|From The Rebbe's Tish: Tisha B'Av: Can We Handle it?|
|Written by Rabbi Shmuel Brazil|
The gemarrah in Sanhedrin 96 relates that Nevuchadnetzar king of the Babylonian Empire, as he set out to conquer Yerushalayim, sent Nevuzradan his general 300 loaded mules with iron hatchets so sharp that one hatchet when clashed against the other would shatter it. As they banged them against one gate of Yerushalyim in a futile attempt to break it down, every one of them miraculously shattered and broke into pieces. Nevuzradean, in a state of hopelessness in his conquest of Yerushalayim was about to turn around his armies when he suddenly heard a bas kol from shamayim that declared go and conquer the city for the decree has already been made. To test the validity of the bas kol, Nevuzraden took the only remaining hatchet and banged it against the gate with the handle side to see if it would miraculously open the gate as decreed in shamayim and it did. It then became very evident to everyone that if Hashem did not want the city destroyed then all the hatchets in the world would be to no avail. However, if it was decreed for the destruction of Yerushalayim, then the weapon of even a single hatchet was totally unnecessary.
However, let us delve a little deeper and try to understand why the “makeh bepatish”, the initial breakthrough of the entrance gate which then set into motion the destruction of the city and Beis Hamikdash evolved by the handle of a hatchet. The passuk in Yeshaya 10 says הוי אשור שבט אפי Assyria is the stick of my anger. This means to say that the gentile nations cannot by themselves harm Yisrael. Only when Am Yisrael sins against Hashem, does He smite them using the goyim as His stick. Make no mistake about it that it’s Am Yisrael alone who empowers the nations of the world to attack and kill us r”l. The sefer Shemen Rosh continues to explain that in the Medrash it says that when Hashem created iron, the trees began to tremble because the realized that their life can be now shortened. The iron comforted them by saying that as long as you don’t insert yourself in me, you have nothing to worry about for I am totally harmless. The analogy our Chazal is telling us is that the nations of the world are likened to metal and Yisrael are compared to the trees. Only if we empower them by making ourselves their handle can they have the strength to crush us and chop us down.
It is for this reason that the breaking open of the entrance gate into Yerushalayim was achieved through the banging of the hatchet’s handle and not by the blade in order to demonstrate that, yes, it is we and our sins not the Babylonians that really destroyed the Beis Hamikdash.
Another extension of this idea is found in the gemarrah Yuma 54. Yoshiayahu Hamelech deciphered from a passuk that the impending galus was about to happen. He therefore went ahead and hid five objects of the Mikdash, one being the aron, in the chamber where they would cut wood for the alter and the daily sacrifices. The gemarah relates a story that one time a kohen was playing with his hatchet in the chamber of wood and realized that part of the floor was removable. He then figured that beneath this floor was a hidden vault where the aron was concealed. As he went to reveal this fact to his friend which was deemed an inappropriate act, he died. As we read this story of the gemarrah we must ask ourselves why the gemarrah felt it necessary to relate this seemingly trivial fact that through the kohen’s playing with his hatchet the hiding place of the aron’s was discovered. What’s the difference how is was discovered? Secondly, why did Yoshiyahu Hamelech decide to conceal the aron specifically in this chamber of cutting the wood?
This all could be understood with the foundation we set above. Yoshiyahu’s genizah of the aron was signaling the impending churban. By hiding it in this chamber, he was sending the clear message that the snake does not kill but the sin kills (Berachos 33). It is the wood that we ourselves inserted into the metal which created the hatchet that we placed in the hands of the goyim to bring about our own demise all the tragic events of the churban. For this reason and message the chachamim felt it very necessary to relate to us that the hidden chamber of the aron which signaled the coming galus and churban was discovered by an incident with a hatchet.
The scenario in which the Torah describes the obligation of going to galus if one kills accidentally is the case of a man chopping wood. I would like to suggest that this scenario was chosen because it represents not only an individual’s galus where the accidental murderer must run to the refuge city, but also the galus of Klal Yisrael at the times of each churban respectively. We alone, because of our iniquities and spiritual failures, have brought upon ourselves the decree of our MIkdash’s destruction and our exile into a foreign lands even until this day.
The stark reality is that we have no one to blame but ourselves for our tzaros. We must stop blaming politics, oil fields, presidential policies, currencies or what have you. We must be courageous enough to look into the mirror and ask ourselves with a true chesbosn hanefesh what part of the handle did I contribute to in its insertion into the blade that caused these tragic events? For Chazal say whoever has not merited to see the Mikdash built in his days is considered as if he destroyed it in his days. Screaming in anguish that we have experienced in the last two months alone enough tzaros, will not help as along as we are inserting the handle into the blade. This idea is hinted in the word קרדום which means hatchet. קר is from the word מקרה meaning chance and happening, and דום means silence. Hashem spoke to Adam Harishon concerning two specific trees the Aitz Hachayim which symbolizes Torah and the Aitz Hadaas which symbolizes the pleasures of the physical world. Man also is compared to a tree as the passuk says כי האדם עץ השדה. For man has the choice to with which tree he strives to identify with. If he identifies with a life of Torah then he chooses life and the hashgacha of Hashem. If he chooses to identify with the aitz hadaas then he chooses death and galus identical to the heavenly decrees which befell upon Adam Harishon after his eating from the Aitz Hadaas. For being silent from a life of Torah, one thereby inserts himself as the handle into the metal which leaves him to chance and allows the gates of Yerushalyim to be easily penetrated by the enemy causing a day of availus for generations .
Some people who read this mamar might be saying to themselves this is too heavy for me to handle. However the truth is, as Jewish history has shown time and time again, that there is no escaping from this reality. It’s not a choice whether you can handle it or not but rather whether you choose to become the proper handle. We cannot avoid making one of two choices that lie in front of us. We can choose to be the wood of the aitz hadaas which will keep us longer and more entrenched in the galus and by which we created the hatchet that we placed into the hands of our enemies. Or we can choose to be the wood of the Aitz hachayim of strict Torah and mitzvah observance. Let us choose the kol kol Yaakov and not to be silent any more. By doing so we will place ourselves under the hashgacha of Hashem Who will supernaturally protect us from the harm of all our enemies harm us and thereby be zoche to see the building of the Beis Hamikdash bemihairah veyamainu amen.
In Gan Eden there were two trees, one called the aitz hachayim and the other called the aitz hadaas. One, if eaten, would bring about eternal life and the other death. The sefarim explain that the aitz hachayim symbolizes Torah which the passuk calls aitz chayim. If we fulfill the kol kol Yaakov of Torah and tefillah, then we choose the aitz hachayim which distances itself from the metal and will not be inserted into the blade. If we choose instead the aitz hadaas then we choose death upon ourselves because we are inserting that wood inside the metal of the evil nations who are personified by the nachash. By silencing our kol Torah and tefillah we let Am Yisrael leave the supernatural providence of Hashem only to be left in the hands of nature, chance, and randomness. The handle of the hatchet itself that we ourselves created and inserted within, is that which causes the destruction on Tisha B’av.