Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Taste Of Things To Come

This past Shabbos, I was learning the sefer Imrei Baruch by Rav Baruch Simon, a Rosh Yeshiva at YU, and wanted to share two pieces that I found there that are related to the period of the 3 Weeks and Tisha B'Av.

The Gemara in the tractate of Ta’anis (30B) says that anyone who mourns for Yerushalayim will merit to see it in its rejoicing, and one who does not mourn for Yerushalayim will not see its rejoicing. The Maharal in the 23rd chapter of his work, Netach Yisrael explains this Gemara. He writes that one who knows he is lacking something in his life can look forward to something that will complete his existence, but someone who feels as though his life is already complete cannot feel a sense of longing for anything. Thus, according to the Gemara, one who actively mourns for Yerushalayim has cultivated within himself a vacant space that will be filled with the joy of Yerushalayim’s rebuilding. By contrast, one who believes that life is great the way it is has no ability to appreciate a future that has been completed by the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, and thus cannot experience it.

Rav Simon adds that it appears as though Hashem is acting toward the person in a midah k’neged midah (measure for measure) fashion. Someone who considers Yerushalayim important enough in their hearts to realize he is incomplete without the city and Temple standing in their grandeur will merit to have that hole in his life filled by the comfort of the city’s rejoicing. By contrast, one who believes his existence his full and perfect without Yerushalayim are excluded, since he feels there is nothing missing in his life.

The Chasam Sofer elaborates on a very interesting concept related to this tradition that one who mourns for Yerushalayim will merit to see it be comforted. He notes that the word “to see” is written in present, not future tense, as one might expect. The reason is due to the wholly different nature of our mourning for Yerushalayim, when compared to other nations’ response to past tragedies. For other nations in the world who take time to remember tragic events in their history, there is a sense of total loss, of remembering what is no longer here and gone forever. This is not so by the Jewish people and our mourning for Yerushalayim. As we know from the story of Yaakov and Yosef’s sale, Yaakov would not be comforted despite his children’s best efforts. There, Rashi explains that this was because the natural order created by Hashem is that a person should gradually find solace and begin to forget the intense pain of a true loss of life as time goes by, a phenomenon which does not exist for someone who is missing but still alive and could return. So too is it with our mourning for Yerushalayim. While we are saddened by its absence in our lives, we know, deep down, that one day (hopefully soon) Moshiach will come and we will once again be able to experience the spiritual splendor of the Beis Hamikdash, just as we did in times of old.

This year, Tisha B’Av falls out on Shabbos, which means the observance of the fast itself will be pushed off until Motzei Shabbos and Sunday. When I first realized this, I thought that for once the Jewish people would be observing the opinion of Rabbi Yochanan, who says that had he been there when the fast day was established, he would have made it on the 10th of Av, since the majority of the Beis Hamikdash burned then and only started to burn on the 9th. However, it still didn’t quite sit well with me that I’d be spending the actual day of Tisha B’Av enjoying Shabbos, eating foods, singing zemiros, and spending time with friends and family.

Then it hit me.

We are all aware of the idea that Tisha B’Av is called a “moed” or holiday, based on the verse in Eicha 1:15. Based on this, we don’t say tachanun during the day, and the rabbis tell us that in the future, Tisha B’Av will actually become a day of celebration once the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt. This, of course, means that the day will be transformed from one of sitting on the floor, fasting, refraining from greeting one another to a day of dancing, feasting and rejoicing.

This year, due to the structure of our calendar, we are privileged to have a taste of things to come. We will be able to experience Tisha B’Av as it is meant to be experienced, not as a day of mourning but as one of celebration. True, we must not let this idea go to our heads and cause us to forget the fact of the matter that the Beis Hamikdash is not yet rebuilt, but I hope we can utilize this opportunity to prepare our minds for the great change that will occur with Moshaich’s arrival.

Hopefully, this year’s observance of Shabbos on Tisha B’Av will prepare us all for the true celebration and happiness we will experience next year with the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the 3rd and final Beis Hamikdash!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Save The Worms - Lend A Helping Hand

It happens almost every day, and each time I see the aftermath I feel saddened and helpless.

I'm walking down the sidewalk, typically going into or leaving my apartment and I notice a curled up, crispy little creature frozen in time, its last moments captured in some horrific, painful-looking expression of death . 

What am I talking about? Earthworms.
Your friendly neighborhood soil processor.
Source: wikimedia.org
While I used to think these little guys surfaced after it rained to avoid drowning, it turns out the real reason is because they utilize the moistened environment to move around above ground, a faster mode of transport than burrowing through the dirt, their typical means of travel which helps avoid becoming dried out. 

I have noticed worms crawling across the sidewalk in the early morning on my way to shul for Shacharis. In the afternoons, as I return for Mincha/Ma'ariv, I often spot unfortunate worms who didn't quite make it back into a nearby dirt-covered area before the midday sun baked them into something that looks like this:

Source:  http://southfloridadaily.com/
In the worst cases,  the poor critters are frozen in time, reaching upward as though begging G-d Himself to help them find shelter as their body dehydrates and dies millimeter by millimeter. I imagine that experience is excruciatingly painful, but I am thankful that the worms don't possess a higher sentience that allows them to dwell on their misery in some philosophical/ existential fashion as they progressively exit their mortal existence.

So what's with all this worm musing?

Sometimes we see people we know struggling with a difficulty in life. Trying to make it from point A to point B, but for whatever reason they can't quite make it, and may very well fail in their attempt. It could be that they don't possess all the faculties or resources to be able to accomplish the goal for which they have the desire. 

As much as we are taught to believe that G-d does not give us challenges that we cannot overcome, I do not think that this means we, as individuals, must approach these obstacles alone. The very fact that you witness someone struggling means that you had the opportunity to see them in their state of need means that you are now connected with their travail, however minor your observance of their toil might be. 

Whether it's someone struggling in Torah learning, trying to accept upon themselves the observance or improved observance of a particular mitzvah, difficulty dating, conflicts with friends, teachers, or parents, or just about anything else out there - it would behoove us to think about how we can help the person achieve what they are trying to accomplish. 

Our effort could be as extensive as offering to work closely with the person to facilitate their success, becoming their chevrusa, dating mentor, shoulder to cry on, ear to listen, or as seemingly minor as offering a word of encouragement or pointing them in the right direction, letting them know where they can get help, or telling them you've also struggled with this area and would be glad to lend a hand where possible.

Every time I see an earthworm making its way across the damp morning sidewalk - or especially if it is later in the day and the temperature along with the sun's radiance is increasing - I take a moment to crouch down and move the little guy into a shady grassy/dirt covered area nearby. It's such a minimal effort, but it saves the worm from a terrible death.

We must be cognizant of those around us, especially those close to us, those we hold near and dear in our hearts and minds, and not stand still while they frustrate themselves with something that may be just beyond their reach. Just like that earthworm that was inches away from the grass before it was crispified by the sun, we could reach out and give those people the small little boost of support they need to succeed for themselves. 

May we all look out for one another, in ways both big and small, and create a more unified Jewish people as a result of our efforts.