow to go to the train. “If they can go out to their work even on a day like this,” reasoned Rav Mendel, “then all the more so that I can go to Yeshiva!” When Rav Mendel arrived, he found that everyone else had also come. Not one person was missing! And each one of them shared with all the others their reason for coming. It turned out that they had all gone through the exact same thought process: if the soldiers can go out for their work, we can definitely go for teffilah b’tzibur!
Rav Twersky commented on this story, “What we do or don’t do should not be determined by the weather. If it is worthwhile, then it should be done despite bad weather. And if it is not worthwhile, then it should not be done even if the weather is great.” He added further, “Here in Eretz Yisrael, we don’t usually have the zechus of braving really bad weather to go to shul or yeshiva; so when the rare opportunities do come, we should embrace them enthusiastically and redouble our alacrity towards going to shul and yeshiva!”
(Related by Reb Yaakov Cooper and Reb Chaim Rosen)