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A Freilichin Tisha B'av!

A revised version of an earlier post:

A parable given by Rabbi Lau [based on what he heard from Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Herzog]:

Imagine an Olympic aircraft arriving at Athens airport. An old man from the aircraft has received permission to leave the aircraft and sightsee in his home city. This old man has permission from heaven to come and see Athens.

One of the workers at the airport climbs the ladder and asks if he can be of help. “Who are you?” asks the worker. “I am Socrates, the philosopher of Athens.” The worker starts to speak to him, but they have no common language. Oh, they speak Greek, but it’s not the same Greek. It’s not the same language at all. The classic Greek of Socrates and the Greek of today are not the same language.

There is a translator. Socrates asks, “Where is the Acropolis?”

“In Ruins.”

“The Temple of Zeus?”

“There is no Temple of Zeus in Greece. There is a church. A Greek Orthodox Church. But it belongs to Christianity.

“There is no Neptune, no Mars, no Aphrodite, no Helen. Nothing of this kind. Only Christianity.”

“How many countries are under the dominion and control of Greece?”

“None. Greece is a small country in NATO.”

“What are we number one in? Sports? The Marathon? Olympia? Philosophy?”

“No. Just a country.”

Sorry, it is not the same language, not the same religion, not the same power, not an empire at all. The Greece of Komnenos and Papandreou is not the Greece of Socrates, Aristotle or Plato. There is nothing in common. Nothing in common except geography.

An Alitalia flight stops in Fiumicino airport near Rome, and an old guy deplanes. The worker climbs up the ladder. “May I help you? Who are you?”

“Julius Caesar. Veni, vidi vici.”

“May I help you?”

He doesn’t understand the question. The Latin language of Caesar and the Italian language of today are not the same language. Not the same at all.

“Will you take me to the Temple of Jupiter?”

“Who is Jupiter? We have a Vatican here.”

“What is a Vatican?”

“It’s a church. Another religion. Catholicism. There is a Pope from Germany. Yesterday he was from Poland. Not an Italian. No Jupiter.”

“The Coliseum?”

“It is in ruins.”

“Gallia — later-on France — still belongs to Roma?”

“Not at all. France is Chirac. Rome is Parodi. Yesterday Berlusconi.”

“What are the countries that are under our control? Abyssinia? Angola?”

“None of them. Italy is also a state in the Allies of NATO.

“What are we number one in?”

“No field of expertise. The Rome of Caesar and the Rome of Fellini are not the same.”

So these two personalities come to visit their own home cities. But it was not the home as they knew it.


Near Tel Aviv an El Al plane lands. An old man stands up and waits at the door. A worker from Ben Gurion Airport sees a man with a white beard. He climbs up the ladder. “Shalom Aleichem,” the worker says.

The man answers, “Aleichem Shalom.”

“It’s an honor to meet you,” says the worker.

“I am Moshe,” the old man says.

“I am also Moshe,” says the worker. “I was born in Tbilisi, in Georgia.”

“And I was born in Egypt.”

“Did you visit Israel before?”

“Unfortunately never.”

“So it’s not your homeland.”

“It is my homeland. I received a promise from the Almighty to give it to you. Are you Jewish?”

“Of course I’m Jewish. Ani Mosheke m’Gruzia.

“May I ask you a favor?”

The worker says, “Whatever you want.”

“I have come to sightsee. I have 24 hours to visit Israel and I didn’t have a chance to take tefillin with me. Do you know where it’s possible to get tefillin?”

“Tefillin? I’ll give you mine.”

“You have tefillin?”

“Of course I have tefillin,” and he shows them to him. “Only half an hour ago I finished davening Shacharis.”

“And you also have a tallis with tzitzis?”

“Of course.”

“Tallis? Tefillin?”

“Here we have a synagogue. Even three. In the new airport. Three synagogues in the terminal. You want to daven nusach sefard, ashkenaz, chassidim, misnagdim? All the words that Moshe told us 3,300 years ago are here before our very eyes.”

And the old man kisses the mezuzah. He wrote it.

The Torah is forever. Everything else is a passing fancy.

Let us quote Pascal: "It is certain that in certain parts of the world we can see a peculiar people, separated from the other peoples of the world, and this is called the Jewish people . . . This people is not only of remarkable antiquity but has also lasted for a singularly long time . . . For whereas the peoples of Greece and Italy, of Sparta, Athens and Rome, and others who came so much later have perished so long ago, these still exist, despite the efforts of so many powerful kings who have tried a hundred times to wipe them out, as their historians testify, and as can easily be judged by the natural order of things over such a long spell of years. They have always been preserved, however, and their preservation was foretold . . . My encounter with this people amazes me".

During the three weeks we relive the past destruction of the Batei Mikdash and [particularly on Tisha B'av] we commemorate other horrible catastrophes that we have endured, such as the Holocaust. This is a reason for great mourning - but paradoxically it is also a reason for great joy! After everything - we are still here!! The joy we feel is not a contradiction to the pain we experience. One can be joyful and sad simultaneously. An example of this is the halacha that when a relative dies and one receives an inheritance, he make two brachos - dayan haemes and ... hatov vihameitiv. Dayan haemes on the sadness of death and hatov vihameitiv on the 20 million dollars that the dearly departed bequethed [I heard this example from Mori ViRabbi Shlita HaAdmor MiTolna]. So is the person happy or sad? The answer, BOTH [so Jewish!].

So too, on Tisha B'av we should feel the intense pain of our spiritual impoverishment, clearly indicated by the lack of the Beis Hamikdash and hashraas hashechina amongst us. But simultaneously we should feel INTENSE JOY AND GRATITUDE TO HASHEM THAT WE ARE STILL HERE. Joy on Tisha B'av? Sounds radical? A bit to Chassidic and antinomian [anti - against, nomos - law: Lielui nishmat my high school english teacher Ms. Mayefsky who made sure that her students knew not only the proper spelling and meaning of words but their etymology as well. Any spelling and grammatical mistakes I make in my writing are not her fault - she tried her best...]. Well, two proofs from the world of halacha. [Heard from the Rebbe Shlita.]

1] We don't say tachanun on Tisha B'av because the day is considered a Moed!! Gut Yontiv!! [See Shulchan Aruch 559/4. Also, take a look at the Mishna Brura there, os yud tes!]

2] On Tisha B'av we say in psukei dizimra "Mimzor Lisoda [even if you don't like soda] ... ivdu es Hashem Bisimcha". Yes, SIMCHA!!

Simcha that we are still here and flourishing, especially in this generation when we have merited to return to Eretz Yisrael in large numbers. We are not there - yet! But we are on the way and closer than we've ever been.


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this is similar to rav soloveitchik's vort on why we decrease our mourning in the afternoon of tisha b'av despite the fact that historically the mikdash began burning in the afternoon. we celebrate that G-d struck the mikdash, but not His people.

see this more at length from my old yeshiva chavruta josh flug (remember him?) at:


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  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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