The Haftarah1 of Tisha B'Av is from the book of Jeremiah. In it, G‑d says how He will punish the Jewish people. Jeremiah is then grieved by how bad things have gotten. The sins of Israel are recounted and it foretells the destruction of Jerusalem, with G‑d explaining why He is punishing them. The wise women of Israel are called to create sad songs and laments. It concludes with advice that one should not praise himself with his accomplishments unless they are to make G‑d known in the world.

The connection to Tisha B'Av is obvious from most of the Haftarah. Tisha B'Av is the day of the destruction of the First and Second Temples. It is the day that we were punished. Like the other readings we do on Tisha B'AvEicha (Lamentations) and the Kinnot—it describes punishment and laments the suffering of the Jewish people. But how does the end, about making G‑d known, fit the theme of the day?

In the Haftarah, G‑d asks, "Why has the land been lost and laid waste like a desert, with no one passing through?"2 The Talmud3 tells us that G‑d asked this question to the sages, the prophets and the ministering angels,4 but none of them could give an answer. Then He answered it Himself, "It is because they abandoned my Torah, which I have given before them, they did not obey Me, and they did not follow it."5

The Blessings of the Torah

The Talmud explains that they did in fact study Torah, but they didn't say the blessings before studying it.6 The Bach7 explains that they missed the point of Torah, which is "to become one with and cleave to the holiness and spirituality of the Torah, and to draw the Divine Presence..." And what is the meaning of the land being lost? The Bach continues, "the land was desolate; it physically remained, but it was devoid of the Divine presence that had been there."

In other words, there are two parts of learning Torah. There is understanding the knowledge of Torah, and then there is connecting with the Giver of the Torah, G‑d.

First we have to say the blessings, and only after do we study and understand the Torah. This shows that connecting with G‑d is the most important part of learning Torah. And from the Haftarah we understand that studying Torah without the connection to G‑d is empty, ultimately bringing destruction.8

The Haftarah continues, "So says G‑d, 'The wise man shouldn't praise himself with his wisdom, and the strong man shouldn't praise himself with his strength, the wealthy man shouldn't praise himself with his wealth. Rather, with this he should praise himself, through understanding and knowing Me, that I am G‑d...' "9

Why shouldn't a person be proud of his or her accomplishments?

Take Divine Pride

Rather, this is referring to a person’s general attitude. The verse is coming in continuation of the earlier verses, which decry being self-centered and not focusing on G‑d. When someone is self-centered and everything is about him, he is in denial of the fact that everything he has is truly from G‑d. It is akin to denying His existence, since he doesn't leave room for anyone else, not even G‑d!

However, "through understanding and knowing" G‑d—meaning, when you recognize that what you have is all from G‑d—you can be proud if you have used your gifts well in the way He wants you to. This is the meaning of the words, "with this he should praise himself." When he recognizes that it is all from G‑d, and he is using his gifts the way G‑d wants him to, then he should be proud of his accomplishments. Whether it be wisdom, strength, wealth, or any other gifts bestowed upon him by G‑d.

We see the same idea in the famous Aishet Chayil (“Woman of Valor”) poem. The second-to-last verse says, "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is for naught, a woman who is G‑d-fearing, she should be praised."10 Are charm and beauty meaningless? Rather, if all she is about is her charm or beauty, her gifts are a waste, and it isn't praiseworthy. However, "a woman who is G‑d fearing should be Praised." When she is G‑d fearing, then her charm and beauty have meaning and are real, because her beauty and charm are not superficial. Rather, they come from the inside out.11

When your children or students are blessed with talents or gifts like beauty, charm, smarts, strength, wealth, etc., it is so important to fill them with love and fear of G‑d. They should recognize that these precious gifts are from G‑d, and that they should use these gifts for what He wants. I have found that the best way to instill this value is not so much by saying it, but rather, by acting that way, by being a living example.

The Masters of Wisdom

There seems to be a contradiction in this verse. First, it says, "The wise man shouldn't praise himself with his wisdom," which refers to Torah, divine wisdom. As the Zohar12 says, "The prophet was crying out to the masters of Torah who were wise in scripture, had a wealth in it and were happy with their lot. He cried out to them and said, 'So says G‑d, "The wise man shouldn't praise himself with his wisdom..."'" And then it concludes, "rather, with this he should praise himself, through understanding and knowing Me, that I am G‑d..." This is obviously referring to G‑dly wisdom, about which was just said, "The wise man shouldn't praise himself with his wisdom." How are we to understand this?

There are two levels of wisdom. There is a higher wisdom, the way it is above. Then there is how that wisdom comes down into the world. The main thing is that it comes down here, because the main purpose is this lowest world, and all the higher spiritual realms are there only so that this one could exist. In this physical world, G‑d's will is fulfilled. The main creation in this world is the people, who were created to fulfill G‑d's will, through the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot.

The main thing always comes last, as we say in Lecha Dodi,13 "The end of the work was first in thought." This is true for everything we do. When we want something, we may do many things to get it, but those steps are not the goal. Rather, the end product is the goal, and the end product is what was in mind first, with everything else a means to achieve the final product.

So this physical world, the lowest realm, is G‑d's goal; His purpose can only be realized here. And we were created last because we are His main creation. In other words, all the worlds, realms and everything that was created in this world before we were created are only in order to ensure our existence, since only we can fulfill His purpose.

And what are we meant to do? To draw G‑d's essence into the physical world. He desires to be here, in the lowest realm.14 Every aspect of G‑d should feel at home in this world.

When a Torah scholar is knowledgeable and doesn't share it to make G‑d known to others, he is not doing what G‑d wants. G‑d wants to be known in the world. Having the knowledge and keeping it hidden is not praiseworthy, because it is not affecting the lowest realm. However, when a Torah scholar finds a way to break the knowledge down so that everybody else can understand it, he is filling the physical world with G‑dly wisdom, and then his wisdom is worthy of praise.

And that is what G‑d says, "rather, with this he should praise himself, through understanding and knowing (v'yodoa) Me, that I Am G‑d, Who performs kindness, justice and righteousness on earth." V'yodoa means more than knowing. It also means to let be known. G‑d wants to be known. And how and where does He want to be known? "That I am G‑d, Who performs kindness, justice and righteousness on earth." It is on earth that He wants to be known.15

Now we understand why the Haftarah ends with making G‑d known. Because Tisha B'Av is not only about the destruction of the Temples, but also about the building of the Third Temple with the coming of Moshiach. And one of the ways to bring Moshiach is by making G‑d known in this lowest realm of existence, making the world into a home for G‑d.

May we merit to see the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the building of the third Temple. And may we see Tisha B'Av become the greatest of holidays, with the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.