Did you cry?
So how did you react when you heard these words during leining (assuming you understood them, of course)? Was the contrast painful? Did you cry?
How could there have been a dry eye in shul this morning? Are we really that disconnected from our fellow Jews, or is it that we are so uninvolved in Yahadus that we aren’t moved by the ideas it passes it projects upon us?
Chazal tell us “Mishenichnas Av mim’atim besimchah — when Av enters, we reduce in joy.” Today was not only parashas Mas’ei, it was also Rosh Chodesh Av. A day when we were to reduce our simchah.
Rav Saadia Gaon identifies simchah as the kind of happiness that comes from being connected with the underlying truth. (This idea is explored at far greater length in an essay I wrote for Mesukim MiDevash.) This is why Ben Zoma says in Avos, “Who is wealthy? One who samei’ach with his lot.” Someone who understands the reason for what they have, and that Hashem has an equally valid reason for what they lack. Therefore, they feel no lack.
Aveilus is a state of “aval — but”. We can have all the reasons and explanations, but when living through tragedy they simply don’t connect. We can only stand back and ask “Why me? How could this happen to me?” “Why would Hashem destroy His Beis haMiqdash and scatter His people?” “Why the Holocaust?” The question exists to be grappled with, not explained away. As The Rav writes in his essay “Qol Dodi Dofeiq”, the Jewish question about tragedy is not “Why?” Any explanation of the holocaust would be either intellectually dishonest or emotionally vacuous. The Jew asks “How am I to respond?”
What most of us witnessed in shul today was a lack of connection between our hearts and Judaism’s ideals. How can we experience aveilus, the jarring disjoin between our beliefs and our experience, the reduction of simchah that the season calls upon us even without current events if we do not being from a position of simchah?