Rav Moshe Aberman
Former Rosh Kollel in Chicago
As we read in this week’s Haftorah “Nachamu Nachamu Ami”, comfort comfort my nation, the national mood moves from mourning to comfort and preparation for the Yamim Tovim. (The seven Haftarot of comfort lead into the Yamim Tovim.) Yet, as in the case of human loss, we must move on while not forgetting the loss of the Mikdash. Chazal express these sentiments in a Brayta found in Baba Batra 60b.
“When the Temple was destroyed for the second time many Jews became ascetic binding themselves neither to eat meat nor to drink wine. R. Yehoshua engaged them in conversation saying to them: My sons, why do you not eat meat nor drink wine? They replied: Shall we eat meat which used to be brought as an offering on the altar now that the altar is no more? Shall we drink wine that used to be poured on the altar and now it is no more? Countered R. Yehoshua: If that is so we should not eat bread either because the meal offerings have ceased. They said in agreement, it is possible to subsist on fruit. Replied R. Yehoshua: We should not eat fruit either for now there is no longer an offering of first-fruits. They agreed and said it is possible to subside on other fruits. (Those that are not meant to be brought as the first-fruit offering.) R. Yehoshua said: But according to your reasoning we should not drink water since there is no longer any ceremony of the pouring of water. To this they could find no answer, so he said to them: My sons come and I will explain to you. Not to mourn at all is impossible for the decree has been promulgated, to mourn excessively is impossible for we do not impose on the public a hardship the majority cannot endure…The sages have thus ordained…”
Chazal clearly stated that life must go on, yet, the destruction of the Mikdash should not be forgotten. Therefore, certain customs were proscribed to maintain the memory of the destruction in our hearts and minds. Most of these customs correlate with times of joy, best known is the custom of breaking a glass during a wedding ceremony. The idea of such customs is expressed by the passuk said proceeding the breaking of the glass “Im Eshkachech Yerushalayim… im lo a’ale et Yerushalayim al rosh simchati”, if I forget thee Jerusalem…if I do not commemorate Jerusalemat the head of my joy. According to the Beit Yosef, this custom is a late development of an earlier custom to put ashes on the head of the groom. Today some authorities express the commemoration of the Mikdash using both ashes and breaking a glass.
The correlation between the commemoration of the destruction and times of joy can be noted in the above mentioned Brayta. The ascetics chose not to eat meat and wine not because they were unaware of the use of other produce in the Mikdash but rather because meat and wine represent foods that bring about joy. The idea of the ascetics was that even if life was to go on it should be devoid of any joy. Rabi Yehoshua responds to them that all joy cannot be removed from our life, but that it should be tinged with some sorrow over the destruction of the Mikdash.
Another custom of commemoration of the destruction is to leave a section of wall at the entrance to ones home unpainted. The unpainted section should be an Ama by Ama in size (approximately 50cm. by 50cm. or 20in. by 20in.). There are two opinions where this unpainted section should be located. One opinion suggests that it be on the wall facing one who enters the house. This opinion seems to see this custom in light of the idea of diminished joy. When one enters his home his joy of being home is tinted by the recollection that while his home stands the house of God is desolate. The second opinion is to place the unpainted area facing those sitting in the house so that the reminder is present at all times.
Those who do not abide by this custom rely on one of two lenient approaches. According to certain understandings of the Gemara in Baba Batra only painting ones home with pure white lime or with wall paintings requires leaving a section incomplete. Therefore, when using any other paints or lime that is not pure white, one may paint their entire house. Another approach suggests that even in reference to decrees that were accepted at some point in time if at a later time the public can no longer maintain the prohibition they no longer apply. According to this view, since today most people do not abide by this decree, it is an indication that we, as a community, can no longer endure it and therefore it no longer is binding.
Certain other customs mentioned in the Gemara no longer apply due to changes in life style. Two other areas of Halacha do need attention but require separate discussions. One is the playing and hearing of music all year long in our times. The second is the Halacha of tearing ones garments when seeing Yerushalayim and the place of the Mikdash after an absence of thirty days.
Let us set in our minds the formula taught by Rabi Yehoshua: Not to mourn at all is impossible, to mourn excessively is also impossible – so let us go on with life with a touch of sorrow hoping and praying it will soon be over.