13 Jul DEVARIM- SEEING HOPE WITHIN THE RUINS
Halachah instructs, סנכנשמ†ןיטעממ†בא†החמשב† – “When Av enters, we reduce our joy.” Significantly, we are not told to be sad and depressed during this period leading up to Tishah B’Av. Rather, we are supposed to “reduce our joy,” to be less happy.
Many people will find this startling, but it’s true: we are supposed to be happy during this time of year. That is correct – we are supposed to be happy, just not as happy as during the rest of the year.
This reflects a crucially important point that is relevant not only during this period, but also for every mo ment in our lives. We are supposed to find the good within the bad. We are never supposed to despair or feel crippled by sorrow. Even as we mourn the destruction of the Bet Ha’mikdash and our state of exile, we are to find hope and comfort.
Rabbi Akiva’s Laughter
We learn about this concept from the famous story told at the end of Masechet Makkot about Rabbi Aki va, who was walking towards Jerusalem with three distinguished colleagues. When they reached Har Ha’tzofim (Mount Scopus), which overlooks Har Ha’bayit (the Temple Mount), they looked upon the ruins of the Bet Ha’mikdash and saw a fox scurrying about in the area of the םישדקה†שדוק†– the holiest chamber in the Bet Ha’mikdash. Rabbi Akiva’s colleagues immediately broke down in tears, while Rabbi Akiva himself laughed.
“Why are you laughing?” the three Rabbis asked Rabbi Akiva.
“Why are you weeping” Rabbi Akiva retorted.
“Why are we weeping?!” they asked, incredulously. “This is the site where nobody was ever allowed to enter, except the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur. And now it lay in ruins and is inhabited by foxes. Shall we not cry?”
“That’s exactly why I am laughing,” Rabbi Akiva said. He proceeded to cite a verse from the Nevi’im that connects two prophecies – the prophecy foreseeing the Bet Ha’mikdash being turned into rubble, and the prophecy foreseeing the time when Jerusalem will be rebuilt and its streets will be teaming with people, from young children to the elderly. Now that Rabbi Akiva saw the fulfillment of the first prophecy, he felt confident in the future fulfillment of the second prophecy. When his colleagues saw the ruins of the Bet Ha’mikdash, they wept in sorrow. But when Rabbi Akiva saw the ruins, he rejoiced over the prospects for a brighter, happier future for the Jew ish People.
When Rabbi Akiva’s colleagues heard what he said, they responded, ונתמחנ†אביקע†¨ונתמחנ†אביקע† – “Akiva you have consoled us; Akiva, you have consoled us.”
Rabbi Akiva mastered the art of seeing the positive in the most horrific situations. As we know from other famous stories found in the Talmud, he approached every circumstance with the mindset of אנמחר†דיבעד†לכ†דיבע†בטל†– “Everything G-d does is for the best.” Even in his dying moments, as he was being tortured to death by the Roman authorities for the crime of teaching Torah, he told his students that he rejoiced over the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of serving the Almighty ךשפנ†לכב† – “with all your soul,” by sacrificing his life. Just as Rabbi Akiva saw hope of a glorious future in the ruins of the Bet Be’mikdash, so did he see a precious mitzvah opportunity as he was being executed.