1. Why does the Torah call us Anshei Ha’Milchama?
  2. Inyanei Tisha b’Av

1 – Devarim

“אנשי המלחמה” (ב:טז), “מבן עשרים שנה היוצאים בצבא” (רש”י שם)

Rebbi once told me a story that he heard from Rav Mendel Zaks (son-in-law of the Chafetz Chaim) which took place during the War.  Rav Mendel was part of a chaburah that was led by Rav Itzeleh Ponovezher who served as the Rosh Yeshiva.  This was no ordinary chaburah, it was comprised of some of the greatest talmidei chachamim of the generation.  As a group, they were very particular about teffilah b’tzibur and never missed formind a minyan for any teffilah.  One day, there was a gargantuan snowstorm.  A gezunteh Russian snowstorm; the snow was so high that many doors and windows were covered by the snow!  In those days, there were no doorms and bachurim would sleep in local families’ homes.  The family that housed Rav Mendel told him, “You’d have to be insane to go out on a day like today!”  But Rav Mendel went anyway.  Why?  Because he looked out one of the windows that was not completely covered by the snow to see if there was any activity outside.  What did he see?  The Russian soldiers trudging through the snow to go to the train.  “If they can go out to their work even on a day like this, then all the more so that I can go to Yeshiva!”  When he got there, he found that everyone else had also come.  Each one of them shared with the others their reason for coming.  It turned out that they had all made the exact same calculation: if the soldiers can go out for their work, we can definitely go for teffilah b’tzibur!

(From Reb Yaakov Cooper)

2 – Tisha B’Av

The Gemara says that there are three categories regarding the four fasts (of Asarah b’Teives, Shiva Asar b’Tamuz, Tisha b’Av, and Tom Gedalyah) : 1) when there is gezeiras malchus all four fasts are obligatory as fasts, 2) when there is no gezeiras malchus but also not shalom only Tisha b’Av is obligatory, there rest are optional, 3) when there is shalom all four are Yamim Tovim.  These different situations directly impact the status of the four fasts.  However, it is a machlokes Rishonim exactly how this works out.

Rashi holds that the time period of Bayis Sheini was considered a time of shalom and therefore all four “fasts” had the status of Yomtov, even Tisha B’Av.  Nowadays, it depends.  When it is a time of gezeiras malchus it is obligatory to fast on these four days, and when it is a time that there is not gezeiras malchus, it is optional.  That is how most Rishonim hold, just that they add that Klal Yisrael already accepted upon themselves to fast nowadays even when there is not gezeiras malchus.

Within this approach, there is the shitah of the Ramban who holds that essentially there is no difference between Tisha b’Av and all the rest.  Therefore, holds the Ramban, when it is a time of gezeiras malchus – which makes it a full-fledged obligation (and not just a minhag) – the other three fasts are a full twenty-four hours and all five inuyim apply, just like by Tisha b’Av.

The Rambam, though, says differently.  If you read it carefully, it is clear that the breakdown according to the Rambam is as follows: 1) the time of Bayis Rishon was considered the time of shalom (when all four are Yamim Tovim), 2) the time of Bayis Sheini was considered a time of no gezeiras malchus but also no shalom, and 3) nowadays, since we live with the churban, it is inherently always considered time of gezeiras malchus.

So we see from the Rambam two chiddushim: number one, that during the time of Bayis Sheini, Tisha b’Av was observed as a fast.  This is corroborated by the fact that the Rambam says this explicitly in Pirush Ha’Mishnayos (in the first perek of Rosh Ha’Shana).  But even without that, it is clear from the Rambam in Yad Ha’Chazakah that this is how he holds if you read it carefully.  Chiddush number two is that the Rambam holds not like the Ramban.  The Rambam says that nowadays is inherently always a time of gezeiras malchus – which means all four fasts are totally mandatory and not subject to minhag – and yet he does not assign the other three fasts the same halachos as Tisha b’Av.  Only Tisha b’Av is a full twenty four hours and has all five inuyim, but not the others.

According to the Rambam that Tisha b’Av was observed with all its stringencies during the time of Bayis Sheini, you have to say that “huchpelu bo tzaros” means: 1) there were two tzaros, namely that of the decree that the Jews would have to wander in the Midbar for forty years and that the Bayis Rishon was destroyed, and 2) within those tzaros there is a “double” that the first Beis Ha’Mikdash having been destroyed was a gigantic catastrophe.

The Rambam includes the fact that Titus plowed Har Ha’Bayis, and he adds, “in fulfillment of that which it says, Tziyon will be plowed like a field.”  What exactly does the Rambam want by including this?  My father would always say that he is alluding to the account where Rabi Akiva was smiling when the other Chachamim were crying because he saw in the fulfillment of the negative prophecies a garuantee that the positive prophecies will also eventually come to fruition.  However, if that were what the Rambam meant, it seems that he should have said more.  Perhaps you could say that what he means is that Har Ha’Bayis being plowed was the final “nail in the coffin” of the churban.

Tisha b’Av has a dual character to it.  It is a fast, but it is also a day of mourning.  Most of the halachos of the two overlap.  The main difference is regarding learning Torah.  That is only assur because of the facet of aveilus.  The reason a mourner cannot learn Torah is that it makes a person rejoice (pekudei Hashem yesharim mesamchei leiv), which is a contradiction to the aveilus.

The Gemara does say, though, that it is permissible to learn what are called “devarim ha’raim”, things of a sad nature like Eicha and Iyov, etc.  The Rishonim added that also the parts of Moed Katan that deal with aveilus.  The Taz and the Magen Avraham both say that even when learning those topics that are permissible to learn, it is only a superficial study that is mutar, but not learning in depth.  Because learning in depth makes a person happy.  However, Reb Chaim Brisker and the Chazon Ish both said – each one in his own manner of expression – that whatever is mutar to learn, it is mutar to learn it in depth, because not learning something in depth is not called learning.

The Rambam brings the issur of learning on Tisha b’Av in the context of the overall mode of behavior of conducting oneself in a sorrowful manner.  This mournful, sorrowful state of mind and behavior applies the entire twenty four hours of Tisha b’Av.  It can happen that in the last few minutes before Maariv, people are so excited to be able to eat, etc. that they forget to maintain this mode of conduct.  Make sure to be mindful of this and do not desist from the sorrowful state of mind and mode of behavior until Tisha b’Av is completely over.

I heard from someone who saw it happen, that the Brisker Rav was once ill on Tisha b’Av and he had to eat.  That Tisha b’Av was on Sunday.  On Motzaei Shabbos, the Rav made Havdalah on wine and told everyone to be yotzei with his Havdalah so that they would not have to make Havdalah on Sunday night.

The whole maaseh is a tremendous chiddush that requires limud; in particular the fact that he made Havdalah on wine.  That is a chiddush niflah that he held that there is no issur of meat and wine on Tisha b’Av, and that someone who therefore cannot fast because of illness is not prohibited from it.

(Audio recordings, available here.)

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