I wrote this on motzei Tisha B’Av, three years ago. It subsequently appeared in Horizons Magazine and on Lazer Beams and here on Temunot on July 24, 2007.
This Tisha B’Av, unlike most years, I decided to pray at the late afternoon minyan, around 7:20 PM. As always, my eight-and-a-half year old son jumped at the opportunity to come to shul. He stood, as usual, wide-eyed at the pulpit during the Torah-reading and he found it particularly interesting to watch men don their talleisim and tefillin so late in the day.
During the praying, the skies began to crackle with lightning and bellow with thunder. By the time mincha had concluded, it was pouring so hard that we decided to sit for the 25 minutes or so before maariv instead of braving the downpour and running home, even though home was just across the street.
Usually, when waiting between mincha and maariv, my son and I will review the parsha or learn pirkei avos. As it is generally not permitted to learn Torah on Tisha B’Av, we sat down instead to shmooze about the loss of the Beis HaMikdash. I thought perhaps that I could teach him something that would make Tisha B’Av just a touch more relevant.
The lamentation of Eili Zion has always struck a chord with me. The haunting niggun recounting the vivid allegory of a mother in labor has the ability to squeeze at least one tear out of an otherwise exhausted body and calloused heart. So, I began telling Aryeh about how the wailing of the Jewish nation throughout our long galus is compared to the cries of a woman in labor. I described the well-known concept that just as the excruciating pain of childbirth ends with the ultimate joy of the birth of a child, so too our pain and tears on Tisha B’Av culminate in the birth of mashiach. I explained further how we are taught that mashiach is actually born on the afternoon of Tisha B’Av. As I added this point, my son glanced up at me with deep brown, watery eyes. He appeared somewhat hurt or confused. I thought that perhaps the idea of mashiach being born on Tisha B’Av was too foreign for him to comprehend or that maybe I had somehow frightened him. He looked like a wounded bird, suddenly unable to soar. He stammered, with a crack in his voice, “Abba, does that mean I can’t be mashiach?”
How do you react to a question like that? No parenting book I have ever read had equipped me for such a question. Having been born in the dead of winter, Aryeh had just heard for the very first time something that hinted at the possibility that he can’t be mashiach. I tried to recover by stating that maybe this teaching doesn’t mean that the mashiach is physically born on Tisha B’Av but that he reveals himself to us on Tisha B’Av. I’m not quite sure if he bought that explanation but I sure was glad that the time for maariv had arrived.
By the time we laughingly puddle-hopped home and Aryeh had changed out of his drenched clothes, he probably had forgotten about his question. I, of course, could not. I shared the discussion with my wife, oldest daughter and my in-laws over our break-fast meal. I mentioned that sometimes we need a child to remind us of the things that we so easily forget. Sometimes we need a child to remind us that we, each and everyone of us, have tremendous potential. That we can be and that we are great. In a day and age when we often find it hard to believe that mashiach can come during our lifetimes, we need a child who truly believes that he himself can actually be mashiach. And perhaps we need such a child and such a question to remind us how careful we must be with the hopes, dreams and aspirations of our children.
That motzei Tisha B’Av, as I momentarily excused myself from the table, I quipped to my family, “I’m going to tuck in the mashiach.” As my son was laying down on the top bunk, we were pretty much eye to eye. He rapidly surrendered to slumber and I exercised the parental prerogative of watching a child peacefully sleep. I lingered a little longer than usual laughing to myself at the notion that I could make Tisha B’Av a little more relevant to him. Boy, did he turn the tables on me.
In the very last passage of Navi (the prophets), the prophet Malachi tells us that just before mashiach comes, Eliyahu haNavi will “return the hearts of the fathers through the hearts of the sons” –the sons will be the ones to teach the fathers. Mission accomplished.
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