When I was in Eretz Yisrael a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to see my wonderful cousin, Reb Izak Cohn. As we both share a love of s’farim, whenever we meet, our discussion invariably turns to the newest s’farim we purchased.
When we spoke, Izak informed me that a sefer called MeiChayei Abba – From the Life of My Father, containing recollections of the Chofetz Chaim’s son about his father, has recently been reprinted.
Over the next few days, however, I couldn’t find the sefer in any of the s’farim stores I visited (I had been to quite a few around Yerushalayim). Then, during the afternoon of one of my final days there, I was walking with my son in Yerushalayim when we met Izak. When I told Izak I couldn’t find the sefer, he smiled and said there was a famous s’farim store right up the block from where we were standing, and that store had the sefer.
A few minutes later, I walked out of the s’farim store holding the sefer Mei’chayei Abba.
During the flight home, I was perusing a few pages and came across the following:
“It was not his (the Chofetz Chaim) practice to say T’hilim every day, because he was very busy analyzing halachic matters…
However, often just before dawn, he would pour out his heart to his Creator. Particularly during his old age, young men who slept in his home related that they would often awaken to the voice of the Chofetz Chaim conversing with Hashem in Yiddish, his first language.
Someone close to the Mashgiach, Rav Don Segal, related to me that Rav Don noted that of all the many special places where one can daven in Eretz Yisrael, there is no more propitious place for prayer than Kever Rachel. I assume it is because the very reason Hashem caused Rachel to be buried there was to enable her descendants to daven at her kever.
During my trip I went to daven at Kever Rachel. While reciting T’hilim there, a blind man was led in and was positioned right next to me. Though I tried not to listen, because the blind man was standing so close to me, it was impossible for me not to overhear what he was saying. He didn’t have a T’hilim with braille. He faced the kever and simply began to speak. At some points he spoke in English, at other points he switched to Hebrew. Certain times he spoke to Hashem and at other times he addressed Rachel Imeinu, asking her to intercede on his behalf. He mentioned names of people who were looking for shidduchim, hatzlachah, and good health.
I found it very inspiring. Rav Shimshon Pincus notes that the prayers of the Siddur and T’hilim are nuclear weapons. They have the power to accomplish incredible things, even if we don’t really know what we are saying. At the same time, a vital component of prayer is davening in our own words, expressing our innermost hopes, emotions, and yearnings.
The halachah is that we do not recite Tachanun on Tish’ah B’Av because it’s referred to as a “mo’ed – a set time of meeting.” The holidays of the year are called moadim because each holiday is a special time to “meet” and draw close to Hashem in a unique manner. Tish’ah B’Av is indeed a set time, but for tears, mourning, and recalling tragedy and destruction. In fact, the verse that describes Tish’ah B’Av as a mo’ed states: “He called a set time upon me to break my chosen ones” (Eichah 1:15). That hardly seems like something worth marking with any modicum of joy, such as not reciting Tachanun.
Rav Shlomo Wolbe (Alei Shur I, p. 115) writes that this law contains a powerful and encouraging insight about prayer.
We generally think that the righteous are close to Hashem, but those more sinful are distant from Hashem. But the pasuk tells us otherwise: “Hashem is close to all those who are close to Him, to all those who call out to Him with sincerity.”
It is conceivable that a sinner will be as close to G-d as a righteous person, because he calls out to G-d wholeheartedly and with sincerity.
A Jew understands that even when he feels distant, even when he cannot see the Hand of G-d in his life, and even when the Beis HaMikdash – including the Beis HaMikdash within himself – is destroyed; still, “He called a set time upon me.” A Jew always has the ability to daven and discover that it can be “a set time for meeting” with Hashem if he wills it to be.
That is why we don’t say Tachanun on Tish’ah B’Av. Even when feeling distant, during the most painful day of the year, we recognize that we never forfeit our ability to call out to Hashem with sincerity.
The message gleaned from our omission of Tachanun on Tish’ah B’Av is a tremendous chizuk for us. We all have Tish’ah B’Av moments in our lives, when we feel unworthy of davening or seeking Hashem’s guidance and assistance. Yet, even during those times, we can daven and create a “meeting” with Hashem.
One of the lesser recognized components of Purim is the incredible added poignancy of prayers recited during the holiday. At the time of the Purim miracle, Hashem hearkened to our ancestors’ prayers, in an absolutely hopeless and grim situation. Each year on Purim, the added power of prayer is reawakened.
Still, we must realize that to pray effectively, we don’t need to be at Kever Rachel, it doesn’t have to be Purim or Yom Kippur, and we don’t even need a T’hilim or a siddur.
We need to simply open our mouths and sincerely speak from our hearts to the One who always loves us and is always listening.