Personal and Communal Mourning

27 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Avishai David

The Gemara at the end of Taanit cites a famous braita which says that all the mitzvot that are relevant to a mourner are relevant to Tisha B’av. The Rishonim point out this is not always absolute.

The Gemara discusses an custom of aveilut (mourning) which used to be practiced by a mourner. This practice is called kfiyat ha’mitah (turning over the bed). Rav Yehuda maintains that this practice applies to Tisha B’av. The Chachamim disagree. The Rosh adds another custom no longer practiced today, atirat harosh, swathing the head. He notes that the chachamim disagree with Rav Yehuda about the first practice and this one too. The Rosh then questions how we can understand the braita. He answers that it only relates to negative commandments. Positive practices that devolve upon an avel do not apply to Tisha B’av.

An avel must tear his garmentbut on Tisha B’av there is no such practice. The Gemara indicates that kriah is only warranted when a person is in a passionate emotionally heightened state such as when he experiences a moment of great loss. It is also applicable when a person hears bad news. Tisha B’av is lacking both of these aspects. Therefore, we do not tear kriah.

The Rosh writes that although an avel doesn’t don tefillin, on Tisha B’av we are obligated to do so. This is because the prohibition of wearing tefillin for a mourner is only on the first day of aveilut. Tisha B’av isn’t compared to the first day. The Rosh writes that an avel may not work as it is considered hesech hada’at, a diversion. But on Tisha B’av it is permitted to do work b’makom shenhagu (in a place where it is the custom). Similarly, the Rosh notes that an avel is prohibited from engaging in sheilat shalom (salutary dialogue). Yet on Tisha B’av one may respond to a greeting (although this is not our practice). An avel may not become engaged to be married. Yet the Rishonim permitted a person to become engaged on Tisha B’av lest someone take his zivug (predestined mate) before him.

There is a distinction between the nature of the prohibition of studying Torah for an avel and on Tisha B’av. The prohibition for an avel is derived from a verse in Yechezkel, where the Navi says the avel should be silent. However, on Tisha B’av the prohibition stems from the verse, “Pikudei Hashem yesharim mesamchei lev.” Learning Torah brings joy and on Tisha B’av this kind of happiness is not permitted. Studying the tragedies of the churban does not engender such joy. Therefore, we may study these subjects.

The Gemara notes a difference between aveilut chadasha (fresh mourning), when a person loses a close relative, as opposed to aveilut yeshana (historical mourning) which is related to Tisha B’av. Aveilut chadasha evokes within a person powerful emotions of grief. Aveilut yeshana, which happened so long ago, is more difficult to arouse.

A Jew is obligated to surrender to the will of Hashem. This should not prevent our natural emotions from emerging. The customs of individual aveilut were designed so the mourner would be able to express his emotions in a wholesome way. At the beginning, a mourner is not in a rational state of mind. Gradually he disengages himself from his emotions. Halacha recognizes this and proscribes four periods of mourning. Each stage engenders specific laws relative to the mourners diminishing emotions.

The halacha doesn’t demand of us to plunge into aveilut. Mourning begins in Tamuz. The Mishna writes “Mishenichnat Av mima’atim b’simcha.” The feeling of mourning gradually increases. Although we’ve gone through hundreds of Tisha B’av’s our relationship to the past is a living reality. For us the past is integrated into the present, which anticipates the future. They all combine into one continuum of tradition passed down from generation to generation.

With the beginning of the nine days before Tisha B’av, Chazal introduced restrictions to prevent hesech hadat. Whatever will cause diversion is prohibited. With aveilut chadasha one’s emotions are so powerful that one is completely enveloped in mourning. However, with aveilut yeshana, any distraction can automatically divert us. Therefore, chazal introduced extra restraints to keep us focused.

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Tisha B’Av – Short Idea with A Big Impact

26 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles 

 In Eicha, Tisha B’av is referred to as a moed (festival). How can we call the saddest day in the Jewish calendar a holiday?

Aleh Shur notes that there are some moadim that are called festivals of closeness such as the shalosh regalim. There are other moadim that are called moed shel richuk, festivals of distance. What is the idea of a holiday of distance?

In the three weeks we must stop and ask ourselves, “Where am I in life? Am I really as close to Hashem as I think I am? Are my mitzvot and Torah on the level it should be or am I fooling myself? Am I merely going through the actions but missing the soul?” A moed shel richuk is celebrating Tisha B’av and telling Hashem, “I am far away, I’m nowhere near where I should be.” When we can make that declaration with honesty and a sincere desire to change, we begin to bridge the gap and move forward.

The baalei mussar say that the clarity of vision one can reach on Tisha B’av is similar to the level one can reach at the end of Yom Kippur. On Tisha B’av we experienced the destruction of our relationship with Hashem. If we can face Hashem with truth and sincerity we will begin the process of renewal and return.

 





Feeling the Churban

25 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

The Gemara writes that the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed on the ninth of Av towards night. This would seem to imply that the halachic strictures of mourning would increase as the day wanes. But the opposite is true. From noon and onwards our mourning begins to lessen in intensity. Why is this so?

Until the destruction actually began the Jews didn’t believe it would ever happen. Therefore, they didn’t repent wholeheartedly. When the churban finally came, there was a revelation of great love. They saw that Hashem’s promise had come true. When they realized that there would be a long separation they felt a need to express their feelings. This overwhelming feeling of intimacy between Hashem and the Jewish people is what is meant when it says that Mashiach will be born on Tisha B’av. Everything that brings about Mashiach‘s coming can be born within us on that day. When we can sincerely tell Hashem, “We don’t want this distance,” that is the beginning of the Messianic promise.

Maharal quotes the Gemara that the pre-Messianic era will be a period when people will disparage the authority of talmidei chachamim. There will be great chutzpah prevalent among the nations. Chutzpah is pretending to be something you’re not. When we seek to find connection in ways not related to Hashem, it becomes like a wall. This is meant to be so, so that we will ultimately reject it. Maharal says you have to know what you are not and what you really don’t want in order to move forward and truly want Hashem.

The mishna says the face of the generation we’ll be like the face of a dog. The dog doesn’t have a spiritual self. It becomes who it’s with. In the days before Mashiach, our sense of self will be so diminished that we won’t believe in our own strengths. We certainly won’t trust the goodness and capacity of others. Ultimately we will turn to Hashem.

The Bnei Yissachor says that the nine days before Tisha B’av consists of 216 hours which equals the same numerical value as aryeh (a lion). A lion’s roar inspires fear. Eicha describes Hashem “like a bear who waits for me in anguish or like a lion in a hidden place.” The ktiv is aryeh while the kri is ari. The difference between these two words is the letter heh, which equals five. This hints to the last five hours of Tisha B’av, which express Hashem‘s love. Only the ari hours, the 211 hours, inspire yirah. The first five sefirot of Hashem relate to an outpouring of chesed. The next five sefirot signify gevurah, concealment and withholding. Although the last five hours of Tisha B’av were filled with the horrors of the destruction it was also the beginning of the revelation. It says that the building of Yerushalayim and bayit shlishi commenced at the very moment when the second beit hamikdash began to burn. As we mourned, Hashem began to rebuild.

All of our suffering has its root in Tisha bav. We have to rectify it at the source. The first act of distancing was the sin of eitz hada’at. This brought about the introduction of dimyon (imagination). Dimyon makes us see good as bad and bad as good. Often we know something in our mind but when it comes down to action we go back to what gives us pleasure. The key is to use imagery in a positive way. Using negative imagery includes thinking, “I’m not who I want to be. If people really knew what I was they would reject and despise me. Therefore, I have to pretend to be the person I wish I could be. But beneath it all I hate myself.” This is self-destructive thinking. A positive image might include seeing yourself as a valiant warrior trying to do battle against the obstacles. You treasure your victories and are willing to live with the failures because a warrior doesn’t always win. He fights and falls and gets up again. Using one’s emotions and imagery to create a new self is a form of correcting what Adam did.

The sin of the spies signified a lack of emunah (faith). They realized they couldn’t conquer the land by natural means and they didn’t trust Hashem.

The first temple was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins. With the right imagery all of these sins would have been intolerable. The desire to murder could have been controlled by seeing the good and beautiful in every person. Adultery could have been repressed by discerning the integrity of mesirat nefesh. Idol worship could have been overcome by saying, “It’s just a creation, not the creator.” But they failed. Hashem‘s presence was missing in their mind and heart. The second beit hamikdash was destroyed because the Jews were fragmented. They lacked the common emunah of believing and wanting the same thing. .

The Zohar says that each of the 365 days of the year parallel one of the 365 negative mitzvot. Tisha B’av corresponds to the mitzvah of gid hanashe. Nasha means forgetfulness. On Tisha B’av we forgot who we could be.

Yaakov battled the angel of Esav. They were fighting primarily over their future identity. Yaakov’s main quality was truth, which is seeing the whole picture and wanting to use everything in the inner and outer world for Hashem. Esav was a conqueror. There’s an Esav part within each of us. The battle was really a struggle between Yaakov and Yaakov. He had to annihilate his evil side. This will take place again when Mashiach comes.

Yaakov is referred to as tolaat (a worm). He was humble. He cried out to Hashem. Esav was a hunter. The most engaging prey is a human. When people idealize themselves and make demands on other people to see life through their eyes they are following the path of Esav.

The internal galut and relationship to Esav has an external manifestation which is the West. Modern society idealizes selfishness and conquest. In these days of bein hamitzarim let us strengthen ourselves with the voice of Yaakov and the power of Torah and tefilah.





Essence of Peace- Parshat Pinchas

13 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

The parsha begins by telling us that Pinchas was rewarded with the brit shalom, the covenant of peace, for boldly avenging the honor of Hashem. Pinchas performed an act of vengeance. He was c

ertainly righteous. He did not express misplaced hostility, egotism, or superiority. However

, Hashem deals with us midah k’neged midah. He relates to us in a way that matches our beha

vior, as the verse says “Hashem tzilcha.” Hashem is your shadow. One would think that the zealous Pinchas would be rewarded with the role of eternal warrior. Perhaps he would have appeared as a reincarnation of King David who slayed Golyat or Yehuda Maccabee who conquered the Greeks. Why was he rewarded with the covenant of peace?

Alacrity and kana’ut (zealousness) are not just the desire to eliminate evil. The motivating force for this middah is that one treasures goodness. Pinchas’s vengeance did not stem from hatred but from love. The more one is drawn towards good, the more one will hate evil.

If there were children trapped in a burning apartment, you’d break down the door and flood the house with water, not because you hate the fire but because you desperately want to save the children. Pinchas acted in this manner. His goal was to preserve holiness. This is why Hashem gave him the covenant of peace. He’d be the one to draw things together.

Pinchas teaches us what true zealousness is about. There will always be issues that we will have to fight against. We must stamp out evil but it should never take on its own energy. Rather kana’ut should come out of a desire for purity and holiness, which is what true peace is about.





Overview of the Three Weeks Part 2:

12 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Ilan Segal

The Tur notes that the source for the three weeks of mourning is in the book of Daniel. Rav Sadya Gaon writes, “The prophet Daniel saw the destruction of the second temple and he mourned for three weeks. And upon the end of these three weeks on the 21st of Nisan he had his next vision.” Why was Daniel mourning the churban in Nissan?

There are only two occasions during the year when we have a custom to eat eggs: the night of the seder and at the seudat hamafseket on the eve of Tisha B’av. Why do we eat an egg, a symbol of mourning, on the joyous night of Pesach? The Rama explains that these two time periods are connected. The first night of Pesach always falls on the same night of the week as Tisha B’av. Secondly, although the seder night is a celebration of freedom, there is an element of mourning. We sense the acute absence of the beit hamikdash and the korban pesach.

The Gemara in Bechorot records an interesting discussion regarding the different gestation periods of various creatures and their parallels in the plant world. The Gemara says a chicken takes 21 days to lay its eggs. Similarly, the luz tree, which Tosfot tells us is the almond tree, produces its fruit in 21 days.

The Gemara relates a story about a Roman ruler who challenged Rabbe Yehoshua to bring the wise men of Athens to him. Rabbe Yehoshua discovered their secret hideout and they began a debate with him. The commentators say that they asked deep philosophical questions couched in riddles. They brought two freshly laid white eggs and said, “Tell us which egg was laid by a black hen and which by a white hen.” In reply, Rabbe Yehoshua placed two white cheeses before them and asked which was produced by a black goat and which by a white goat.

The Maharsha notes that the egg represents two 21 day periods in the Jewish calendar, the 17th of Taamuz through Tisha b’av and the 1st day of Tishrei through Hoshana Rabbah. The wise men asked Rabbe Yehoshua, you maintain that the 21 days of Tishrei are days when one’s sin can become white like an egg. It is a period of joy and connection to Hashem. But you also have another 21 days of disaster and churban. It seems everything you have achieved in Tishrei is cancelled out in Av. He responded with goat cheese. Two goats are offered on Yom Kippur, one l’azzazel and the other L’Hashem. Although they are identical, one represents white, pristine atonement and the other represents the darkness of sin. Yet both produce white cheese, libun avonot, whitening of sin.

We can come close to Hashem in many different ways. In Tishrei we do it through good deeds and joy, and and in Av through exile and suffering. Yet both ultimately lead to repentance and atonement.

If we look at the three weeks of Nissan, Av, and Tishrei , we can see a structure. Nissan begins with “hachodesh hazeh lachem,” the uniqueness of klal yisrael, the birth of the Jewish people, their leap of faith culminating with the revelation of the Divine Presence at the splitting of the Red Sea. These weeks built klal yisrael and elevated them. The bein hametzarim is the reversal of that process. Everything created in Nissan unraveled in Tamuz. The descent begins on the 17th of Tamuz when the luchot (tablets) were shattered and continues with the downward spiral of Klal Yisrael to the destruction of the beit hamikdash.

Following the bein hametzarim, there are seven weeks of consolation, shiva d’nechemta , which lead up to Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the next three week period. Then we reconstruct what was destroyed through repentance and good deeds.

We are commanded to eat the korban pesach together with matza and maror. The sweetness of the matza and the bitterness of the marror are intertwined. Daniel mourned the churban in Nissan because he saw the potential for destruction. Likewise, when we mourn the beit hamikdash on Tisha B’av we must see the potential for rebirth.

The Gemara discusses the prayer Ashrei, which follows the order of the aleph beit. Even though it follows the order of the alef bet, it is missing the letter nun. Rabbe Yochanan explains that this is because it represents the downfall of the Jewish people. “Nafla lo tosef kum betulat yisrael.” The daughter of Israel has fallen and will not rise again. The Gemara suggests that we can read the verse with a small change. “Nafla lo tosef, kum.” She will no longer fall, arise! With the minor insertion of a comma, the verse is transformed from a message of despair to one of hope and promise. We can choose to focus on the misery and desolation or we can accept our failings and resolve to get up again. On Tisha B’av, after midday, we rise from the ground. We recognize that although the bein hamitzarim are days of sadness, they have the potential for rebirth.

The Midrash says that Mashiach will be born on Tisha B’av. Hashem planted the seeds of compassion and redemption within the darkest day. We must not focus on sadness and despair but use these days to come closer to Hashem. The time when we feel His distance is when we can reach out to Him. Eicha ends with the words, “Hasheveinu Hashem elecha.” Bring us back to you. Ultimately if we utilize these days correctly, we will merit to return.





Jerusalem: Echoes of Lament- Why Cry?

11 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Hanoch Teller 

It is possible to go through the fast of Tisha B’av and Yom Kippur without feeling any pangs of hunger if we focus on the key motifs these days. On Yom Kippur, when the fate of all of Klal Yisrael is hanging in the balance, thinking about something minor as food and drink seems superfluous. Likewise on Tisha B’av, if we really sense that deep aching longing for what we’ve lost, all mundane trivialities fall away.

There’s a famous parable of a gifted artist who climbed a steep mountain in order to paint his magnum opus. His work of art far exceeded his expectations. He was so overwhelmed by the beauty of his accomplishment that he took a few steps back to view his work better. Unbeknown to him he was almost at the edge of the cliff about to plunge to his death. A mountain climber spotted him and began shouting. But the artist paid no attention. Left with no other choice, the climber dashed over and ripped the artist’s canvas to pieces. The artist then snapped out of his trance and yelled, “What have you done?” Then the climber showed him where he had stood. Prophet after prophet warned Klal Yisrael not to commit the same mistakes of the past. But the Jews did not listen. In the end, Hashem was left with no choice but to destroy the Beit Hamikdash to save us.

We have become desensitized. Most of us don’t realize what we’re mourning, what it means to have lost the eretz tiferet, the beautiful land. Eretz Yisrael should be foremost in our thoughts. We should take time out to think about what the land means to us, what it was, and what it could be if only Mashiach would come. Then we can begin to appreciate the dimension of our loss.

The Navi recounts how the Almighty castigated the Jews, “Mi bikeish zot miyedchem? Who asked this of you? Of what use are all your needless sacrifices. Your ketoret are an abomination. I despise your holidays. I cannot listen to your prayers any longer.” These words reflect a serious breach between the Jews and the Almighty. We have been cast out and rejected.

There are three cardinal questions we will be asked when we reach the next world. Among them will be, “Tzipita l’yeshua?” Did you await the salvation? It’s not enough to believe. We have to yearn for the redemption.

According to the Mesilat Yesharim, awaiting the geulah is an element of ahavat Hashem. If someone you loved very dearly was in pain, you’d feel his agony and try to do everything you could to alleviate it. Klal Yisrael is suffering and our pain is borne by Hashem. If we love Hashem and don’t wish to see Him bear our misery we must yearn for the redemption.

In order to properly understand the idea of awaiting the redemption we have to better understand the scope of the churban and Divine Presence in exile. We’ve lost so much. Observing the kohanim while they performed the service in the beit hamikdash was a great catalyst for teshuva. Although we believe that a tzaddik can possesses a modicum of Divine inspiration, it cannot compare to the holy spirit of Hashem that existed in the time of the bayit when the Sanhedrin could decide matters of life and death.

The incredible assimilation of today is also a consequence of our exile. Had we remained in Israel the phenomenon of the vanishing Jew would never have happened. Our desire to imitate the non-Jews is a result of our living among them. All the countless suffering, tragedies, and travails we’ve experienced throughout the long years are a result of losing our bayit.

The beit hamikdash was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins and because of baseless hatred. We must strengthen ourselves in these areas. Hashem welcomes all of our efforts, especially in these auspicious weeks. May we merit to see the rebuilding of the beit hamikdash speedily in our days.





Chofetz Chaim: Laws of Speech-Remembering Miriam #13

2 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Beinish Gunsburg 

One of the ten commandments is, “You shall not covet.” An offshoot of this is envy. Envy is wanting what other people have for yourself. Coveting means desiring it so much that you begin to scheme how you will wrest it away. Envy takes you out of this world. It is self-destructive.

A classic example of envy is Haman. He had all the power, wealth, and influence a person could wish for. Yet he said, “Kol zeh eninu shove li,” it’s all worthless to me. Because one Jew, Mordechai, who will not bow down to me. He schemed to decimate the entire Jewish people and in the end he and his children were killed.

Here are some ideas to curb envy: The Ibn Ezra tells a parable. Just as a country bumpkin finds the prospect of marrying a princess way out of his league, we should view what others have as irrelevant to us. The Gemara says a man envies everyone except his son and disciple. This is because they are extensions of him. He is invested in them. If we help other people achieve success, if we can get that sense of personal involvement, it will diminish our feelings of envy.

When you begin to feel envious of someone, tell yourself that you don’t know the whole picture. Rav Bunim of Peshischa said if everyone would put their sack of problems in a pile, each person would take back their own problems. Think about all the positive things you have that the person you envy doesn’t have. Compare yourself with those less fortunate than you, rather than with those more fortunate than you. Instead of asking yourself, “Why should this person be more successful than I am?” think about improving yourself by mimicking that person’s ways.