A: Shiva Assar b’Tammuz comes to teach a number of things. One of the things is that we have to look back על כל מחמדנו שהיה לנו בימי קדם, at all the wonderful things we had in the days of old but we didn’t appreciate them as long as we had them.
That’s a universal feeling in human beings. They don’t fully appreciate what they have. I’m sure they appreciated it to some extent but the glory of a Jewish nation that lived together in Eretz Yisroel, that was something unequaled in our history.
Imagine Bayis Rishon – not one Jew lived anywhere except in Eretz Yisroel. And they were so proud of their superiority. Of course there were people here and there who were attracted to the foolishness of the goyim that surrounded Eretz Yisroel but the vast majority of the Jews were loyal to everything. Even the ovdei avodah zarah were frum Jews. Even Achav who was a real oveid avodah zarah, was a frum Jew. He had a kosher kitchen and when the Navi told him some criticism he put on sackcloth and ashes and he fasted.
And so, once upon a time we had tremendous gifts that we didn’t appreciate sufficiently and among the purposes of this period of time now that we’re going to start now with Shiva Asar b’Tammuz it’s to look back and realize what we once had.
Of course it makes us sad that we don’t have them today but it’s important to realize that we still owe gratitude to Hashem for what He gave us in the days of old. Once upon a time we had a kingdom, we had Jewish frum police, shoftim v’shotrim — even a policeman was a tzadik gomur. The policeman wore tzitzis and he enforced the Torah’s laws. That’s why he was called a שוטר, because he had a stick, a שוט in his hand. Once upon a time anybody who did a small chillul Shabbos was put to death.
There was never such a nation that was so devoted in their happiness, in their observance and dedication to Hashem.
But after many years of being together in Eretz Yisroel, they began thinking that maybe outside there’s also something good. We don’t realize the big difference between the outside and the inside and we imagine there’s something better out there. That’s why it says ולא תתורו. You shouldn’t look, you shouldn’t spy what’s doing in other nations, thinking that maybe there’s something there too.
That’s what happened in Europe too when the people began thinking maybe in Germany it’s better to live. The Germans were civilized. You couldn’t insult a Jew on the street in Germany. In Austria you could insult a Jew in the street – you know that Zigmund Freud tells a story about his father. His father was walking in the street and he bought a new hat, a new fur hat so a gentile passed by and knocked it off. He said, “Jew get off the sidewalk – but in Germany they were polite. I was in Germany for one day – it was polite in those days. So the Jews said, “Ah! That’s culture, that’s science!” and many Jews got lost in Germany
That’s why Hakodosh Boruch Hu said, “I’m going to show you who Germany is.” That’s why the greatest wickedness the world ever saw came out of Germany; in order to teach a lesson about what the result is of looking outside of our people.
But in the days of old when they all lived inside of their own mechitzah they couldn’t realize what the outside world was and they couldn’t fully appreciate the great benefit that Hashem had given them of מחמדינו שהיה לנו מימי קדם. And therefore, that’s one of the purposes of fasting – we remind ourselves of what we had and we’re so sorry that once upon a time we failed to understand how happy we should have been. We failed to realize it.
Another purpose of course is to think about what can we do to bring back those days. Now, you can’t bring it back by yourself but still every person is obliged to try, to at least make an effort. So therefore, the taanis tzibur is for the purpose of doing at least one step in the right direction. That’s one of the reasons we fast – it’s not merely to afflict yourself, not to eat. Very good, very good, it’s a mitzvah to fast but one of the reasons for the taanis is for the purpose of reminding us to make one step in the right direction. At least one thing you have to do as a result of a taanis tzibur. There won’t be even the slightest change? Nothing at all?!
And therefore, right now we’re limiting ourselves to two objectives of this taanis. One is to look back and see what we once had and we lost; we appreciate what our forefathers had, the happiness of ארץ חמדה טובה ורחבה. They lived among Jews and they lived al pi haTorah and that was their constitution lehavdil; they had no other laws except the laws of the Torah. What a happiness that was!
And also, another purpose of the taanis is to see what can we do to be mekarev the geulah; a little bit better we can be – at least one step in the right direction.