Some time ago, someone close to my family was involved in a serious car accident.
Since I was in close vicinity to where the accident occurred, the family requested that I go to the junkyard where the car was temporarily being held, to retrieve any items still in the car. When I arrived at the yard, I had to walk through rows and rows of badly damaged, mangled cars.
When I finally located the car from the accident, it was a frightening sight. There were shards of glass everywhere, deployed airbags hanging down, and significant body damage to the car. It was quite challenging to carefully climb through the trunk to remove the items from the car.
One of the workers in the yard noted that every car in that yard had a story to tell. He then proceeded to point to a few of the cars and relate their stories. One was more horrific and tragic than the next. I told him I had heard enough and that I just wanted to get out of there. As we walked toward the exit, he looked at the rows of cars, shook his head, and again muttered that every car has a story to tell.
On Tish’ah B’Av morning, we recite Kinos, relating many of the tragedies that befell our people during the millennia of exile. Every kinah tells a story, each more heartbreaking than the next. They are stories of destruction, loss, and anguish. Many of the accounts are so horrendous that we want to put our hands on our ears and scream “Stop!” But on Tish’ah B’Av, we do not run away from those painful stories. We confront them and recall them – despite the anguish and heartache they generate.
During the six years that I was principal in Mesivta Ohr Naftoli in New Windsor, New York, my drive to the yeshivah each afternoon was up the Palisades Interstate Parkway, North to Route 9W. On my way to New Windsor, I would frequently stop at the Fort Montgomery State Historic Site, right near the Bear Mountain Bridge. The site offers stunning views of the Hudson River and the nearby bridge. In the middle of the day, there were hardly any other people in the park, and I videoed weekly divrei Torah from there. I often received compliments about the picturesque backdrop behind me. Often, viewers asked me if it was real. (Every now and then, I received compliments about the divrei Torah, too.)
The beautiful site has added status because it’s a Revolutionary War Memorial site. Throughout the site, there are markers and signs stating what occurred at that spot during the Revolutionary War.
Why does it matter that the war was fought there 250 years ago?
When people invest and sacrifice in any endeavor, that investment remains significant as long as it is remembered and honored. The land upon which revolutionaries gave their lives, so that we can have the freedoms we enjoy, became hallowed through their sacrifice. However, that is only true as long as the sacrifices are remembered and respected. As soon as they are forgotten, the sacrifice tragically loses its meaning.
In America, we remember those people and places that were significant in helping us attain the comfortable lifestyle we live today. Doing so helps us be appreciative for what we have and not take it for granted.
The earth of Europe is saturated with Jewish blood. There aren’t enough memorials to commemorate all the Jewish victims throughout the generations. Through the painful recollections of Tish’ah B’Av, we recognize that we – the entire Jewish nation – are hallowed and special. Our ancestors were tortured and died for their faith, yet the Jewish People live on.
As a people, we bear many scars. We have survived despite them all, and will continue to do so. But we must understand each scar, because each has a story to tell – a story that is an intricate and vital component of our identity and destiny.
Thankfully, the car I went to find in the junkyard has a happy ending to its story. Its driver made a complete recovery and I merited to attend the s’udas hodaah a few months later.
Our national tragic story also has a happy ending, but we haven’t merited to witness it yet. Still, we are wholly confident that we will yet be part of the incredible national s’udas hodaah that will be celebrated.
Until then, however, it is our responsibility to continue relating the stories and recalling each of our battle scars, so that we can continue to honor those who gave all for their religion and continue to be inspired by their legacy.