9 Ab: Finding G-d at a Difficult Time
This period of time between שבעה עשר בתמוז and תשעה באב (the seventeenth of Tammuz and Tish'ah BeAb), is a very, very difficult time in our history. These days are called ימי בין המצרים (the days between the narrow straits). These are times that we are really supposed to feel the pain of the fact that we are far away from the שכינה (G-d's holy presence) and that there’s no Temple. It's something that we really should work on ourselves to feel.
There’s a very famous story that you may have heard about Napoleon. He once passed near one of the Synagogues in Paris on the night of תשעה באב (9th of Ab) and heard sounds and noises. He went in and was surprised to see the synagogue full of people. Everybody was sitting low on the floor, the lights were dimmed and they were crying. He asked why they were crying and was told that a few thousand years ago their temple was destroyed. He couldn’t comprehend it, he couldn’t understand how it is possible that so many years had passed and Jews still felt the pain. He said, "If they still feel the pain, such people deserve to be redeemed and to have their Temple built for them".
I remember when I was growing up in Israel, I regularly used to hear from people saying, what’s the point of Tish'ah BeAb? What’s the meaning of Tish'ah BeAb? Who cares about something that happened so many thousands of years ago? Who cares to fast on such a day? As we said, this time is called ימי בין המצרים, the days between the narrow traits. מצר (a strait) is something very narrow. It’s taken from מגילת איכה (Meghillath Eikha) and the פסוק (verse) says כל רודפיה מצאוה בין המצרים, "Those who chase after [us] (our enemies), were able to get a hold of [us] during these times of בין המצרים". That is the time when they are able to chase after us and harm us and pain us.
But there's another explanation to this verse in Eikha which is based on the Kabbalah. Our rabbis say if we take the word רודפיה (her pursuers), and divide it into two words, we get י - ה , רודפי. Those who chase after G-d. Those who chase after G-d, those who look for G-d and those who search for Him, when will they find Him? בין המצרים, the days between the narrow straits. If you want to find G-d, this is the time. If we really want to get close to Him, if we want to find Him and if we want to chase after Him, now is the time.
If we really really look for Hashem, we won't have to look far; we will find Him. It’s our job to find Him בין המצרים, during this time. Especially when we go through hard times, it's easier for us to find G-d's hand and presence. I know the Jewish people have been through a lot and continue to go through a lot. This is our history. This is who we are and what we are all about. But we have to realize that this is also our strength. It is through this that the strength will come.