As we begin the nine days from Rosh Chodesh until the 9th of Av, it’s important to reflect and try and put ourselves in the right frame of mind in regard to the calamity that befell the Jewish people. This Shabbos, Parshas Devarim, we will be reading the final of the three haftoros of affliction. It’s taken from the first chapter of Yeshayahu and it’s fascinating. When we look back at Tisha B’Av, we often will recall the various destructive events that occurred during the timeline of Jewish history and how each nation would rise against us. While it may be easy to play the victim card and rush to castigate the gentile world for all the terror they’ve unleashed upon us, one cannot disregard the fact that the missteps of Bnai Yisrael have unfortunately played a large part in the original destruction associated with Tisha B’Av.
Rav Mendel Hirsch, the 19th century scholar and son of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch, explains that when reading through the beginning of the book of Isaiah, the text itself describes the tremendous foibles and shortcomings that ultimately caused such great suffering and sorrow. In the third pasuk of the first perek, Yeshayahu makes it very clear how great our sin was. “An ox knows his owner and a donkey his master’s crib; Israel does not know, my people does not comprehend.” Rashi has astute comments here, asserting that An ox recognizes his owner and his fear is upon him, and the beast does not turn to its master and say “I won’t be plowing the fields today.” Similarly, the donkey will not respond to its owner “Today I won’t be saddled with your loads.” But Israel? They do not know their Master, nor do they comprehend. They do not comprehend that they have deviated so greatly away from the Almighty. They do not comprehend that they the very commandments they ignored were instituted “letovascha, u’lehanascha,” to better and and benefit us. Even sadder, Israel does not comprehend the significance of their betrayal. Livestock can decipher who their owners are, masters who are mere mortals and inferior in every conceivable way to God. Yet, Bnai Yisrael, more intellectually competent beings are not following the will of their own master. It’s tragic and damning. These words were written at a time when prophecy still existed. The word of God was being broadcast by the Navi, and even then the nation was still subject to wanton acts of sin. Today, due to these unfortunate acts, we no longer have a Temple or prophets or nevuah. Having known what it was like to have lost one Beis Hamikdash, hindsight would scream out to us that there was no way we could let something like that occur once more. And yet, “Yisrael lo yada”, Israel did not comprehend, and occur it did.
We live in a time where we too do not fully understand what’s missing, how it was lost, or even why we are mourning. We walk into shul on Tisha B’Av and sit low on the floor in darkness and in silence, yet many times, we don’t even know what we’re there for. I heard a rav once explain that you can’t just come into shul on the 9th of Av and expect to “feel” the significance of the day. Like many times on our calendar, it takes preparation and introspection because we are so far removed.
It’s true, that at the time of the Navi, Israel did not comprehend. It’s vital that over the next nine days that we make an effort to, even if only a little bit.