It’s hard to say that Jerusalem is made up of stone alone. Connecting her blocks are 3000 years of triumph and travail, her narrow alleyways are paved with the blood-soaked tears of jubilee and destruction, and her marketplaces are stocked with cans filled to the brim, containing the collective longing to return. Her body is stone, yet her heart is built of memory, a memory that awaits. She runs on emotion.
When my Grandpa first lay his eyes on Jerusalem in July of ’67, one month of her reunification and 22 years after his liberation from Nazi Germany, it was yet another difficult day for Jerusalem and my Grandpa alike. July 24, 1967 marked שבעה עשר בתמוז, the beginning of the three weeks, the day where the walls of Jerusalem were breached in the year 70, and the yertzite of my Grandpa’s Mother, Sister, Brother and Father (ז״ל ה״יד) who perished in Auschwitz. Upon landing around midday, my Grandpa rushed out of Ben Gurion “International” Airport, and hopped into a cab en route to the Kotel, to say Kaddish for his slain family. He told me that when he finished davening at the Western Wall, whose Shul consisted of one portable bima and a few chairs, he overheard two elderly Yerushalmi Chassidim schmoozing in yiddish.
One of the men offered his friend a handshake and said, “Nu Yankie, today is שבעה עשר בתמוז”, “yes I know” replied the other. “Nu Yankie so that means that in three weeks from now it’s going to be Tisha B’ Av” to which Yankie replied “vyazoy veystu”, which to all of the non mama loshen speakers out there, including myself, means “how do you know”.
His friend was completely taken aback. “Yankie what’s a matter with you? Today is שבעה עשר בתמוז which means that in three weeks from now we have Tisha B’ Av”, to which Yankie again replied “vyazoy veystu”, gathered his stuff and went on home.
Tisha B’ Av coming in its usual manner after the events of the summer of ’67 seemed impossible. Israel, the fledgling nation of 19 years, had somehow defeated 5 attacking armies and briefly extended her sovereignty over the Kadosh Hakodoshim. The messiah’s arrival seemed imminent, and a day mourning the destruction of the Temple whose very geographical location was in our hands seemed satire. It had to be game over.
But the thing was it wasn’t. Tisha B’ Av did come that year in his usual fashion, armed with verses of lamentations, whose hymns of destruction reverberated throughout the streets of a reunified Jerusalem.
Tisha B’ Av is the ultimate day of destruction and lamentation, yet it falls under the halachic category of a מועד, holiday, and as a result the prayer תחנון is not recited. Furthermore, it is well known that the birth of the messiah takes place on Tisha B’ Av, furthering the complex dichotomy of its makeup. Surrounding Tisha B’ av is also this spirit of destruction and renewal; the שבת before Tisha B’ Av is שבת חזון, named after Isaiah’s vision of impending destruction and doom found in the haftorah portion, and the שבת following Tisha B’ Av is שבת נחמו, again named after the words of comfort offered by Isaiah in the haftorah portion.
While the haftorah’s surrounding Tisha B’ Av shed light on this bifurcation of spirit, this week’s Torah portion also alludes to this dualism. In the beginning of this week’s Parsha, Parshat ואתחנן, Moshe recounts his unsuccessful plea to Hashem to enter into the land of Israel. In the Parsha’s second verse Moshe addresses the name of ה׳ in an unusual manner by saying, אֲדֹנָי יֱהֹוִה אַתָּה הַחִלּוֹתָ לְהַרְאוֹת אֶת עַבְדְּךָ. The way that Moshe pairs these two names of God, אדקי and יקוק seem odd and on the outset make no sense. As we know, the name אדקי means master and is similar to the name אלוקים which connotes דין, or judgement, while the name יקוק, connotes רחמים or mercy.
(רחמים from the word רחם which is womb. יקוק means אין עוד מלודו and that being said we are all children and partial manifestations of God who came from God’s רחם, womb, כביכול, and we are therefore all deserving of divine mercy.)
This being said, why would Moshe place God’s name of Judgement,אדקי, before God’s name of Mercy, יקוק? Based on justice alone Moshe had no right to enter the land; Moshe had a heavily decree enacted against him after he hit the rock, barring him from entry into the land. Invoking G-d’s name of justice, אדקי by placing it before G-d’s name of mercy, יקוק, seems counterintuitive. Furthermore, Moshe Rabaynu, the greatest Tzadik in history to walk the earth and the only person who Hashem spoke to פה אל פה, surely knew his people’s history!
In the first Perek of בראשית detailing creation, Hashem’s name only appears as אלוקים, connoting דין. In fact the first thing created was אלוקים, as the pasuk says בראשית, in the beginning, ברא, he created אלוקים, this idea of judgement and this perception that God is hidden away in nature. For us to be judged, G-d could not be overtly present in our lives. If God was obvious we would lose the ability to make choices, choices that we are judged on, hence the name אלוקים which connotes Judgement. If you don’t believe me image G-d appeared to you in complete fashion one day and commanded you to pick up the nearest rock. You wouldn’t hesitate.
(This is why אלוקים is similar to the name אדקי, which means master. Master connotes separation between us and Hashem, i.e. there are two parties at play, the master and the servant, again alluding to how we perceive G-d as a separate being from us, due to this creation of אלוקים, which is tzimtzum. אלוקים also has the same numerical value as הטבע, nature, a God hidden and working behind the scenes. This again is tzimtzum, G-d contracting himself into אלקים while still remaining יקוק, which is אין עוד מלודו, or in Kabbalistic literature the idea that the light surrounds the vacuum, but still fills it.)
After man sinned, however, Hashem realized that the world could not be sustained on דין alone and he introduced this concept of Divine mercy overriding Divine judgement. Throughout the second Perek of בראשית, Hashem’s name only appears as יקוק אלוקים, with Hashem’s name of mercy superseding his name of judgement, alluding to the fact that the world could not be sustained on judgement alone, and that mercy needs to overcome judgement sometimes. By coupling his name in this manner, Hashem is symbolizing his inclination to sustain the world with mercy at the forefront.
This being said, why then would Moshe choose to pair Hashem’s name of Din before Hashem’s name of Rachamim? Didn’t Moshe know that Hashem has a tendency, when properly evoked, to override judgement with mercy?
With this we turn to Rahsi, who adds a fascinating insight. He says that when we read the verse, אֲדֹנָי יֱהֹוִה אַתָּה הַחִלּוֹתָ לְהַרְאוֹת אֶת עַבְדְּךָ, we actually pronounce it is Hashem Elokim, or יקוק אלוקים which Rashi says, and as we know by now, means overcoming judgement with mercy, and in his words ה’ אלהים: רחום בדין.
Continuing down this enlightenment path, Rahsi’s statement alludes to a huge secret towards our avoda this Tisha B’ Av and this שבת נחמו. It’s not that Moshe incorrectly paired G-d’s name and placed Judgement before Mercy unknowingly ח״ו. Rather, this קרי וכתיב (when things are written one way and pronounced another way) is alluding to something much bigger. The Torah is telling us that sometimes in our lives things seem to be written as judgement. We perceive the events that define us and befall us as harsh, and they are, but we fail to realize the way that they are meant to be read; we are unable to see the great mercy embedded within these events, we mistake these situations true pronunciations.
When running this idea by my Rabbi in Eretz Hakodesh, Rabbi Judah Dardik Shlita, he pointed out to me that Moshe’s request to enter the Land of Israel was somewhat fulfilled, as he was buried in the Biblical portion of the tribe of Gad, on the other side of the Jordan, therefore including Moshe’s burial plot within the borders of Biblical Israel, in a way granting Moshe entry into the land. While Moshe’s verdict appeared harsh and judgement driven on the surface, his request was in a way granted, and Moshe’s verdict to be barred from the land was in a way overrode due to Divine mercy, as we know by now we read the verse as Hashem Elokim.
It’s true, Tisha B’ Av is a day for lamenting. It is a day to mourn the destruction of the temple and the broken temples within each and every one of us. It is a day to mourn our personal and collective tragedies, but it is also a day to remind ourselves that somehow, someway, hidden beneath the layers of despair and horror and encoded within the judgements that have been bestowed upon us rests great divine mercy. While we may face numerous Tisha B’ Av’s in our lives we must remind ourselves that our current reality of destruction is also the platform for redemption; that from our hardships our messiahs will be born and that our lowest days will soon be transformed to Holy-days, מעדים where we will cry out in laughter, together, as one. This Tisha B’ Av and Shabbat do not forget to ask “vyazoy veystu”, how do you know? Not just how you know that Tisha B’ Av will come, but how do you know that what you perceive is really a Tisha B Av and not just an act of great Divine mercy. May we all be able to find the proper pronunciations in our life and may we have our sorrows transformed to songs of happiness as we greet the messiah and witness the building of the Temple and the final redemption, speedily and in our time במהרה וימינו, ahmayn!