Emotional History

Emotional History

By Rabbi Dani Staum

In past columns of this forum, I have written about the magnificent scenic drive I enjoy each afternoon, along my way to Mesivta Ohr Naftali, in New Windsor, New York, where I have the good fortune to serve as Principal. At the northern end of the Palisades Parkway, I drive past the imposing and regal Bear Mountain Bridge, before continuing north on Route 9W. Route 9W continues adjacent to the Hudson River, before sharply ascending a steep mountain. From the peak, the view is breathtaking, and one can see for miles in all directions.

Just past the bridge, there is a historic area, with beautiful paths that include walking bridges over and alongside the Hudson.

During the spring I like to leave early enough so that I can park and walk along the paths. There is nary anyone around during the week, and I relish those moments of picturesque solitude and beauty.

As mentioned, it is primarily a historic area called Fort Montgomery, where wars were fought during the American Revolution. All along the scenic pathways, there are placards that explain the historic events that took place at that very location during the war. There are remains of what once were soldier barracks and the foundation of what once was a mess hall for the soldiers. Atop a platform where there are bronze cannons, the placard details how the revolutionary soldiers valiantly fought off the incoming British soldiers, before ultimately being defeated.

I love history, and I enjoy reading the facts of what took place there. As I read the information, I try to imagine the events that took place on that very spot some 240 years ago.

On one occasion, while walking the paths and reading some of the facts written there, it struck me that although I found it all very fascinating, it didn’t move me emotionally whatsoever. It was all interesting facts, but that’s all.

Contrast that with a discussion of any part of Eretz Yisrael, which stirs the heart of any believing Jew.

Every kinah recited on Tish’ah B’Av is gut-wrenching and deeply emotional. There are descriptions of massacres, humiliations, pogroms, public burnings of irreplaceable s’farim, murders of righteous leaders, and vivid descriptions of horrors of starvation and siege.

Then there is another series of kinos that begin with the word “Tziyon (Zion).” These kinos describe the inestimable beauty of Eretz Yisrael, which includes the deep yearning of our people to connect with the hallowed Land.

Dew infuses the earth with vitality and verdant freshness

The first in this series of kinos (Kinah 36) was authored by the great Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi. Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi is perhaps most famous for his declaration: “My heart is in the east, though I am at the end of the west.” In that kinah, he unveils his inner longing and love for the Land with incredible prose and rich emotional vernacular.

He describes how he would place the broken pieces of his heart among the broken pieces of the Land, how the air of the Land is filled with living souls of our ancestors, and how he would give anything to wander the land, even barefoot and unclothed. In his timeless words, the national pining of two centuries comes to life.

Towards the beginning of the kinah, Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi calls out to Zion itself and rhetorically asks that it seek the welfare “of those bound by longing, shedding tears like dew upon Mount Hermon, wishing to shed them upon your mountains.”

His words are based on the pasuk in T’hilim (133:3) that states: “Like the dew of Hermon, that comes down upon the Mountain of Zion.” The dew that appears on Hermon in the north of the country flows south, until it reaches Zion itself.

Dew infuses the earth with vitality and verdant freshness. So, too, the tears shed “by those bound by longing” flow forth from the peaks of Hermon, spiritually invigorating the land and its people. Those tears are not tears of hopelessness, but tears of yearning and sanguinity. It’s therefore those tears that ensure that they will flow down until Zion itself springs forth. It’s those tears that ensure that our connection to the land is emotional and personal. Chevron, Tz’fas, Teveryah, and Yerushalayim are worlds apart from Fort Montgomery, or even Gettysburg. One is historical, the other is a piece of our soul; one is fascinating, the other a component of our identity.

Through the tears of Tish’ah B’Av we have a renewed our sense of connection to the Land, and that itself is part of the consolation.

“Be consoled, be consoled, My Nation, says your G-d.”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as a rebbe and the Guidance Counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, New Jersey, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. Rabbi Staum is a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He also presents parenting classes based on the acclaimed Love and Logic methods. His email address is stamtorah@gmail.com. His website is www.stamtorah.info.


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