In the past, the Jewish people had the privilege of hosting God’s Presence in the Temple in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, we lost that privilege and twice the Temple was destroyed, both times on Tisha B’av—the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av—a day considered the low point of the Hebrew calendar. The Shabbat that follows the ninth of Av is known as the Shabbat of Comfort (שַׁבָּת נַחֲמוּ), when God consoles us with the words, “Be comforted, be comforted, My people.” And, the fifteenth of Av, just six days later, is one of the two most joyous days of the year. How can we be expected to make such a quick rebound from the lowest point of the year to one of its most joyful days in such a short span of time?
To understand the paradox of mourning and joy, we need a Chassidic story…
The Seer of Lublin’s new student
When Rebbe Moshe Teitelbaum became acquainted with the Chassidic lifestyle, he found it difficult to understand how Chassidim could always be so joyful even though there is an explicit law in the Shulchan Aruch that states that every God-fearing Jew should always mourn over the destruction of the Temple. Rebbe Moshe decided to put his question to the Seer of Lublin, who was renowned for his ability to see far and deep into the depths of an individual’s heart and into his future. Rebbe Moshe turned to God in prayer before he set out on his journey to the Seer and requested that when he arrived at the Seer’s residence, the tzadik would answer his query. As soon as Rebbe Moshe entered the Seer’s room, before he had said a word, the Seer asked him, “Why are you looking so glum today? True, the Shulchan Aruch states that a God-fearing Jew should express sorrow… but the Chovot Halevavot states, ‘Joy is on my face and mourning within me.’ Believe me, continued the Seer, I also say the Midnight Lament (תִּקוּן חֲצוֹת) weeping in grief. Nonetheless, I do so with joy. This is the way we were taught by our holy Rebbe, Reb Shmelkee of Nikolsburg, from the parable about a king who was taken captive in a distant land and went to visit one of his loyal friends. When his friend saw the king in captivity, he wept uncontrollably, nonetheless, he still rejoiced in having the king reside with him. The moral is clear, that we too should rejoice that the Divine Presence dwells with us in exile.”
When we look at this parable from the Almighty’s point of view, we discover a profound truth, He too is in great sorrow for descending into the captivity of exile, nonetheless, when He sees that the Jewish people are loyal to His ways and are happy to host His presence, He too rejoices with us. Where exactly is it that we host God’s Presence after the Temple’s destruction? In our hearts! The sages explain that from the day the Temple was destroyed, the Almighty has only the four halachic cubits defining each individual’s space to call His own. The private space of every Jew can, in a way, host the Divine Presence as the Temple did.
So, both God and the Jewish people are happy on the outside even as they weep within the depths of their hearts. This is one of the deep secrets of the Zohar, which teaches us that, “Weeping should be marked on one side of the heart and joy marked on the other.” When we reveal our joy, the weeping and sadness are hidden within us but at moments of deep sorrow, like on Tisha B’av and during the Midnight Lament, our sorrow becomes apparent. But, even at that moment, when we weep uncontrollably over the destruction, there is joy hidden on the other side of our heart, joy in that the King of Kings dwells with us in our sorrow.