Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Beginning of the End

Written for Bais Yaakov's school paper

עשרה בטבת is coming up soon on Thursday, January 1st. On this day, almost two and half thousand years ago, the Babylonian army surrounded our capital, ירושלים עיר הקודש, and blocked all deliveries of food. As the siege dragged on, the Jews inside slowly began to starve. Two and a half years later on the 17th of Tammuz, the enemy broke through the city walls. And three weeks after that, on the 9th of Av, the בית המקדש was destroyed. This is why we fast on the tenth of Teves. It was the beginning of the end.
Why did Hashem do it this way? We all know the Jews were guilty of idolatry, adultery and murder. They deserved גלות. So why not just give them גלות? Why must חורבן come as such a long and drawn-out process?
The answer is that Hashem is compassionate and He wanted to give the Jews a little more time. Time to realize that only Hashem can save them. Time to rebuild their אמונה and בטחון. Time to Daven. Time to do Teshuvah.
When the siege began, all was not yet doomed. Had they listened to ירמיהו הנביא they could have turned things around, but they did not listen. The Jews failed, the שכינה left and the מקדש was burned to the ground.
In light of the situation in Yerushalayim today, it is unfortunately very easy for us to relate to Asara B’Teves. Our brothers and sisters are living under a siege of terror, but instead of the enemy surrounding them from without, the enemy dwells within. These are frightening times, with no end in sight. There is no foreseeable resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and no hope for peace. We can only expect war.
There is, however, one paradoxical advantage to our hopelessness, the very same advantage our ancestors failed to utilize at the time of the Babylonian siege. When we have nowhere to turn, we are forced to recognize that we are in Hashem’s Hands. And if we would just stop and think about that, we could set off an extraordinary chain-reaction. Hopelessness begets אמונה,  אמונה develops into בטחוןand from בטחון comes ישועה!
כי בחסדך בטחתי יגל לבי בישועתך. “Because I put my trust in Your חסד, my heart rejoices in Your ישועה” (Tehillim 13:6).
It follows that we need to redouble our energies into the single most effective tool that builds אמונה and strengthens our בטחון in the חסד of Hashem. That tool is תפילה.
As mourning for the חורבן begins this year on עשרה בטבת, our job is clear. We don’t need to put on sackcloth, we don’t need to get up at midnight for Tikun Chatzos, and we don’t need some secret combination of Pirkei Tehillim. We simply need to Daven שמונה עשרה right.
What does our שמונה עשרה looks like?
Forgive me for projecting, but I assume most people are like me and typically go through three stages. At the beginning where כוונה is critical, we are all focused. If חו"ש someone is sick, maybe we can hold out until רפאנו, but eventually we enter stage two, when our minds slowly drift away from the תפילה and we space out and coast along for a while. Finally, if we are lucky, we wake up again when we bow for מודים. Stage three looks good as we get back into things and put up a strong finish, but unfortunately, mostly due to its location, stage two – the middle of שמונה עשרה – often gets ignored.
We must overcome this complacency, because the call of the hour is all in stage two! It is there, in the forgotten middle, that our נשמה expresses the hope of our nation and we Daven for גאולה.
If we pay attention to what we are saying, if we Daven for the rebuilding of Yerushalayim – ובנה אותה בקרובif we yearn for Moshiach – צמח דוד עבדך and beg to see the return of the שכינה to ציון with our own eyes – ותחזינה עינינו – if we pour out our hearts into the heart of שמונה עשרה and strengthen our בטחון, then the גאולה will come.

Once upon a time, עשרה בטבת was the beginning of the end. But גלות is almost over now. Let’s make this עשרה בטבת the end of the end.