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.

Tisha B’Av – Short Idea with A Big Impact

26 07 2012

Based on a 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 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.

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.

The Three Weeks: Attaining Dveykut

5 07 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Alexander Cohen


Chassidic writings teach us that the 21 days between the 17th of Tamuz and Tisha B’av correspond to the 21 days between Rosh Hashana and Hoshana Raba. What is the connection between them?
In Megilat Eicha we read, “Kol rodfeha hisigu’ha bein hametzarim. All the pursuers of Israel overtook her during the time of Bein Hametzarim. Chassidut interprets this to mean that all those who pursue and seek Hashem will find Him during Bein Hametzarim. Similarly we read in Yishaya, “Dirshu Hashem b’himatzo k’ra’uhu b’heiso karov. Seek Hashem when He is found, call on Him when He is near.”  This refers to the time period between Rosh Hashana and Hoshana Rabbah when Hashem is especially close to us.

The Three Weeks are a preparation period for Rosh Hashana. On Rosh Hashana, the highlight of our prayers is the segment in Kedusha where we ask Hashem, “Galey kevod malchuscha aleinu Reveal the glory of your kingdom.” We plead for the Divine Presence to once again rest among us and for the Beit Hamikdash should be rebuilt. However, in order for our tefillot on Rosh Hashana to be truly heartfelt, we need to awaken within us a desire for the Shechina’s presence.

The Three weeks are meant to make us aware of all that we’ve lost. That is why our sages enacted the laws of mourning during this period. Ordinarily when someone loses a loved one, the laws of mourning become more lenient as time passes. However, the laws during the Three Weeks are the opposite. The closer we get to Tisha B’av, the stricter the laws become. Why is this so? When a person loses someone close to him, it is natural for him to feel sorrow. In contrast, the loss of the Beit Hamikdash and the Shechina is a distant concept for us. As Tisha B’av nears, we begin to understand what the churban was about, what we are supposed to pray for, and why we mourn. All this is considered preparation for Rosh Hashana. The Gra writes that Rosh Hashana is not a day to ask for personal needs. It is a day to plead for the revelation of Hashem’s oneness.

The gemara writes that at the end of time, darkness will descend upon the world.  Many difficulties and challenges will come upon us. It will be much like the Seder night where the practices of the evening do not follow the normal set order of a feast. The gemara explains that we behave in this way in order to arouse the curiosity of our children. Again at the end of time, Hashem will alter the order of the natural world. Evil people will not be punished in this world, while tzaddikim will suffer.  All this will happen in order to awaken us to ask questions and to repent.

Chazal tell us that every generation that does not merit to see the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash will be held responsible as if it was destroyed in their generation. How can we hasten the geula? The gemara says that the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because they did not make a blessing before learning Torah. The Ran explains that the blessing itself was not the cause of the churban, but the fact that they did not learn Torah lishma. They belittled the Torah and they expressed their belittlement by not making a blessing. Understanding the root cause of the churban and working to correct it will bring the geula. Learning Torah lishma is the key to redemption.  This is accomplished through serving Hashem with love. The Rambam writes that ahavat Hashem is attained through knowing Him. The more one grows in knowledge of Hashem the more one can develop a relationship with Him based on authentic love.

The tikun of the world will take place at the end of time, as we read in Yeshaya, “Umala ha’aretz deah es Hashem kamayim l’yam mechasim. The world will be filled with knowledge of Hashem.”  The more we know Hashem and the more we serve him with love, the more we will be able to accept what He sends us, for we will understand that he is doing it purely out of love. All difficulties will fall away as we will face life’s challenges with emuna, staunch faith, and hope for the promised redemption.

‘Thank You So Much for Giving So Much’

20 08 2009

I listened to several shiurim on and before tisha b’av, and I just read Torat Imecha now. The shiurim on the three weeks are absolutely beautiful.  I especially enjoy Rebbetzin Heller, Rabbi Segal, and Mrs. Smiles. Thank you so much for giving so much.

-Sharona K.

Guest Lecturer Rabbi Alexander Cohen on The Three Weeks

28 07 2009

Rabbi Alexander Cohen of Shearim College of Jewish Studies for Women discusses the opportunity for gaining dveykut with Hashem during the Three Weeks. Here is a short clip from youtube of the class:

For the full version of this class available at click HERE

Halachot of Tisha B’Av: A Window to the Essence of the Day

27 07 2009

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Shimon Isaacson

The Gemara writes that Hashem brought the great Destruction because, “Shelo birchu b’Torah techila“-The Jewish people did not recite the blessings on the Torah before learning. With the cessation of prophecy and open miracles, the only way the Jews were able to achieve deveikut-connection to Hashem was through studying Torah. How did this bring about the Churban? The Alshich explains with a parable. The court musician once committed a crime for which he was liable to be put to death. However, since the King appreciated his music so much, he stayed his execution. After some time, the musician lost his ability to play. It was then that he was executed, as there was no reason left to keep him alive.  Similarly, as long as the Jews were learning Torah sincerely they were connected to Hashem in a very intimate bond. Once they ceased studying, there was no reason left to stay the execution and the Churban began.  The way back to Hashem and the ultimate Geula, is through renewed commitment to Torah study.

Excerpted from Torat Imecha: Women’s Torah Weekly. For this weeks edition on Tish B’Av click HERE

For the full version of this class click HERE