Personal and Communal Mourning

27 07 2012

Based on a 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.

Spiritual Destruction

1 08 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Avishai David on the Kinnot of Tish B’av

In the Kinnot, we find the term “shavat”, similar to what is said on Shabbat, “Ki vo shavat mikol melachto.”  “Shavat” means coming to a sudden halt.  Chazal say that Hashem sanctified the day of Shabbat instantaneously. There was a drastic, shocking change and everything came to an unexpected standstill. Human beings do not have this capacity to change in an instant. They need time to gradually adjust. Similarly, Rabbi Elazar Hakalir, who authored most of the Kinnot, uses the term shavat to illustrate the jarring suddenness of the Churban.  No one believed that Jerusalem and the Beit Hamikdash would be destroyed.

Rav Soloveitchik explains that in reality there were two Destructions. There was the actual physical destruction and there was the terrible desecration of Hashem’s name caused by the disgrace and contempt in which the Jews were now held by the gentiles. The greatest Chilul Hashem is when the Jewish people are banished from their land due to their sins. The Gemara in Bava Metzia mentions that from the day that the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, the gates of tefillah were locked. There is a sense of distance from Hashem, a state of hester panim. This is the greatest and most powerful punishment. When Hashem takes away his Divine Providence, does not distinguish between righteous and evil men, and takes His focus off of Klal Yisrael, that is a profound tragedy.
Despite the fact that we have fallen we have not given up hope. We await the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zecharaya – “Elderly people will sit in the streets of Jerusalem and children will play…” Why is this particular prophecy of consolation singled out? Rav Soloveitchick quotes a story in Gemara Makkot. Rabbi Akiva and several Sages once saw a fox come out of the ruins of the Beit Hamikdash. The Sages cried and Rabbi Akiva rejoiced explaining that if the prophecy of devastation predicted by Uriah had come true that was a sure sign that the prophecy of redemption by Zecharaya would be fulfilled too. Rav Soloveitchik explains that animals will only build their homes in places that are so desolate that they will never be populated. The prophecy of Zecharaya depicts a completely opposite era in which Jerusalem will be so congested with people, that the elders and children will fill the streets.  Rav Soloveitchik further elucidates this with an explanation of the Seforno on the verse in the Torah, “Vahaya zaracha ke’afar haretz, upharatza yoma v’kedma..”-Your children will be like the dust of the earth and you will spread out to the east and the west..” When we will reach our lowest point and we will be so downtrodden like the dust of the earth, then we will begin to ascend and spread out once again. A Jew never gives up hope.  The last verse in Eicha ends with a renewed message of encouragement, “Hasheveinu Hashem Elecha V’nashuva, chadesh yameinu k’kedem- Bring us back to you Hashem, and we shall return, renew our days as of old.

Growing In Ruchniyut During The Three Weeks

26 07 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Beinush Ginsurg

Growing in Ruchniyus During the Three WeeksWhen we visualize the Beit Hamikdash in its glory, we imagine there was nothing holier than it. Yet Chazal tell us that studying Torah is even greater. “Hashem consoled David who did not merit to build the Beit Hamikdash, “One day of Torah learning in your courtyard is greater in my eyes than one thousand sacrifices.” Similarly David said, “Tov li Torahat picha…” David gathered great quantities of precious metal for the Beit Hamikdash yet he affirmed that Torah was worth more to him than thousands of pieces of gold and silver. Additionally Chazal tell us, “The Torah study of children may not cease even to build the Beit Hamikdash.”

Bitul Torah was the cause of the first exile. It says, “Im bechukosai teileichu.” Rashi explains, “Shetihiyu ameilim b’Torah,” If we immerse ourselves in Torah we will merit blessings, if not, klalot (curses) will come upon us. The Ramban says that the tochacha of Bechukosai corresponds to the first Beit Hamikdash and the tochacha of Ki Tovo corresponds to the second Beit Hamikdash. We can understand from this Rashi and the Ramban that the first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of a weakening in Torah study.

In Eicha it says,”Her kings and her priests are exiled among the gentiles and there is no Torah.” Rav Dessler lived in England and in his later years settled in Eretz Yisrael. He once said that a day of Torah study in Eretz Yisrael could not equal many days of learning in chutz l’aaretz. Indeed Chazal say, “There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael.” The Gra writes that exile lacks the special spiritual aura of Eretz Yisrael. We end Shemone Esrei with a prayer to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash and we add “Give us a portion in your Torah.” The Gra explains that the sufferings of exile weakened our Torah study. Therefore we ask Hashem to restore the Beit Hamikdash so that we can once again serve Him with all our capacities in Eretz Yisrael.

Let us dedicate ourselves with new vigor to the study of Torah in an attempt to rectify the misdeeds of the past and merit the ultimate redemption.

Tisha B’Av: A Holiday of Distance

19 07 2010

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Tisha B'Av:  A Holiday of Distance

Rav Wolbe in Alei Shur addresses the famous question of why Tisha B’av is called a moed-festival.  Some festivals such as the sholosh regalim are called “Moed Shel Kiruv”- a holiday of closeness, while some festivals are called “Moed Shel Richuk”-a holiday of distance. During the Three Weeks we need to ask ourselves, “Where are we in life? Are we really as close to Hashem as we should be? Are our Torah, Mitzvot, and Chesed at the proper level or are we going through the motions but missing the soul?”  “Moed Shel Richuk” means celebrating the fact that our mourning has brought us closer to our true selves. It means admitting that we are far away from Hashem and then making the effort to bridge the gap and move forward. The Baalei Mussar say that on Tisha B’av one can reach a certain clarity of vision similar to Yom Kippur. Tisha B’av is not only about mourning over the physical destruction of the Beit Hamikdash but about grieving over our lost intmacy with Hashem. It is about taking an honest look at our connection with Hashem and admitting that we have very far to go to reach that closeness. Once we have reached that recognition, we can then set out on the path to mend the loving bond with Hashem once again.

Valuable Vision- The Three Weeks

15 07 2010

Based on a class by Mrs. Shira Smiles

The Jewish People does not only celebrate holidays of joy and grandeur. We also devote time to focusing on our communal failures and tragedies. In fact, we remember the time of our greatest loss, the destruction of our Holy Temple, for a full three week period, from the seventeenth of Tamuz to the ninth of Av.

Such a long focus on our tragedy would appear to be depressing. However, it all depends on one’s perspective. If we focus on ourselves, on our failings and subsequent suffering, commemorating the tragedy for so long is self-defeating. But if we concentrate on Hakodosh Boruch Hu, understand whatever happens to us is through His Divine guidance and Providence, then we can accept our tribulations with an element of joy, knowing that these, too, are a manifestation of God’s love for us. We can understand that Hashem, our Father, has raised us, but we
have rebelled against Him. Nevertheless, although He is forced to reprimand us and punish us, He does so out of love, so that we will correct our ways and grow properly, as any parent raising his child would do.

Can we recognize God’s love in difficult times, when His mercy seems hidden from us? We must not give up hope during times of trial. Rather, we must pursue Him, beseeching Him to lovingly show us His face.

This is the concept that lies at the heart of Shabbat chazon, the Shabbat of vision, the last of the three haftorot of tragedy before Tisha b’Av, one for each of the three weeks. The designation comes from the first word of this week’s Haftorah, “The vision of Isaiah…” The visions of these haftorot seem full of impending doom, for they foretell the quickly approaching hordes that will overrun Israel and destroy the Holy Temple. Nevertheless, upon closer inspection, one can discern the glimmer of hope even in these
foreboding prophecies.

How does Jeremiah, in the first Haftorah, envision this prophecy? He sees a rod of an almond tree. Within this image lies the hope that will turn despair into future joy. Right now, this rod is a mere stick, barren of any leaves, buds or fruit. But in twenty-one days, the almond tree will blossom and bear fruit.

So, too, in the twenty-one days from the 17th of Tamuz to the ninth of Av, the days that seem darkest and most empty for our nation, the potential for growth and rejuvenation is implanted within us. This desolation was necessary so that new spiritual life would spring forth, much as the gardener prunes the trees to allow the sunlight in so that the new growth will be vibrant and healthy.
The greater vision of this time is to internalize Hashem’s love for us, in good times and bad, and to open our hearts to His Presence, to know Him each day, and to return Him to our hearts, the seat of our emotions and passions.
At the end of Tisha b’Av, we bless the new moon, the symbol of new hope. It will reach its fullness on the fifteenth of Av, traditionally
a day of great joy and dancing.

Hashem supports us, Hashem loves us, in the days of our joy, and especially in the days of our tribulation and exile. We must look beyond the barren rod to its potential. The almond branch will bear fruit, and our term of exile will help perfect us so that we may merit the final redemption speedily, in our days.

The Three Weeks

13 07 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hanoch Teller

The Three WeeksThe gemara relates the story of Rabbi Akiva who was walking with several sages when they saw a fox emerge from the site of the destroyed Beit Hamikdash. The Chatam Sofer explains that a fox represents crafty slyness. In exile, we are less afraid of physical death and more afraid of our oppressors’ devious use of enticement and warped philosophy to pull us away from Torah and mitzvot.

Chazal tells us, those who mourn over Jerusalem will merit to see its restoration. This is written in the present tense to teach us that the purpose of aveilut is to recognize consciously what we have lost and to realize what we can regain. Looking at the causes of the destruction can help us correct the failings that led to the churban.  The first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of idol worship, adultery, and murder.  Our tikun is to strengthen ourselves in emuna, to work on our modesty in thought, deed, and action, and to guard our lives from any needless danger. The second beit Hamikdash was destroyed due to baseless hatred. This can be rectified through kindness and charity.

Rashi in Parshat Vayeishev notes that Yaakov continued to grieve for Yosef because as long as a person is still alive, one cannot be completely comforted. As soon as the person dies, mourning gradually diminishes. The collective soul of Klal Yisrael knows that we have yet to achieve our former glory. We know there is a gaping void in our lives. We continue to mourn for Jerusalem every day in our prayers and it remains a living force within our hearts.

As we leaf through the tear stained pages of Jewish history, we see firsthand that even though Hashem has punished us, he still loves us. He has made us suffer for our own good because he cares. King David tells us in Tehilim, “Shivtecha umishantacha heima yenachamuni. Your rod and your staff comfort me.” The rod of retribution is Hashem’ s form of healing. May the travails of exile serve to elevate us to higher realms so that we may ultimately merit the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.

Rabbi Teller Inspires Students with His Class on the Three Weeks

6 07 2010

We just received this beautiful email from a student after viewing Rabbi Hanoch Teller’s class on the Three Weeks:

”What a merit it is for Naaleh to provide so many with the beauty of Torah. You do not know how much these shiurim have lit up my darkest nights. Thank you. Tizku l’mizvot!’

Check out Rabbi Teller’s class now and get inspiration for the Three Weeks!