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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Tisha B’Av 97

By TorahLab

“Let Zion and Her cities lament like a widow girded with sackcloth, mourning for the husband of her youth” (Kinos)

Let us imagine a young woman who lived in perfect harmony with her husband. Their life was comfortable and they were blessed with children. Suddenly the husband passed away. This was of course a tragedy.  A profound adjustment was needed in everyone’s life. The young woman was left with her children and a broken heart. But she looked at her children and realized that she must be in control. She must not hurt her children with her weeping and agony. She was determined to show strength to her loved ones. As she did so she grew more pained. She longed to cry, she yearned to release the pressure of her suffering, but she dared not. Her children came first.

A year of sleepless nights passed, and the anniversary of her husbands death approached. She decided that on this day only, she would allow herself to cry. She gathered her children together and commended them for their strength. She explained to them that this was the anniversary of the great tragedy that befell them and they could allow themselves to cry. They sat and wept bitterly all day long and bemoaned their sorrow. They felt better, she felt relieved.

Tisha B’Av is an anniversary of tragedy for the Jewish people. Despite all the pain we feel and sorrow we endure we don’t cry. We must not cry, for we must survive. If we were to cry, we would cry all the time. We could mourn day and night all the holocausts and pogroms, persecutions and attacks which have befallen us throughout history. We would be traumatized over the problems that happen today in Israel, around the world and in our own communities. Markets and busses are blowing up in Jerusalem. Jews are making the wrong international headlines. An unprecedented amount of our own children are straying from the path of Torah. A growing amount of unmarried men and woman are crying themselves to sleep at night. Missionaries with billion dollar budgets have targeted our communities and our children. Marriages are in crisis and what might be even worse is that it’s so hard to find anyone to talk to about it. We must restrain our tears. One day a year, however, we may cry. On the ninth of Av we are permitted to release our emotions and bemoan our sorrows.

So why aren’t we crying? Why are our minds begging our hearts to cry but no tears flow? Because in order to survive we’ve taught ourselves how not to cry. But here is the problem. The Gemara says “tipach atzmosav shel mechashvei kaitz.” Those that calculate the time of the coming of Moshiach will not rise to greet him. I’d like to offer a simple explanation as to why that is. One can wait for Moshiach, one can yearn for Moshiach and one can cry for Moshiach. These are reactions of the heart. But to calculate is to intellectualize. It’s an issue out there but not an issue in here. When a yid is in trouble, when the world is in trouble, if its a stranger I calculate, if its my brother I cry.

Yesterday someone told me a story about someone, somewhere, who came to visit a famous tzadik. They were childless and in pain. They sought the blessing of the tzadik to shake up the heavenly chambers, perhaps G-d would grant them a child. The tzadik thought and he prayed. He turned to the couple and said to them, I’m sorry I can’t help you. There is a decree in Heaven that just can’t be reversed. The couple left in despair. The next day the couple looked out the window of their home and saw the Tzadik approaching their door. They greeted him but asked, “why are you here? You said that there was nothing that can be done for us!” The tzadik looked at them and said, “I know there is nothing I could do to help you but I figured at least I could come and cry with you.” If its my brother I cry.

The first Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed because people violated the three cardinal sins. They worshipped foreign gods, there was murder in the streets and forbidden incestuous relationships were commonplace. During the Second Temple era none of this took place. Jerusalem was destroyed because of Sinas Chinom, cause-less hate. In the words of the Talmud “This teaches us that cause-less hate is equal to the three most serious transgressions of the Torah.”

The Jerusalem Talmud questions this deduction. In fact the Babylonian exile lasted only 70 years while the Roman exile is still with us today. The amount of bloodshed caused by the Romans and their followers far outreached the horrors of the Babylonians. The Jerusalem Talmud concludes therefore, that in fact causeless hate is much worse than the worst transgressions of the Torah. In the words of the Jerusalem Talmud, during the first Temple era the wrongdoing was open, whereas during the second they were hidden.

The Vilna Gaon in his usual succinct fashion presents an omega insight into Sinas Chinom. As terrible as the violation of the cardinal sins of the Torah are, they do not , says the GRA, necessarily indicate that the people are intrinsically evil. It is possible to be swept into a culture of idolatry, to lose one’s head and kill, or to fall into forbidden relationship. These are terrible unjustifiable sins and one must give one’s life to avoid them. But they can be external to the person and do not necessarily define the person. Hate, says the GRA, is an internal sin. It reflects the essence of one’s human condition and defines him. A person who hates has a bad heart. With a bad heart one can not worship G-d. The Temple was destroyed and will remain that way until we remedy the cause.

I remember 20 years ago when I was newly married and living in Jerusalem. My wife and I hosted a sheva brachos for one of our friends. In his honor amongst the many guests was one of the great poskim of Jerusalem, Rabbi Chaim Pinchus Scheinberg. A discussion broke out at the table about why there seems to be so much mudslinging going on in a certain community. Some clamed that jealousy was the cause, another said it was ignorance and yet another claimed it was financial. We looked toward the Rav as he said, “ Ich mein as es felt in lev tov.” I think there is a lack of good heartedness. A good hearted person doesn’t hate. This, says the GRA, was the sin that we still mourn. 

I’d like to shed some further light on the off wanderings of our hearts. Some years ago while serving as a Rabbi in Upstate New York I remember standing at my place in Shul, Sunday morning, seeing the large oak door to the Shul open a crack. There at the door was an elderly woman, a member of the congregation, who was motioning for me to come out to speak with her. I came out and the woman who I knew quite well looked very anxious. “Rebbe”, she said, “I need to be matir neder.” She felt she had made a vow which requires the nullification of a beit din and asked me if I could convene this beit din in Shul immediately following services. Obviously I complied and after davening that morning three of us sat alone in the back of the Shul with Mrs. Segal standing before us. She took out her siddur and opened it to the place that was already marked with her forefinger and began to recite the standard formula for nullification’s of vows. She looked out of the siddur and with great emotion told the following story. “Forty years ago, you should never know from such things, I lived in a Nazi Labor camp. Living day by day would have been a luxury, we lived minute by minute. I didn’t think I would live to see freedom again and I said to G-d, ‘I don’t think I will make it out of here alive, but if I do I will come out with a whole new perspective, a brand new appreciation for life. If I come out of this alive I promise you G-d I will never throw away a piece of bread, ever.’ That was my promise. I’ve always kept my promise to G-d but today my two grandchildren came to visit. Kids are kids and some bread was disgraced. I realized that perhaps I’m not in a position to keep my promise that I made to G-d. But raboisai I know that a neder needs a pesach. What do I know now that I didn’t consider before? In my wildest dreams I couldn’t see Jewish grandchildren in my life. My appreciation for bread, for life and for children is greater now than it ever was, nevertheless I feel I must annul the vow.” We all said together, ““Mutar loch, Mutar loch, Mutar loch!” and Mrs. Segal went home.

I’d like to draw an analogy. Forty years ago in this country there were very few Jewish schools and Yeshivos as we know them today. Nobody knew for sure that there ever would be a renaissance of Torah and Yiddishkeit in America. What there was, and some of this even I can remember, were teams of yeshiva bochurim that traveled around the country during their summer and winter break. They went to places like Sue City, Iowa and Fort Worth, Texas armed with suitcases full of tuna fish and a strong sense of camaraderie. Their mission was to try to salvage the Jewish soul. They tried to start little day schools or Sunday schools that would somehow cater to the American Jewish boy or girl that otherwise didn’t stand a chance as far as Yiddishkeit was concerned. They visited parents, Rabbis, philanthropists and anyone who would listen to them. They would spend a week in a city and sometimes reach two children or one family. They sowed the seeds of Torah that has blossomed into the majestic forest of Torah and Torah communities that stands before us today. At that time the Jewish Neshama had a value beyond rubies. The individual importance of each boy or girl was beyond description. I’m sure they silently promised Hashem that they will never take a Jewish child for granted.

Thank G-d, at least in places like New York, it seems that we have arrived. Torah is thriving, classrooms are full, and beautiful edifices are being built. There is a danger in success. We can forget the neder that we have made to never treat a Jewish boy or girl as a number. We can forget that no matter how many we have and how many we have produced the Jewish Neshama is still priceless and beautiful. There was a time that if we would meet another Shomer Shabbos or someone wearing a Yarmulke we would feel like hugging them. They were important, we were brothers. We would open up our hearts and our homes to them. We would get involved in helping with their shiduchin, their parnossa and what ever else is important in another Jews life. I dare say that at times, in some places it seems that the neder has been somehow forgotten. When I was a child growing up in Buffalo I was lucky enough to have one Frum friend. We both made sure that friendship worked. In today’s environment I would be tempted to think that there are many fish in these waters. If this one doesn’t work there are many to choose from. The bread can be tossed, the neshama can be disgraced.

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