He Shuts Out My Prayer

Rav Moshe Isserles records a lesser-known custom in the laws of Tisha B’Av: When reciting  Kaddish after reading Megilat Eikah, the following sentence is omitted:

תִּתְקַבֵּל צְלוֹתְהוֹן וּבָעוּתְהוֹן דְּכָל יִשְׂרָאֵל קֳדָם אֲבוּהוֹן דִּי בִשְׁמַיָּא וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן

May the prayers and the pleas of all of Israel be accepted by their Father in heaven – and say: Amen.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik explained the reason for this omission is based on a verse in Megilat Eikah (3:8) which describes G-d’s unwillingness to hear our prayers.

גַּם כִּי אֶזְעַק וַאֲשַׁוֵּעַ שָׂתַם תְּפִלָּתִי

Though I cry out and plead, He shuts out my prayer.

As such, on the night of Tisha B’Av when we mourn the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash and the spiritual distance that ensued, we skip the phrase in Kaddish in which we directly ask G-d to accept our prayers.

These two words, שָׂתַם תְּפִלָּתִי (He shuts out my prayer), resonate very differently with me this year. As we sat on the floor last year and read Megilat Eikah, who could have imagined that this year, synagogues through the world would be closed or services severely curtailed?

Although I am grateful that here in Fort Lee, our synagogue does offer daily minyanim, however, the services are shortened and the amount of people that attend are a fraction of our usual crowd. Davening on Shabbat morning without communal singing is painful. Davening outside with a mask in the sweltering heat is uncomfortable and distracting. All in all, it is an experience of שָׂתַם תְּפִלָּתִי (He shuts out my prayer).

This difficult feeling was highlighted a few weeks ago on Shabbat afternoon when we gathered for mincha. We began to daven as storm clouds gathered. In middle of the hazan’s repetition of the Amidah, the skies opened and rain began pouring down. Many people ran home, others took shelter under the short awning protruding from the shul and the home next door. I stood there in the rain, as the pages of my siddur became soaked.

Despite our best intentions, the minyan could not finish.

שָׂתַם תְּפִלָּתִי (He shuts out my prayer).

Traditionally, one of the greatest obstacles to a meaningful experience on Tisha B’Av has been the fact that we don’t feel like mourners. Why mourn for a destroyed Temple and an exiled People when life in the exile is peaceful, prosperous and calm?

I do think our experience on Tisha B’Av this year should be different. Longing for something more, yearning for a world that was, is unfortunately no longer foreign to us. How we all wish we could return to the normal life we enjoyed just a few months ago!

Tisha B’Av is a time to mourn. We mourn the destruction of the two Temples that once stood proudly in Jerusalem. More deeply, we mourn for our relationship with G-d that was once intimate and close. Today that relationship feels strained and distanced.

May this year’s Tisha B’Av be meaningful.

May this year be the last year when we daven maariv outside and recite Eikah over Zoom.

May this year be the last year when we feel distanced from the Almighty.

May this year be the last year we daven with masks that stifle our song.

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְקֹוָק אֵלֶיךָ ונשוב וְנָשׁוּבָה חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם

Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old.

About the Author
Rabbi Zev Goldberg is the rabbi at Young Israel of Fort Lee in Fort Lee, NJ.
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