The following is an excerpt of a letter describing Tisho B'Ov in a place called prison:
Fasting is associated with the added pain of not eating, so someone "jokingly" asked me, "Since it’s so painful to be in a place called prison, is there also a need to fast?" Of course, the answer is Yes! We do exactly what Shulchan Aruch says to do! :)
Acknowledging that this is a painful place to be, a better version of that the question might be "Will the pain of fasting even be noticed over the pain felt in a place called prison?"
The answer is that not only is it noticed - the pain of fasting (or any so-called difficulty in doing a Mitzvo or Hiddur) actually alleviates the pain and suffering of a place called prison and of Golus in general.
This year brought another Tisho B'Ov in a place called Prison, but it does not get easier with time. Repetition does not dull the experience or the pain of the exile and Churbon, and the compound is built to provide constant reminders.
As the days, weeks, months, and years pass, the high metal chain fence that surrounds the place does not become any more civil or friendly looking. The bundles of sharp razor wire, straight out of a warzone, do not look any more peaceful. The prison Block Unit, with its many doors to nowhere, does not look any homier. The sunlight is still obstructed by thick and heavy bars as it makes its way through the small window.
The gnawing hunger pangs of the soul, which yearns for the freedom it is denied, only increase with time, as does the damage and pain to the family, especially a child like Moishie, who is set back so much by my separation from him.
This year was a bit different than last year, in that the Seudas HaMafsekes was not eaten in cell 217. This year it was eaten in the public area in a corner of Block Unit GB.
You see, the cell space, assigned to two people is little larger than the smallest walk-in closet. It has a small window, and two human-sized metal shelves covered with thin mats to sleep on. Whether the occupant is young or old, staying for years or decades, it’s the same metal shelf and mat given to the human being to sleep on.
The same space doubles as a bathroom, without even the dignity of a short wall or curtain. A moment of privacy, to the extent it is possible at all, is a “luxury” afforded only by the cellmate graciously leaving the cell, something only possible for those hours of the day when the cell is unlocked.
Erev Tisho B'Ov, approximately 30 minutes before Shkia, I realized Cell 217 was going to need a “private moment” (i.e. it was being used as a bathroom). This meant that the only place it would be possible to eat the Seudas HaMafsekes was in the general area, where the other prisoners congregate.
Taking a cup to wash my hands, a bit of bread, the egg, and my non-leather shoes, I left Cell 217 with a silent Tefillah to Hashem Yisboraich that just as I was leaving my Cell for His sake, for a Mitzvoh, that He free me today so I could leave Cell 217 permanently and leave this place called prison and return home to my family.
After Mincha, I took off my leather shoes put on the bright orange cloth shoes they had provided. It was fitting Tisho B’Ov attire - it is the color footwear normally used for those consigned to solitary confinement.
I turned the chair over and sat on the chair back, close to the floor, and began eating the "Seudoh" on the floor, trying to concentrate on mourning the Churbon Bais HaMikdosh.
Even though the place called prison reminds the Yiddishe prisoner of the personal Churbon he is living every moment, as a Yid he is still able to feel the greater Churbon of the Bais Hamikdosh and the Golus HaShechinoh by fulfilling the obligation to sit lower than usual, close to the floor.
This gives us greater appreciation of the tremendous insight, wisdom, and holiness our Chazal have in making the Takonois which guide our life! Amazingly, the personal pain of being in a place called prison is eclipsed by the feeling of pain for the holy Shechinoh and our collective, national exile. This adds to our sincere desire as we beg Hashem Yisboraich to bring our Geuloh Shlaimo now with Moshiach Tzidkainu!
It took some effort to block out the loud noises of the prisoners in the background, sitting around on chairs and tables, loudly interacting with each other and happily entertaining themselves, watching the monitors on the wall and engaging in other empty diversions.
The stark contrast in life and purpose present that day in that stiflingly hot, concrete-walled room was glaring: The solemn seriousness of Tisho B'Ov in one corner of the barrack, surrounded by the wild merrymaking and “escape” into any form of recreation or entertainment allowed in a place called prison.
Imagine making a Seudoh on the platform of a busy train station. That Unit was one big train to nowhere, a trip whose only purpose is to burn precious time and deny the captive “passengers” the ability to do something constructive! Some have tickets for a shorter ride, while others have a ticket for a longer ride, and some are even locked on this trip to nowhere for the rest of their lives!
While no one wants to be on the train, looking at that room you could see that most of the "passengers" accepted their situation and adapted to their circumstances and try as much as possible to enjoy the ride, while in the corner, there is one “passenger” sitting alone, low to the ground, wearing those bright orange shoes, who is physically on the train with them, but his mind, heart, and soul are somewhere else!
The story of Rabbi Akiva came to mind. He and three other Tano’im were traveling to Rome, when from the distance came sounds of Romans merrymaking. I imagine it sounded similar to the merrymaking I was hearing.
The three Tano’im cried, but Rabbi Akiva laughed. They asked him “Why are you laughing?" He turned the question around - “Why are you crying?"
They said to him: “These gentiles, who bow to false gods and burn incense to idols, dwell securely and in tranquility, while for us the House of Hashem, the Bais HaMikdash, is burnt - should we not cry?!” Rabbi Akiva said to them “That is why I‘m laughing! If this (the laughter and enjoyment) is given to those who violate the will of Hashem, how much more is in store for those who do the will of Hashem!
Sitting alone on the floor reading about the Yidden going into Golus in Eicho brought into focus the primary reason for fasting and mourning on Tisho B'Ov. The pain experienced in the personal private Golus of the person is only a Moshol for the pain of the Shechinah, which is with us in our Golus.
We are limited creatures, and our pain is limited. The Shechinah is unlimited, and so is the pain of the Shechinah, subjected to Golus. As our suffering brings us to yearn and pray for our redemption, we need to yearn and pray for the redemption of the Shechinah from Golus!
The small taste of the suffering of the Shechinah that we feel in our lives in Golus is in a much larger dose in a place called prison and the Moshol for Golus for the Shechinah is so much clearer. When a Yid is separated from his home and family and placed among foreign people who live foreign lives, the yearning to come home is very intense. This is what the Shechinah must feel! We need the Geulo Shelaimo to return us to the Bais HaMikdosh HaShlishi, where the Shechinah will finally be home, revealed in its full glory!
I sat there for a while when the call for “Lock-in” sounded. Everybody needed to go to their Cell, and the deafening noise in the unit abruptly changed to dead silence. I Davened Maariv, recited Eicho with the fervent request and Bitochoin in Hashem with which we conclude Eicho: Hashivainu Hashem Eilocho ViNoshuvo, Chadaish Yomainu KiKedem! Return us to You, Hashem, and we will return, renew our lives as before!
We look forward to the double Nechomo promised us in the Haftoiro of the coming week: "Nachamu Nachamu Ami”.
We ask for and will receive double Nechomo for the double Golus we are in: the personal Golus, the Golus Proti, and the national Golus, the Golus Kloli. Yeshayohu HaNovi gives every Yid the Koiach from Hashem Yisboraich to triumph over their personal Nisyoinois by saying, "Nachamu:" Hashem is with you and gives you your personal Geulo from your Golus. He also gives us the Koiach to triumph over the national Golus with the second "Nachamu:" Hashem is with Klal Yisroel giving them the strength to reach the Geulo Kloli now with the building of the Third Bais HaMikdosh with Moshiach Tzidkainu!
Sholom Mordechai ben Avrohom Aharoin Halevi Sheyichye :)