It is forbidden to study Torah on Tisha Be’av, for the words of Torah gladden the heart, as the verse states, “The commandments of Hashem are just and gladden the heart.” One who delves in Torah study feels spiritual growth and satisfaction and it is for this reason that one may not study Torah on Tisha Be’av.
If one is, G-d-forbid, in mourning for a relative, studying Torah is likewise forbidden similar to Tisha Be’av. One may nevertheless study the laws of mourning or the Gemara in Masechet Mo’ed Katan from page 21a and on since this portion discusses the laws of mourning. This kind of Torah learning is permitted since the laws of mourning do not bring one joy.
It is likewise permissible to learn the Midrashim on Megillat Eicha, for it discusses the suffering of the Jewish nation. The Midrash there recounts how Nevuzaradan (Nevuchadnezzar’s general) entered the Bet Hamikdash and saw human blood on the floor bubbling like a stream. He asked the Jews, “What is this?” They eventually told him that this was the blood of Zecharia ben Yehoyada Ha’Kohen who was murdered almost one-hundred years before and ever since, it had not stopped bubbling.
The story began with a wicked woman named Atalyahu, mother of King Achazyahu, and she devised a plan to annihilate the entire royal Davidic family. Indeed, she killed everyone besides for only one baby, by the name of Yo’ash, who remained. Yo’ash was two years old at the time and his caretaker was Yehosheva, wife of Yehoyada Ha’Kohen. When Yehoyada Ha’Kohen became aware that Atalyahu wished to kill baby Yo’ash as well, he commanded his wife Yehosheva to take Yo’ash and hide him in the Holy of Holies in the Bet Hamikdash as no one would look for him there. Only in this way would he be saved.
The Holy of Holies was a place where only the Kohen Gadol would enter only once a year, on Yom Kippur, amid much fear and trepidation. Many did not make it out alive. Nevertheless, Yehoyada promised his wife that nothing bad would happen to either her or the child. Indeed, Yehosheva raised Yo’ash within the Holy of Holies and Atalyahu never thought to search for him there.
Several years later, Yo’ash grew up to be a wise lad and Yehoyada came to him and anointed him as King of Israel. The Jewish nation was elated that the Davidic kingdom had not been completely wiped out. Atalyahu heard the news and when she entered the Bet Hamikdash, “And she saw, behold, the king was standing by the pillar, as was the custom, the chiefs with their trumpets beside the king, and all the people of the land rejoicing and blowing trumpets. Atalya rended her garments and cried, ‘Treason, treason!’” She understood that a revolution was in the making.
Immediately, some strong officers grabbed her, dragged her outside the Bet Hamikdash, and put her to death. This was the end of this terrible woman. Throughout his reign, Yo’ash followed the counsel of Yehoyada Ha’Kohen who encouraged him to be loyal to Hashem and to adhere to Torah and Mitzvot. “Yeho’ash did what was just in the eyes of Hashem all of his days, as he was instructed by Yehoyada Ha’Kohen.” Indeed, Yehoyada’s son, Zecharia, who was a prophet like his father, married King Yo’ash’s daughter.
A few years later, after Yehoyada Ha’Kohen had passed away, some wicked servants of Yo’ash came to him and told him, “Your highness, this is unbelievable! You grew up inside the Holy of Holies! You were a baby and soiled this holiest of places and nothing happened to you. Even when the Kohen Gadol would enter this inner sanctum once a year, he would write a last will and testament to his family before entering, for he did not know if he would exit dead or alive. If the Kohen was not worthy, he would die immediately upon entering and would be pulled out by others standing outside with a rope tied around his leg, all due to the immense sanctity which rested in this place. You grew up in this place for several years and nothing happened to you. You must be a god! You are not merely a mortal of flesh and blood and we must serve you!”
Yo’ash liked what he heard and a proclamation was sent throughout the Land of Israel that whoever sees King Yo’ash must immediately bow before him.
Zecharia the prophet, son-in-law of King Yo’ash, was also Kohen Gadol. When he heard this, he decided not to remain silent. The day was Yom Kippur which coincided Shabbat and as soon as he had concluded the service of the day and atoned for the Jewish nation’s sins, Zecharia stood on a high place and began chastising the Jewish nation. He exclaimed, “How could you leave Hashem? You have taken a man of flesh and blood and made a god out of him?” Yo’ash heard this announcement and immediately ordered his son-in-law, the prophet and Kohen Gadol, to be put to death. The people then stoned Zecharia to death. (We should point out that approximately one-hundred years ago, there was a “Dibbuk”, a wandering spirit which attaches itself to random people, going around Poland and Lithuania. When the leaders of the generation who spoke to the spirit to ask it who it was, it replied that it was the soul of the first individual who threw a stone on Zecharia and until that day, he had no rest.)
This is how Zecharia Ha’Navi was murdered after having concluded the services of Yom Kippur on behalf of the Jewish nation. Yom Kippur that year had coincided with Shabbat. A pool of his blood which remained in the Bet Hamikdash continued to bubble for years after. As much as they tried to wash it away and pour water on it, it remained there, always bubbling miraculously.
When Nevuzaradan entered the Bet Hamikdash and saw this spectacle, he inquired about it. The Jews told him it was blood of sacrifices that had spilled. He brought other animals and slaughtered them and realized there was a difference between the color of the animal blood and that of the blood that was bubbling. He told them, “You are lying! If you do not tell me whose blood this is, I will comb your flesh with iron forks!” They then divulged what had happened almost one-hundred years prior and how Zecharia Ha’Navi had been murdered and ever since then, whenever the courtyard of the Bet Hamikdash was washed, it had stubbornly remained and continued bubbling.
Nevazaradan said, “I will appease Zecharia!” He went and brought Jewish school-children and slaughtered them on top of Zecharia’s blood, however, the blood continued to bubble. He brought the seventy members of the Sanhedrin (High Tribunal) and slaughtered them upon the blood, yet, it continued to bubble. He then exclaimed, “Zecharia! I have killed the best among your nation. Would you like me to kill them all for you?!” At that moment, the blood settled down. This is what happened due to our numerous sins.
What was Yo’ash’s end? One year after the above incident, there was an uprising against him and he was killed. He did not have a life in this world nor in the World to Come. He forgot who had brought him to this world and who had saved his life; he had forgotten the kindness of his mentor, Yehoyada Ha’Kohen. This is what he did to his son-in-law and at the end, Hashem punished him accordingly.
We cry so much in Tisha Be’av. Whose heart does not weep for all the tragedies and suffering the Jewish nation has endured. Most recently, the terrible Holocaust, how many great and righteous men were killed by the wicked Nazis?! A third of our nation was annihilated during the Holocaust. Everyone must mourn for Jerusalem and the killing of Hashem’s righteous followers. “They placed the carcasses of your servants as food for the birds of the sky, the flesh of your pious ones for the beasts of the land. They spilled their blood like water around Jerusalem with no one to bury them.”
Such great men as the Gaon of Klausenberg and the Gaon of Satmar were tortured by the Nazis! Approximately one-million holy children were killed in the cruelest ways!
In Israel, Hashem performed a miracle for us by let us remain alive. I remember those days when the wicked Irwin Rommel arrived at El-Alamein, next to Alexandria in Egypt. We were terrified. The enemy had all sorts of weapons and warfare. They had planes and tanks and they could have come to Jerusalem in no-time and destroyed us all. We were all so scared. We used to walk through the Arab market and the Arabs would stand at the entrances of their shops and tell us, “Just wait! Hitler will come and then we will slaughter you all and plunder your money!” We did nothing to them and this is what they told us!
We would all go to pray at the Kotel with Hagaon Harav Yaakov Ades, a righteous and just man whose entire life was full of Torah and fear of Heaven. He would stand in prayer and cry bitterly and we would all join in crying copiously. We had no idea what the next day would bring. Hagaon Harav Zalman Sorotzkin did the same for the Ashkenazi communities in Jerusalem and we stood opposite one another at the Kotel, each group shedding painful tears.
Eventually, thank G-d, Hashem answered our prayers and planted an idea in Hitler’s mind that he should declare war on Russia and he immediately sent a telegram to Rommel to drop everything in North Africa and return to help us on the front with the Russian forces. Millions fell on each side, however, Hashem saved us, as the verse states, “On Mount Zion, there shall be refuge and it shall be holy.” “There we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.” We knew that no one would be able to save us from Hitler, even the British were powerless against him, besides for our Almighty Hashem who planted this idea in his mind to go fight with Russia and leave us alone. How much must we thank Hashem for sparing our lives. Our prayers, those that were done in unity among the Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities together, helped save us. One must always take part in the suffering of the community.
We are aware of the impending situation (in the year 5765/2005) when the residents of Gush Katif and in great peril. After thirty years of investing, building, ploughing, and planting, they will be banished from their homes, disengaged. There are forty synagogues and houses of study there that will be destroyed down to their foundations so that Arabs do not turn them into mosques. Synagogues built with much sweat, tears, and blood will all be reduced to rubble.
What can we say? Our Sages taught (Berachot 12a) that when a community finds itself in danger, the entire Jewish nation must pray for them! We must all pray to Hashem to abolish this decree; they are suffering so! The Gemara states that when Shmuel Ha’Navi said, “As for me, far be it from me to sin before Hashem and refrain from praying for you,” this means that Shmuel was saying that would if he did not pray to Hashem on behalf of the Jewish nation, he would be considered sinful.
Our brothers are suffering, shall we be comfortable? What kind of relaxation would this be? We must pray for them! “Do not fear, worm of Yaakov,” the Jewish nation is compared to a worm. Just like a worm’s only strength is with its mouth, so too, the Jewish nation’s strength is only with their mouths. We must not back sit back and do nothing so that this government can destroy everything, without anything in return, without any agreements in place! We must pray!
Not a day goes by where I do not mention these communities in my prayer. However, this is not sufficient. We need the prayer of the masses. We shall pray and Hashem will do as He sees fit!