By HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh
"The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: 'I said, And Yisrael dwelt in security, in solitude, like Yaacov' [Devarim 33:28]. Now let them dwell in a place alone." [Sanhedrin 104].
Yisrael is characterized by the trait, "G-d alone will guide them, and there will be no other god with him" [Devarim 32:12]. The Ramban discusses this at length in the Torah portion of Acharei Mot. The Holy One, Blessed be He, divided the various lands among different nations, and appointed an angel who was a governor for each one. And that is why G-d is called "the G-d of gods and the master of the masters," since He rules over all the governors. But with respect to the nation of Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, "He did not appoint any governor from among the angels," and He leads them himself. As is written, "And I will be a G-d for you" [Yirmiyahu 11:14] – there will be no other gods at all.
This trait of exclusive Divine guidance continues while we are in exile too, even though it might seem at first glance that when we are in exile G-d does not protect us in His tent of peace, and His guidance is not revealed. But it is still written, "How she satalone" [Eicha 1:1] – G-d alone will guide them.
"Who is standing behind our wall, looking from the windows, peeping through the crevices?" [Shir Hashirim 2:9]. It sometimes happens that a child will play outside of the home, while its mother leans on the windowsill and makes sure that nobody interferes with her son. However, at other times she might close the shutters and continue watching through the slits. From the mother's point of view nothing has changed, and she can see everything that she was able to see just as before, but those who are standing outside have the impression that the mother has left the scene and is no longer watching, and they can therefore take advantage of the situation and bother the child.
In the era of the Temple, the Holy One, Blessed be He, protects us from the open windows, and everybody can see Him. "And all the nations will see that the name of G-d is proclaimed over you, and they will fear you" [Devarim 28:10]. But when the shutters are closed, at a time when G-d is hidden, "And I will hide My face on that day" [31:18], when His face is not visible in the window, they get the impression that He is no longer there. However, in truth nothing has changed for us, and He sees and supervises just like before. Even when we dwell alone, "G-d alone will watch over us."
There is even more to this. Specifically at the time when G-d is hidden, our awareness of His supervision grows stronger. When we look at the miracle of the survival of our nation, a sheep among seventy wolves, we can think of what Rabbi Yaacov Emden wrote in his Siddur:
"I swear that when I look at these wonders, they seem more remarkable than all of the miracles and wonders which G-da performed for our forefathers in Egypt, in the desert, and in Eretz Yisrael. And the longer the exile lasts, the more we are convinced by this miracle, and we become more and more aware of the power of His actions and His strength."
The Sefat Emet wrote with respect to Tisha B'Av which is on Shabbat that in general the purpose of Shabbat is to show that the nation of Yisrael is under the protection of the Holy One, Blessed be He. "It is an eternal sign between me and the Children of Yisrael" [Shemot 31:17]. And the unique supervision of Yisrael continues even during a time of exile. Therefore, when the Ninth of Av is on Shabbat we do not fast, because the fast would be a sign of morning for the Temple, as if to imply that G-d is no longer watching over us. However, on Shabbat we are not alone, and there is no need to fast.