Unity, Diversity, the 9th of Av

During the summer months we tragically have to contend with the period of the Three Weeks and ט באב, the Ninth of Av. Our mourning centers around the physical and spiritual destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem and of Jewish national life in the Land of Israel. Indeed, we have many customs that mark this throughout the year. It is our custom in the beit midrash to learn about those customs on the afternoon of the Tisha B’av, the Ninth of Av. An additional important focus of our thoughts at this time is, ‘what is the remedy?’

To consider a cure, we must consider the root cause of a malady. The g’mara (יומא ט) discusses why our holy places were destroyed, comparing Shiloh and the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. Our particular concern is the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, since this is the beginning of the exile that we yet struggle with and suffer from today, thousands of years later. Our g’mara tells us, “the second Temple period was a time of occupation with Torah and the commandments, and acts of kindness.

Why was it destroyed? Because of unwarranted enmity.” How are we to understand this?

How is it possible that large numbers of people are occupied with Hashem’s holy Torah, and acts of kindness; and are concurrently characterized by שנאת חינם – unexcused enmity?

This should scare us to the core! Isn’t this the very opposite of what we believe and expect of a Torah society? The very idea, the very possibility that Jews could be engaged in Torah study, in careful observance of the commandments, in acts of חסד/kindness to each other – and still hate each other at the same time? Yet this is precisely what our sages tell us characterized that period, and what we must still address and remedy.

It may be that the Netziv answered our perplexity in a famous responsum in Meshiv Davar (משיב דבר א סימן מד). A prominent Torah journal had published an editorial advocating the complete separation of observant Jews from other Jews in Europe. The Netziv wrote a lengthy response decrying this idea; analyzing and rejecting it as “like swords to the body and existence of the nation.” There the Netziv writes that during the second Temple period our nation was exiled and the Temple destroyed and the land cut off due to the ongoing public struggle between the P’rushim and the Tzadukim (Pharisees and Sadducees). This, he wrote, also brought about unjustified bloodshed because of the unwarranted enmity. When a Parush would see someone act leniently in a matter of Torah, he would judge him to be a Tzaduki (and therefore the enemy), even when this was simply an average Jew who happened to do wrong. But unwarranted enmity would make him judge this person to be an enemy in the great religious and social struggle, and violence would ensue.

The Netziv continues and says that such could certainly occur today, that one of the observant Jews would perceive that another Jew doesn’t behave the same as he in serving God and would judge him to therefore be a heretic and separate from him and they would end up persecuting each other.

We could, indeed, be occupied with Torah and acts of kindness; but still look down or askance at those very people we are helping or learning or davening with. The key to the cure is to first realize and deeply appreciate that the Torah does not require uniformity of us.

Yes, we all have to keep Shabbat and kashrut and give tzedakah. Yes, we all have to work to create individual and societal lives expressive of God’s will as revealed in His Torah. Yet time and again the Torah teaches us how that comes about through elements of diversity and individuality. Not free-for-all, make-it-up-as-we-go-along diversity; but a real diversity within Torah and tradition that comes about because of personality, character, style, and unique insights that result from real investment in Torah.

Consider that the holy menorah, the symbol and channel of Divine wisdom, had seven branches. Not one. Even though all the six peripheral lamps turned towards the center, they remained distinct. Each lamp had to burn on its own. Rav Avigdor Nevenzahl points out how this is a model for how each student eventually has to stand on his own, continuing but independent of what his rav has imparted to him.

Consider that even though we received one Torah as one people at Sinai (‘like one person of one heart’, Rashi to Ex. 19:2); the Torah rigorously preserves the identities (and therefore cultures) of the 12 tribes. Each tribe had its own flag and its own camp in the wilderness – though all centered around the mishkan/Tabernacle. In the Land of Israel each tribe retained its own territory, and through that some of its own customs and halachic behaviors. To create the Torah’s vision of a Torah society, we must maintain individual and distinct contributions that then work together synergistically. But we must realize and believe that the differences indeed lead to synergy. Only then will we not only tolerate differences; but we will value them and make good use of them.

Even with all our common obligations within the Torah, we must each find the particular path and style upon which we will make our particular contribution. What’s more, we must support each other and encourage each other to do so; and to rise ever higher in the heights of Torah. Then, Hashem will bless us to finally remedy the שנאת חינם, the unnecessary enmity which brought about our mourning and exile. Then we will be blessed to create a society in Israel that will be a blessing for all the nations.

כי ביתי בית תפלה יקרא לכל העמים – ‘for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.’ (ישעיה נו:ז/Isaiah 56:7).

It begins with us.

Originally posted August, 2011

Eating Cookies at the Kosel on the 17th of Tammuz

Before I became frum, I lit Channukah candles (I miss my purple and gold yarmulke), I didn’t eat bread on Pesach (I was stringent–it had to be bread davka) and I fasted on Yom Kippur. Even in college I fasted the whole day, and as soon as the sun finally went down (behind the administration building), the pepperoni pizza was mine. I deserved it after a day of affliction. Little did I know that other days of affliction dotted the Jewish calendar, too.

Just a few weeks after I joined my friend in his BT yeshiva, it was the 17th of Tammuz. I was given a briefing (very brief), and was told it was a fast day. Being natually respectful (and too shy to protest), I went along with it and during the early afternoon, I found myself sitting by my dirah window overlooking the Kosel while my friend was “praying Minkah” in the yeshiva. My stomach started to rumble. There was no one around, and I did have a stash of wafers under my blanket for emergencies. I glanced at the Wall, then at my cookies, then at the Wall. Do I miss what had been in the airspace above that wall? Ok, whatever, but mourning takes energy, doesn’t it? After all, when I used to go to a shiva in America, there was tons of food there. Wall vs. wafers [rumble!]…the wafers won.
I hid the evidence and dusted off the fingerprints…I still remember how amazed my friend was that I fasted so well.

Just three weeks later, another fast day. I didn’t eat, but I did manage to sneak into a chair every once in a while. I certainly didn’t greet anyone (my shyness came in handy again.) It was more than a little frustrating as it was so new, even though the very basics in yeshiva gave me a general idea. The fact is that as the first few years went by, I felt like I was lacking certain connections in all the holidays and fast days.

One year, I went to hear Rav Shlomo Brevda talk about the three weeks. Like so many others, he acknowledged that it’s very hard to mourn something that we never had. But unlike so many others, he spent much time going into great vivid detail (as he does so well) about what life was like when there was a Beis HaMikdash. (I heard that there are tapes for kids with this theme, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve learned quite a lot from children’s tapes in general!) Oh, really? So many miracles? This is what we lost? It was a step in the right direction, and another piece in the puzzle.

Nineteen years have gone by, and I’ve gained each year more pieces to the puzzle, about every holiday. As I look back, I see every holiday is a little different as I saw it before, (my impressions of Pesach are drastically different than even ten years ago!) and as every year more puzzle pieces are added, I get the sense of a whole picture coming together. Very slowly, but it’s coming. It takes a lifetime, but the satisfaction of looking back a few years and seeing some progress is tremendous chizuk. I’ve come a ways since munching on wafers in front of the Kosel on the 17th of Tammuz (really representative of the state of nonfrum Jewry as a whole). And believe it or not, the fasting even gets easier every year! I have never characterized myself as a spiritual fellow, but I see that the connections do come. What a great feeling!

So if you ever feel down about not growing, know it’s not true. It’s happening and it’s slow, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be–little steps, always little steps which are permanent. May we always continue to grow, and may your fast be even easier than last year.

Reposted from July 2009

Tisha B’Av Takeaways – Preserving Our Prayer Portal – Lessons from Bar Kamtza’s Pain

It’s not often that Bar Kamtza is portrayed as the good guy, but in this shiur by Rabbi Herschel Welcher, titled “Lessons from the Pain of Bar Kamtza“, we take a look at the story from Bar Kamtza’s perspective and see the lessons we can learn and apply today. Please download the shiur here.

In a shiur titled, “The Morning after the Mourning“, R’ Moshe Schwerd explains how we were responsible for closing the Prayer Portal of the Beis HaMikdash and how we’re unfortunately repeating the lesson with our distracted approach to prayer today. Please download the shiur here.

We Have What to Cry About!

Kinah for Tisha B’Av
By Rabbi label Lam

Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!
Woe for all the heads without Tefillin
After 3700 years from Avraham Avinu
After having survived Holocausts and Inquisitions…
Jewish boys and girls blunder
In the darkness that plagues our generation
And go lost by the millions
With visions of isms and instant pleasures
Rapt in utter ignorance
Bathed in a blue light they may never escape
And generations and giant whole families
Holy congregations have disappeared
For nothing!
And their names dead ended
Now only grace lonely stones
In forgotten cemeteries
Bearing words their children
Those that had- Could never read
Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!

The pervasive angst of isolation!
Microwaves our very beings!
We feel beaten from within.
The continuous waves of psychological pain.
We suffer with a wry smile and a diet coke.
The gnawing insecurity and emptiness.
It brings us to search for things that do not exist.
The sublime is substituted with the virtual.
Pictures and fantasies tickle n’ dissolve like
Cotton candy for the eyes…in a world of lies
Fire works for lonely hearts that only grow lonelier
Noshing on empty calories for an endless soul
And as for the big itch…the really big itch…
That small thin voice is starved…
Portrait of a Holocaust victim!
So we turn up the tempo
Tapping like a blind man
Louder and more frantically
We are lost as never before.
Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!

Read more We Have What to Cry About!

Dealing With a Tearless Tisha B’Av

“Shmuel” in Eretz Yisroel

I had a pretty strange experience during davening this morning.

It’s erev tisha b’av and as part of my mental preparation for the upcoming fast I cast my mind back to last year – and I remembered how I was unable to cry.

It’s not that I feel disconnected with the suffering of the Jewish people – on the contrary. Most prominent in my mind is the constant war we have been waging in Israel. My heart bleeds at the thought of the suffering of thousands of my borthers and sisters, whose closest relatives have been killed or injured. I think about the grieving families whose lives will never be the same again. I think about the ongoing terror in our homeland and yes my heart bleeds.

And I think about the spiritual destruction wreaking havoc for so much of world Jewry. I think of all the Jewish children growing up without any idea of what it means to be Jewish. I think of the frightening rates of intermarriage and assimilation, and of the spiritual death facing so many thousands more of my brothers and sisters. And again my heart bleeds.

And I think of how in so many ways we have become distant from our Creator and over this too I grieve.

I recall how there had been several times during the course of the year when I had shed tears over our suffering. Yet somehow tisha b’av came along and the tears just wouldn’t flow. I reminded myself again and again of all the suffering we had faced and were still facing. And I reminded myself how all of these things came as a direct result of the churban.

I heard the mournful tones of Eicha and the Kinnot, I was even sitting at the Kotel – the most tangible remnant of our beloved Beit HaMikdash and a poignant reminder of its absence. I tried to cry. I tried as hard as I could to force the tears to flow. Somehow they just didn’t.

So this morning I thought I’d get an early start this year. And as I stood in tefillah before Hashem I began asking Him to help me connect with the essence of the day coming up and to cry.

And then I stopped.

I thought to myself “what have I just done?”
Here I am standing and asking Hashem to make me cry. Could anything be more distorted than that? Hashem doesn’t want me to be shedding tears or to suffer. What was I saying?

So then I changed my prayer – I asked Hashem to bring about a tisha b’av where I wouldn’t have to cry. To bring about a time when, as the Navi promises, tisha b’av would be a day of simcha. Where tears would no longer be necessary.

We have been engulfed in a bitter exile for so long that in a lot of ways we have lost perspective. We’ve gotten so used to our present state that we often forget that this isn’t what normative Jewish living is about! Normal Jewish life is one in which the Beit HaMikdash stands, avodat haKohanim takes place every day, and we have the Sanhedrin leading us as a people. It’s a life in which there’s no argument about whether we really are the chosen people or not, whether the Torah’s true or not, whether the Jewish people have a right to love in Eretz Yisrael or not. It’s a life in which you don’t debate the existence of Hashem – you feel it!
We may not have been experienced it for the past 2000 years but that doesn’t change the fact – that’s what normal Jewish living is about. Our current bitter exile is not.

My experience this morning proved to me how far off the mark I currently am. It proved just how much work I have to do to be at the stage where I can honestly say I await and anticipate the coming of Mashiach every day.

May we be zocheh to see this time of suffering turned into a time of joy, bimherah beyamenu.

First published July 2007

Kinah for Tisha B’Av

Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!

Woe for all the heads without Tefillin

After 3700 years from Avraham Avinu

After having survived Holocausts and Inquisitions…

Jewish boys and girls blunder

In the darkness that plagues our generation

And go lost by the millions

With visions of isms and instant pleasures

Rapt in utter ignorance

Bathed in a blue light they may never escape

And generations and giant whole families

Holy congregations have disappeared

For nothing!

And their names dead ended

Now only grace lonely stones

In forgotten cemeteries

Bearing words their children

Those that had- Could never read

Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!
 
 

The pervasive angst of isolation!

Microwaves our very beings!

We feel beaten from within.

The continuous waves of psychological pain.

We suffer with a wry smile and a diet coke.

The gnawing insecurity and emptiness.

It brings us to search for things that do not exist.

The sublime is substituted with the virtual.

Pictures and fantasies tickle n’ dissolve like

Cotton candy for the eyes…in a world of lies

Fire works for lonely hearts that only grow lonelier

Noshing on empty calories for an endless soul

And as for the big itch…the really big itch…

That small thin voice is starved…

Portrait of a Holocaust victim!

So we turn up the tempo

Tapping like a blind man

Louder and more frantically

We are lost as never before.

Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!
 
 

The Chutzpah around us and within.

The skirts…the so called “styles”…the pressure to conform

The lewdness …the angry language

Rap -rap -rap….bark -bark –bark!

Bitter and desperate…is the new normal

The almost total loss of respect

Nothing and no one is Holy

The good ones are ridiculed-

The object of derision

For framing a G-dly Image

And dressing as humans do

For keeping the Shabbos Holy

Watching our eyes and tongues!

While pictures of the unthinkable

The pop-ups of our lives

Invade constantly

On every bus that passes by

Our brothers and sisters

Drop like fall leaves

Fewer and fewer hang strong

Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!
 
 

The inmates are running the asylum.

Clouds of chaos gather all around

Bombs are fashioned for our final solution

And we are lost in the mirror again.

Wondering if we are loved or looking good

70 wolves salivate with teeth like daggers

Aimed to devour our tiny flock!

Where are we?

Busy with our cell phones

Texting our way to oblivion

Dealing with emergencies of little import

Consumed by crumb size concerns

Like Chometz…And the size of our noses

Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!
 
 

The Chillul HASHEM

We have lost our luster

Suspicion surrounds us

The Nation of HASHEM

The people of truth

Are ridiculed and considered low

While every sports team and slick politician

Has their stadium…Their edifice their complex

Where their glory is on open display

Where is the place of HASHEM in this world?

Billions speak falsely in His name

Identity theft on the grandest scale

Religion is a rejected and dirty word

We are tagged zealots and bigots

For preserving four cubit of Hallacha

This is our crime

And so we owe the world an apology

HASHEM and we His People

Share all time low approval ratings

For this we truly owe a broken heart

Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!
 
 

What can be done when what’s done is done?

Who can rebuild such a wall torn down?

Our Holy Temple is destroyed!

Echoing in the cosmos

Is a muffled scream!

Of unspeakable abuse

A silent crime!

Against our most beautiful daughters

Made to suffer alone

Scarred in a way

No one can say

With more than broken hearts

Shattered Tablets

And bitter memories

Bleed bad blood

And families crumble

With no happy choices

But to seek greatness

And avoid the pit of insanity

There I said it! Without saying it!

Woe to us on this bitter day! We have what to cry about!
 
 

Thousands take to the streets

In a moment’s notice

To look for Leiby

The heart …my heart… where’s my heart?

How can we go up to our father and the youth is not with us?

How can we go up to our Father in Heaven

and the innocence and youthfulness is no longer with us?

HASHEM wants the heart! Where’s the heart? A frantic cry!

It’s been stifled, torn asunder in the heart of our hearts!

In the midst of our midst!

Our innocence is ravaged from within!

We cannot even trust ourselves!

A knife is driven repeatedly into our heart again and again

Where is our heart!

Where are our youth?

HASHEM wants the heart!

If not for the watchful eye of…

A camera …random… nothing is!

We could live in the shadows of doubt…

Postulating and philosophizing

So now we are all mourners …

We are done looking outward

The mirrors are covered…enough…enough

We sit low and quiet

Our eyes turned inward…at last…

We hope to find a heart yet beating…there

from where we can build-

…from where can we build

On this day of brutal truth? We have what to cry about!
 
 

How did it happen? Where are you?

Unanswerable questions!

Persist in their asking!

Where a person’s mind is…

Says the Ba’al Shem Tov

That is where he is entirely!

So with a single Holy thought!

One of 60,000 a day!

An apple…a golden apple

Is rescued from the thieves

And goodness is restored

When opening our inner eyes

We begin to realize

The ground we are standing upon

Is not less than the Holy of Holies

The shoes are easily removed

A Burning bush…is revealed

We survived! We survived!

Till this historic moment!

You and I together

With a song …the wail of a longing heart…

Brought history and destiny to meet and embrace

As tearful friends reunited!

After thousands of years!

Moshiach is born!

On this special day! We have what to cry about!

These Canvas Shoes

Growing up in New York City public schools in the 70s and 80s, one would simply just not wear canvas sneakers. These verboten items of apparel were derisively called “skips”. The unaware male student who breached this fashion taboo was subject to jeers and was most likely to suffer the gravest of schoolyard humiliations– being selected last when choosing sports teams.

Looking down at my canvas. sneakers during my father’s shiva awakened me to the fact of how much things had changed over the past twenty-odd years yet how much some things remained very much the same. Back then, wearing canvas sneakers was a clear marker, right or wrong, of a certain schoolyard stereotype. Now, wearing canvas shoes is also a clear marker but of one who is in mourning or in a state of solemnity. Now, as then, the “clothes make the man”. What we wear affects how we feel and how others feel about us. Funny how the world turns in such a way that the very item one would rail against his parent to avoid wearing is the same one he is now obligated to don to mourn that parent. These canvas shoes are heavy… with meaning.

According to Jewish law and custom, the shoe symbolizes our physical existence. Just as the shoe encases and protects the lowest part of the body and allows it to navigate the physical world, so too the physical body encases and protects the lowest level of the soul and allows it to live in and relate to the physical world. It used to be that each of the birchas hashachar (morning prayers),were recited in conjunction with a certain stage of awakening and preparation for the day. For example, after putting on clothing, the bracha of malbish arumim –blessing the One who clothes the naked– was said. The bracha specifically associated with donning shoes is sheasa li kol zarki—blessing the One who has provided me with all of my needs. We see from here that shoes, specifically leather shoes, are the ultimate paradigm of physicality. Our sages teach that one of the reasons that we don’t wear shoes on Yom Kippur is that on that Holy Day, we are considered as angels and angels, since they are purely spiritual beings without physical needs or desires, don’t wear shoes.

When G-d sees that a person needs to relate on a more spiritual and less physical plane, He commands him to remove his shoes. It happened to Moshe at the Burning Bush and Yehoshua when confronted by the angel of G-d. It happens to us on Yom Kippur, during Shiva and on Tisha B’Av. During these times, we need to realize that physicality must be ignored and that spirituality must be emphasized.

As we slowly and solemnly crawl toward another Tisha B’Av, it may make sense to focus on the physical/spiritual lesson that these canvas shoes teach us. We mourn for the loss of the two Holy Temples. But we are not mourning the loss of physical buildings. Remember, on Tisha B’Av we don’t wear shoes, we are ignoring the physical. As the Temples were the crossroads of the spiritual and physical worlds, we are mourning the spiritual loss of our actual proximity to G-d.

With the loss of the First Temple, we also suffered the loss of prophecy, the mechanism by which spiritual reality was voiced in our physical world. Such tragic losses have unfortunately catalyzed us to view the physical as true reality and the spiritual as a murky, irrelevant reverie.

G-d runs the world according to the principle of midda keneged midda. That means that we are punished or rewarded in accordance with the particular actions that we have taken for which we are being either punished or rewarded. If we truly wish to be rewarded with the return of G-d’s proximity, the return of the truly spiritual to our physical world, we must act in a way which begs for such reward. We must take the lesson of these canvas shoes beyond Tisha B’Av. We have to return our everyday focus toward the spiritual and away from the physical. It is not a once a year thing. It is an everyday, every opportunity thing.

May our continuing efforts to turn our focus from the physical to the spiritual lead to the exchange of Tisha B’Av’s shoes of mourning for Yom Kippur’s angelic footwear. Hey, I told you these shoes are heavy!

First published on August 2, 2006

Rabbi Goldson’s Torah Ideals for Tisha B’Av

The insightful Rabbi Yonason Goldson has started his own blog named Torah Ideals. It’s already packed with great articles including Rabbi Goldson’s own odyssey of becoming a BT.

For Tisha B’Av, Rabbi Goldson has penned a piece called Truth and Faithfulness. Here’s an excerpt:

When we become absorbed in our own agendas, our own projects, and our own priorities, we become passive in the sense that we turn ourselves inward with no concern for the world around us. We become resentful of those around us whom we perceive as impediments to our success as they pursue their own individual goals. This leads to the kind of corruption and divisiveness that brought about the destruction of the First and Second Temples respectively.

However, when we look beyond ourselves,…

Read the whole thing here.

All Alone … Again

“Eicha yashva vadad – Alas; she sits in solitude (Eicha 1:1).”

The haunting words of Megilas Eicha resonate in our hearts and minds as we prepare to sit on the ground this coming Tisha B’Av and commemorate the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash 1,939 years ago.

Sadly, history is repeating itself once again. It was only one year ago that our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel were subjected to horrific destruction and terror with thousands of rockets raining down on them for over a month. A sea of enemies sworn to our destruction surrounds us. The leader of Iran repeatedly calls for the eradication (G-d forbid) of Israel, and publicly states that, “Israel’s destruction is the solution [to the conflict]”. The vile, hate-filled, anti-Semitic rhetoric emanating from many leaders in the Arab world – and most of the ‘Arab Street’ – is at least equivalent to that of the Nazi propaganda machine in the late 1930’s. The vast majority of nations would deny us the right to protect our women and children by any means possible.

It is hard to avoid the feeling that Klal Yisroel is isolated and alone … again.

So what does this mean for us? How do we, who live in comfort and security in America, prepare to commemorate Tisha B’Av properly? What are the messages we ought to internalize, and what actions should we be taking?

I guess I would divide the “take-aways” into two groups:

1) Offer material and emotional support to our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel. Purchase items online in Israeli stores. Support the organizations that are helping our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel and daven for the soldiers who are risking their lives to protect them.

Adopt a family, community or school who have been hard-hit by last year’s rocket attacks or is still suffering from the effects of the disengagement. Two years ago, Yeshiva Darchei Noam, where I serve as Menahel, ‘adopted’ the elementary school of Atzmonah, Gush Katif, as they relocated to the Netivot area. We bought them school supplies, sports equipment, and for Pesach, we partnered with a chesed organization and bought each of the children a brand-new bicycle. Our children and theirs exchanged letters and cards throughout the year. It was so much appreciated by them – and so rewarding for my talmidim. Many schools and shuls in North America have conducted similar programs. The need is great and the time for action is now.

2) On a more personal and spiritual note; I think we all ought to read the stirring and timeless words of our nevi’im in the haftoros of Shabbos Chazon and Tisha B’av – and make a sincere cheshbon hanefesh.

There are two recurring themes in these lines. One relates to the Jews of those times serving idols and forsaking Hashem. At least on the surface, this does not seem to be very relevant today. The second theme, on the other hand, is very much germane to our lives. It speaks to the fact that the Jews of those times were concentrating on spiritual trappings (bringing korbanos) and not on the essence of Hashem’s Torah (honesty, integrity, and kindness).

“Why do I need your numerous sacrifices? (Yeshaya 1:11),” asks Hashem. The Navi exclaims that Hashem is “weary of your korbanos (1:14)”, and that He “will not listen to your prayers (1:15).” Why was that so? It was certainly a great mitzvah to purchase and bring karbonos to the Beis Hamikdash. But, as the Navi relates, those mitzvos were mere adornments to the core values of our Torah. And the Navi clearly describes what the Jews needed to do in order to redeem themselves. “Purify yourselves, seek justice, strengthen the victim, and take up the cause of the widow/orphan (1:16-17).

I suggest that we engage in a constructive cheshbon hanefesh regarding the essential elements of the qualities noted by the Navi – honesty, integrity, true ahavas Yisroel, supporting those among us who are weak and unable to conduct their lives with simchas hachayim. We should be asking ourselves if we are doing all we can to make a true kiddush Hashem in our interactions with non-Jews, non-religious Jews, and frum Yidden who may be of different backgrounds. For these qualities is the essence of what Hashem’s Torah produces.

In these troubling times, surrounded by our enemies, isolated and alone, we ought to be striving to fulfill the timeless charge of Yirmiyahu in the closing words of the haftorah of Tisha B’Av, “For only with this may one glorify himself; become wise and [get to] know Me [contemplate how to better emulate the ways of Hashem], for I am Hashem who does kindness, justice and righteousness …” (Yirmiyahu 9:23).

May Hashem dry our tears and comfort us with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash.

All Alone … Again – Reflections on Tisha B’Av 5766

All Alone … Again
Reflections on Tisha B’Av 5766

By: Yakov Horowitz

“Eicha yashva vadad – Alas; she sits in solitude (Eicha 1:1).” The haunting words of Megilas Eicha resonate in our hearts and minds as we sit on the ground commemorating the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash 1,938 years ago.

Sadly, history is repeating itself once again. Our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel are being subjected to horrific destruction and terror with more than 100 rockets on average each day. A sea of enemies sworn to our destruction surrounds us. Today, the leader of Iran once again called for the eradication r’l of Israel, and publicly stated that, “Israel’s destruction is the solution [to the conflict]”. The vile, hate-filled, anti-Semitic rhetoric emanating from many leaders in the Arab world – and most of the ‘Arab Street’ – is at least equivalent to that of the Nazi propaganda machine in the late 1930s. The vast majority of nations would deny us the right to protect our women and children by any means possible.

It is hard to avoid the feeling that Klal Yisroel is isolated and alone … again.

So what does this mean for us? How are we, who live in comfort and security in America, to respond to the unfolding tragedy in Eretz Yisroel? After reading the haftoros of ‘The Three Weeks’ and the poignant words of Megilas Eicha; after reflecting on the kinos we just recited – what are the messages we ought to internalize?

We all know that we ought to increase our tefilos. And we are. We all know that we need to share the burden with our brothers and sister in Eretz Yisroel. And we are; in many ways. This week, I received emails from two parents in Yeshiva Darchei Noam, where I serve as Menahel. They both are members of the local volunteer fire corps and they independently decided to travel to Eretz Yisroel in order to assist the overworked Israeli firefighters battling the many blazes caused by the barrage of rockets.

But how can we honestly relate to the agony of the hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters living in the northern portions of Eretz Yisroel – Tzfas, Haifa, etc. – who have become homeless and unemployed due to the incessant and deadly rocket attacks?

How can we honestly relate to the sheer terror – and bravery – of the parents of Israeli soldiers who are in active combat in Southern Lebanon or Gaza? We, who become anxious when our adult children are driving on the highways in thunderstorms, how can we relate to the sleepless nights that these parents must be undergoing?

Several members of our extended Horowitz family created a family group email list that we use to communicate with each other. We normally use the list to exchange mazel tov notices and occasional requests to daven for a grandchild who is not well. The past few days, we received two emails from our cousins who have children serving in the Israeli army. They speak for themselves. (I included some excerpted lines from their emails at the bottom of this column.)

So; what are we to do?? I guess I would divide the “take-aways” in two groups:

1) Offer material and emotional support to our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel. Especially now, with the advent of the Internet, there is so much you can do. Purchase items online in Israeli stores. Send emails of support to your relatives in Eretz Yisroel. Support the organizations that are helping our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel. Daven for the soldiers who are risking their lives to protect our brothers and sisters. (My chaver Rabbi Pesach Lerner recently created an email partnership to provide the names of soldiers to include in our tefilos. To sign up, go to www.youngisrael.org and click on the large box titled “Israel Crisis” in the upper right-hand corner.)

Adopt a family, community or school. Last September, our yeshiva ‘adopted’ the elementary school of Atzmonah, Gush Katif, as they relocated to the Netivot area. We bought them school supplies, sports equipment, and for Pesach, we partnered with a chesed organization and bought each of the children a brand-new bicycle. Our children and theirs exchanged letters and cards throughout the year. It was so much appreciated by them – and so rewarding for my talmidim.

(Please drop my assistant Esty an email at estyk2@aol.com if you would like more information on the logistics of the program. Here is a link link to an article that I wrote on the subject.)

2) On a more personal and spiritual note; I think we all ought to read the stirring and timeless words of our nevi’im in the haftoros of Shabbos Chazon and Tisha B’av – and make a sincere cheshbon hanefesh.

There are two recurring themes in these lines. One relates to the Jews of those times serving idols and forsaking Hashem. That, however, at least on the surface, is not very relevant today. The second theme, on the other hand, is very much germane to our lives. It speaks to the fact that the Jews of those times were concentrating on spiritual trappings (bringing korbanos) and not on the essence of Hashem’s Torah (honesty, integrity, and kindness).

“Why do I need your numerous sacrifices? (Yeshaya 1:11),” asks Hashem. The Navi exclaims that Hashem is “weary of your korbanos (1:14)”, and that He “will not listen to your prayers (1:15).” Why was that so? It was certainly a great mitzvah to purchase and bring karbonos to the Beis Hamikdash. But, as the Navi relates, those mitzvos were mere adornments to the core values of our Torah. And the Navi clearly describes what the Jews needed to do in order to redeem themselves. “Purify yourselves, seek justice, strengthen the victim, and take up the cause of the widow/orphan (1:16-17).

I suggest that we engage in a constructive cheshbon hanefesh regarding the essential elements of the qualities noted by the Navi – honesty, integrity, true ahavas Yisroel, supporting those among us who are weak and unable to conduct their lives with simchas hachayim.

We should be asking ourselves if we are doing all we can to make a true kiddush Hashem in our interactions with non-Jews, non-religious Jews, and frum Yidden who may be of different backgrounds. For these qualities is the essence of what Hashem’s Torah produces.

In these troubling times, when we are surrounded by our enemies, isolated and alone, we ought to be striving to fulfill the timeless charge of Yirmiyahu in the closing words of today’s haftorah, “For only with this may one glorify himself; become wise and [get to] know Me [contemplate how to better emulate the ways of Hashem], for I am Hashem who does kindness, justice and righteousness …” (Yirmiyahu 9:23).

May Hashem dry our tears and comfort us with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash.

© 2006 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

Excerpted emails from our family email list:

Dear Cousins,

The past 3 weeks have been very difficult ones here in Israel. The fear and terror that residents of the North and the South live with is unfathomable. People’s lives have been disrupted, businesses have come to a standstill and the rhythms that make up the fabric of daily life have ceased to exist for many thousands of Israeli citizens. Living in bomb shelters for 3 weeks is something that we can barely imagine, let alone identify with. Living in a heightened state of anxiety 24/7 sounds like a psychiatric diagnosis, not a fact of life. Yet, Am Yisrael are strong and resilient. Our daughter … just returned from Nahariya where she volunteered to go from bomb shelter to bomb shelter doing anything that needed to be done, i.e. playing with the kids, talking to teenagers, to parents and just letting the residents of that scarred city know that others care. She came back with many stories of courage and bravery in the face of
adversity, along with many invitations to return and visit when things return to normal. We are humbled by her commitment and love for the people of Eretz Yisrael.

Our son Efraim is currently in Lebanon. (Efrayim celebrated his marriage a few short months ago. YH). We last spoke with him on Friday, Shabbat Parshat Devarim. He and his unit entered Lebanon sometime on Shabbat. We do not know his whereabouts or what his mission is… Please keep Efraim Moshe ben Rachel Miriam, along with all the other soldiers, in your tefilot. May they all return home safely to their parents, wives, children and siblings.

With wishes for an easy fast,

Mindy

And, from another cousin of ours:

Dear Cousins,

I too want to add some words to Mindy’s. Our Noam has been in Lebanon on and off almost from the beginning. There are many heroic acts like in the article that Mindy sent in her letter. Noam … said that he must say birkat hagomel (a blessing recited when one miraculously survived a life threatening situation) many times over. He was with the paratroopers that were … serving in Lebanon.

Please daven … for Noam Simcha ben Shprinsa Aviva and for all of our chayalim … who are doing their best for Am Yisrael.

Have a meaningful fast and hopefully we will see this day of Tisha B’av turned into a day of gladness.

Love,

Aviva