Sunday, August 7, 2016
Week 44 (From the Book): To Recognize Our Mistakes and Change
The forty-fourth week of the Jewish calendar is marked by Tisha B'Av. In Perek Shirah, the mouse first thanks the Lord for elevating it, and for rejecting its enemies (Psalm 30:2). However, after it is caught by the cat, the mouse recognizes that G-d has been just and true regarding all that has happened, and that it had acted with iniquity. (Nehemiah 9:33)The song of the mouse is closely related to Shimon and Tisha B'Av. Shimon, both the individual and the tribe, made serious mistakes. For example, Shimon was instrumental in the sale of Joseph, and the Tribe of Shimon, including its prince, openly rebelled against Moses. However, through repentance, Shimon will also be fully redeemed. Furthermore, just as the mouse is caught by the cat due its own iniquities, so too was our Temple destroyed on Tisha B'Av due to our sins. The first step towards redemption is recognizing this fault of ours (it is said that every generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt, it is as if that generation destroyed it).
The letters that comprise the number forty-four, mem and dalet, spell the word dam, blood, as well as mad, from the verb limdod, “to measure.” Historically, Av has been a month in which much blood has been spilled. However, once the Jewish people finally learn their lesson, measure their actions and improve, this will be a month of plenty of light and joy.The same letters also spell the Hebrew word dom, to be silent. This word is often used in praise of how our greatest sages dealt with tragedy. Regarding Aaron, when he discovered that his two eldest sons had died, the Torah states “yehidom Aharon,” Aaron was silent and did not complain. Our Chassidic masters explain that King David’s approach to tragedy even surpassed Aaron. Even after experiencing great suffering, he states, “l’man yezamerchah velo yidom,” I will sing to you and not be silent. There is much to gain from these approaches in learning how to properly observe Tisha B’Av.
The word dom also has a more positive side as well. When pursuing the enemies of the Jewish people, Joshua calls out to the sun, and commands it to be silent, “Dom!” By telling the sun to stop its song to G-d, Joshua causes the sun to literally stand still in its place. This gives the Jewish people enough time to finish pursuing their enemies before the beginning of the Sabbath.In Pirkei Avot this week, the lesson comes from Rabbi Nehora’i, who advises us to exile ourselves to a place of Torah. He also cautions us not to rely on our own understanding, but rather to debate and discuss our ideas with colleagues. Tisha B'Av is generally about exile, but specifically about the exile to a place of Torah: Yavneh. It was through establishing Yavneh and bringing our sages there that Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai was able to ensure the continuation of Judaism long after the Roman Empire had ceased existing.
Furthermore, as noted in Pirkei Avot, the suffering and destruction endured by the Jewish people during this week is indeed very difficult to understand. Therefore, it is extremely appropriate for Rabbi Nehora’i to teach us not to rely on our limited understanding, but rather to remain connected to the rest of our people.The sefirot combination for this week results in gevurah shebemalchut, discipline and judgment within the context of kingship. This week, we work on our strength and determination to achieve goals in this material world, even in the face of many obstacles. Similar to the week of Yom Kippur, gevurah shebechesed, we also fast, although on this day we do not feel like angels – we feel more like the mouse. On Yom Kippur, one of the happiest days of the year, we fast for spiritual reasons. On Tisha B’Av, we fast out of a sense of mourning for the destruction of the Temple.
Tisha B'Av is also closely linked to the sefirah of gevurah since so many tragedies have occurred on this day, including the decree that the Jews would spend 40 years in the wilderness, as well as the destruction of both Temples. However, it is also connected to sefirah malchut, because it is exactly in the wake of such tragedy that Mashiach is born.A lesson in self-improvement we can learn from the mouse is that G-d can raise us up at any given time. To leave a state of sadness, it is important to increase our prayers and direct them to G-d alone. Furthermore, it is important to understand that any fall we may experience, individually or as a people, is an opportunity to begin the process of teshuvah. Nevertheless, we must also keep in mind that judging oneself is only positive if it leads to better behavior, and not sadness. There is a fine line between temporarily feeling broken hearted over our sins, a regret that is positive, and sadness, which should be avoided at all costs. Broken-heartedness should lead to even greater joy, as will be further explained in the following week.
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