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July 17, 1999 4 Ab 5759
The fast of Tish'ah B'ab will begin on Wednesday night, July 21 and end on Thursday night, July 22.

Pop Quiz: On what date did Moshe begin his final address to B'nei Yisrael?

by Rabbi Reuven Semah

"Why has the land perished?...Because they have forsaken my Torah" (Yirmiyahu 9:11-12)

As we approach Tish'ah B'Ab we feel sad about our long, bitter exile. We seek and need answers to the troubling question of why has our exile lasted so long, and at the same time we yearn to return to our land and our Temple.

The question of why the Bet Hamikdash was destroyed and the land left desolate was posed to the Sages and the prophets (Nedarim 81a). None could explain until Hashem Himself revealed that it was a result of having forsaken the Torah. Rabenu Yonah asks how this seemingly obvious fact - that the Torah was forsaken - could have eluded the Sages and prophets! Rabenu Yonah answers that in fact the generation learned Torah constantly, and did misvot, but their Torah learning and misvah observance was lacking a key element. They kept misvot and learned Torah, but did so perfunctorily, out of habit. The prophet Yeshayahu (29:13) says, "With their mouth and lips do they honor Me, but their hearts are far from Me, and their fear of Me is as a commandment of men learned by rote."

Rabbi Zev Leff illustrates this with a story. Once, Rabbi S.F. Medlowitz (the founder of Yeshivah Torah Vada'at) was invited as a guest of a certain individual for a Friday night meal. Arriving home with his host, it was immediately obvious that the hostess had fallen asleep from an exhausting Ereb Shabbat, and had failed to awaken in time to put the finishing touches on the table. Her embarrassed husband berated her for her failure to cover the challot. The Rabbi thought to himself how absurd it was for the man to humiliate his wife for not covering the challot - a minhag (custom) designed to keep the challot from being "embarrassed" during kiddush, and to teach us how sensitive we must be to another's honor. The host, in his concern for the minhag, had completely ignored its implications.

As we put more thought into our misvot, making them more meaningful, we will in turn bring back our holy Bet Hamikdash and the full redemption of Mashiah, Amen. Shabbat Shalom.


[Hashem said], "Enough of your circling this mountain, turn yourselves northward" (Debarim 2:3)

The Midrash Rabbah explains this pasuk: Hashem tells B'nei Yisrael that if the enemy should come up against them, they should hide themselves rather than stand up against them and battle. Also, he told them that if they see that the enemy is attempting to mix with them, they should hide themselves - in the Torah.

His message to them and to all future generations was that when we see that the other nations are becoming too close, we need to strengthen ourselves in the study of Torah and fulfillment of misvot. With this zechut, we can be successful.

Hazal teach that we were sent into exile because the people "were not saying the berachah on the Torah before studying." Rabbi Yisrael Salanter explains that the people had the attitude that they were studying Torah not for its own sake, but rather so that they should know how to perform the misvot. Therefore the studying of Torah was merely a preparation for the misvot, and was not a misvah in and of itself, and therefore did not warrant a berachah.

Darkei Mussar objects to this explanation, claiming that this sin is not severe enough to bring about the exile from the land. He explains that the reason they did not say the berachah was due to the phrase in the berachah "Who has chosen us from all the nations." They were studying Torah in order to merit reward in Olam Haba, and they knew that Hashem gives reward for the misvah of studying Torah, but they didn't believe in the greatness of the Jewish nation. They didn't feel that the soul of a Jew is on a different plane, completely different from the soul of the other nations.

This, says Darkei Mussar is why we were sent into exile. The land of Israel is holier than any other land in the world, and it was given to the nation of Israel who is the holiest nation on earth. However, once they began to feel that they were on the same level as the other nations, they were no longer worthy of remaining in the land that was holier than the rest. (Hochmat Hamasspun)

The following poem has been seen a number of times over the past few years with slight variations. Unfortunately, we do not know the original source in order to give proper credit. If anyone knows where this originated, please let us know.


Twas the night of the Geulah,
And in shuls, old and new
Sounds of the Torah could be heard
Coming from every kind of Jew

This one in English
Some in Hebrew, some in Yiddish.
Some saying Pshat
And some saying a Chiddish.

And up in the Heavens
The Almighty decreed:
"The time has come
For My Children to be freed.

Rouse the Mashiah
From his heavenly berth.
Have him get in his chariot,
And head down to earth."

The Mashiah got dressed
And with a heart full of glee,
Went down to earth and entered
The first shul he did see.

"I am the Mashiah!
Hashem has heard your plea!
Your Geulah has come!
It's time to go free!"

They all stopped their learning;
This was quite a surprise.
And they looked at him carefully,
With piercing sharp eyes.

"He's not the Mashiah!"
Said one with a grin,
"Just look at his hat,
At the pinches and brim!"

"That's right!" cried another
With a grimace and frown,
"Whoever heard of Mashiah
With a brim that's turned down?"

"Well," thought Mashiah,
"If this is the rule,
I'll turn my brim up
Before I go to the next shul."

So he walked right on over
To the next shul in town.
Sure to be accepted,
Since his brim was no longer down.

"I'm the Mashiah!" he cried,
As he began to enter,
But the Jews wanted to know first
If he was Left, Right, or Center.

"You're clothes are so black!"
They cried out in fright
"You can't be Mashiah
You're much too far right!

If you want to be Mashiah
You must be properly outfitted."
So they replaced his black hat
With a kippah that was knitted.

Wearing his new kippah,
Mashiah went out and said:
"No difference to me
What I wear on my head."

So he went to the next shul,
For his mission was dear,
But he was getting frustrated
With the Jews down here.

"I'm the Mashiah!" he cried
And they all stopped to stare,
And a complete eerie stillness
Filled up the air

"You're the Mashiah?! .
Just imagine that!
Whoever heard of Mashiah -
Without a black hat?!"

"But I do have a hat!"
The Mashiah then said
So he pulled it right out
And plunked it down on his head.

The shul started laughing
And one said: "where's your khop?"
You can't have a Mashiah
With a brim that's turned up!

If you want to be Mashiah
And be accepted in this town,
Put some pinches in your hat
And turn that brim down!"

Mashiah walked out and said
"I guess my time hasn't come.
"I'll just have to return
To where I came from."

So he went to his chariot
But as he began to enter,
All sorts of Jews appeared
From the Left, Right, and Center.

"Please not leave.
It's all their fault!" they said,
And they pointed to each other
And to what was on each other's head.

Mashiah just looked sad
And said, "you don't understand."
And then started up his chariot
To get out of this land.

"Yes, it's very wonderful
That you all learn Torah,
But you seem to have forgotten
A crucial part of our Mesorah

"What does he mean?"
"What's he talking about?"
And they all looked bewildered,
And all began to shout.

Mashiah looked back and answered,
"The first place to start,
Is to shut up your mouths
And open up your hearts.

"To each of you, certain Jews
Seem too loose or too rigid,
But in the Almighty's eye
A Yid is a Yid."

And on his way up he shouted:
"If you want me to come,
Try working a little harder
On some Ahabat Chinam!"

(With Tish'ah B'ab right around the corner, we all need to do our part.)

Answer to Pop quiz: The first of Shebat.

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