Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tisha B'Av Ebbs Away

I feel strongly that poetry plays a major part in Tisha B'Av. We say well over 40 poems on this day. In our time many gatherings feature an explanation of the kinot. And yet the way the kinot are approached sometimes brings to mind Billy Collins' insightful poem about people who decode poems but don't appreciate them.

It's 8:14 PM and I'm watching the Chafetz Chaim Heritage Foundation video. I wrote the above earlier today and hoped to elaborate. For now I am taking in the video, and thinking, thinking, thinking. The topic of the videos is emunah.

Rav Matisyayu Solomon cites the Brisker Rav who asked why is it only in the Ani Maamin about moshiach that we tweak it with an af al pi, as though responding to a question. There could have been such a response, such an even though, regarding faith in G-d or any other of the 13 declarations. The Brisker Rav explains that this is not a response to a doubt but a continuation of the declaration. The first fulfilment of this statement is that we believe, the second is that there's an application of this - that it applies every second.

Someone came to a man and said that he dreamt that that person would one day wake up having become very rich and full of energy. The latter person would be excited every night. If he wasn't excited it would be because he - somehow - didn't realize how good those things he was promised are. If we don't excitedly await mashiach we don't know what to expect.

The era of mashiach will be a time of complete acceptance of G-d, a time of clear knowledge, a time of pride in belonging to G-d. If we really got this, we'd long for it. In Kedusha we say, "Ki mechakim anachnu lach." The Chafetz Chaim says we need to ask if we really mean this. It's like someone impatiently awaiting a cab for a flight and it's getting late. However, the person hasn't packed. So is he really set to go? Are we waiting in a way that includes the reality of being prepared?

Chabakuk set one mitzvah as the main headline: Tzadik Be'Emunato Yichyeh. You can't have emunah without understanding what you are believing in. We need to develop our sense of priorities. The Chafetz Chaim mentions mashiach in each of his sefarim, as a consequence of self improvement in Torah. There are many other sefarim available that discuss mashiach, including a sefer called U'va LeTzion Goel.

It's now 8:30 and there's a commercial for the Ani Maamin Foundation on the video between speakers. Now there's another commercial for the book Yearning With Fire. Soon the next speaker, Rav Fischel Schachter will begin. The words that follow this paragraph will be the beginning of my notes on his talk. Meanwhile print ads and dedications are scrolling down the screen as a capella music plays. I am not feeling particularly hungry, more afraid of what's on the other side of food.

A man was davening on Yom Kippur, someone tapped him and told him that he was called to service for war - the Yom Kippur War. Before he goes his five year old son asks when he's going to come home. The father hugs his boy with great emotion in a way he had never reached before. Often, only at a time of great risk do we reach high emotion. On a day like Tisha B'Av we can reach this kind of emotion and ask our Father when he's coming Home. What bridges the gap between pain and hope? Emunah - that realization that you and I are never alone. This is easier to speak about than to live. On Tisha B'Av we can reach a high level of faith.
A doctor told an ill woman to give up about having a child. She was a survivor, had survived many stages of difficulty in the Holocaust and in life after. She was so shook up by the words of the doctor she just stayed on the bus she was to take home and rode it back and forth and back and forth. Finally the driver told her that she had to get off the bus. She took this as a metaphor, got off the bus and committed to move forward. A year and a half later she had a child. Rabbi Fischel Schachter knows that story because that woman was his mother and he was the child she had. We all need to commit to do our best and trust in G-d, on Tisha B'Av in particular - when faced with darkness.
A way to hold on to our faith is to sit still and say Shmah. The halachah is to stand still, but the deeper meaning is to stop worrying and accept G-d. In it we accept that rachamim and din combine in G-d's attitude to us.
In Shul one time a man named Shmuel told R. Schachter about his death march. He refused to stop marching on because he felt life was a gift. One night, in hiding he wanted to say Shmah, but it smelled in the barracks. He walked out to pray. The Kapos mocked him. He felt despair approach, but then remembered that for the moment he was alive and could and should say Shmah with all his might. He felt victorious against their mockery. He went back inside and heard shots. It turns out that the Kapos were shot by the SS before they fled, fearing that the Kapos knew secrets. For sixty years he remembered that story any time he felt tempted to give up.
Brachot are another way to strengthen our faith. Ben Ish Chai says the point of brachot is to put fear of G-d in our hearts. Unlike angels when we praise G-d we change the world, says the Meshech Chochmah.
A man in Mei'ah She'arim had a sick daughter. He traveled to Tel Aviv to try to meet with a visiting doctor, as a last minute attempt. He rushed, but missed the doctor by a second. He drank water and said a shehakol, and realized that Hashem is available all the time, can't be missed. He felt strengthened. Weeks later he was told that his daughter was on the mend and he believed that the shehakol, in that time and place in his life, is what did it.

Darkness is an opportunity to bridge a day of mourning with the birth of Moshiach.


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