May 29, 2024
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It was King Solomon in Kohelet who sagaciously suggested that there is a time to remain silent and a time to speak. Over the centuries, great minds have produced remarkable eulogies as their response to the Churban (literally “destruction,” but serves as a generic way to describe the tragedy of Tisha B’Av). However eloquent and touching, their responses are found to be wanting. How can words provide comfort to a tragedy that defies words? Perhaps, it behooves us to contemplate responding emotionally. As we prepare to mourn an indelible stain in our people’s past, let us consider the following Yiddish terms that put us in touch with our emotions:

Bahkloggen (lament): Although klogg means curse, bahkloggen refers to responding to any curse that has befallen us. Bahkloggen suggests an element of remorse on our part, because we recognize that as a people, we brought the catastrophe upon ourselves — as suggested by the tragic Talmudic tale of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza (Gittin 55b-56a). As much as bahkloggen refers to what the enemy did to us, bahkloggen also refers to what we did to one another.

Bahvaynen (bemoan): One would do well to ponder the difference between bahkloggen and bahvaynen. Bahkloggen is our looking back as we attempt to process that which has befallen us. Bahvaynen, on the other hand, is looking at what we have brought upon ourselves. Bahkloggen is our response to what has taken place; bahvaynen is our response to our current state of misery, as well as all the uncertainties that face us.

Chlippen (whimper): It was the 17th century British Parliamentarian, John Pym, who said that, “Actions speak louder than words.” I believe that it can be said that a chlippen speaks louder than words. The ability to chlippen can be seen as a gift from Hashem that affords us the ability to speak volumes without uttering a word. Human nature is such that we feel those confronting a loss must respond verbally. What happens though when there is nothing to be said? Chlippen says it all.

Krechtz (groan): Our enslaved Egyptian ancestors were the first to krechtz (Exodus 2:24); they were not the last. A krechtz is a response to an outside force. It reflects submission to a situation over which we have no control. Victims of catastrophes who krechtz are unable to grasp that — sooner or later — the sun will once again shine for them. A krechtz is a temporary reaction by those who fail to realize that the anguish which engulfs them is transitory.

Ziftz (sigh): If humming is a natural human response to happiness, then ziftzen is a natural human response to sadness. Unlike the krechtz which is fraught with futility, the ziftz is the recognition that being a Jew demands of us that we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again. It would be wonderful if we were motivated by a surge of optimism, but we Jews do not have the luxury of waiting to be imbued with optimism. Instead, we are governed by a realism that reminds us that we dare not remain in a deplorable state. And so, we ziftz and forge ahead and with Hashem’s help, we rebuild.

The sad and mournful day of Tisha B’Av is soon upon us. Let us continue to read the heart wrenching eulogies that have been handed down to us. But let us also allow moments for bahkloggen, bavaynen and chlippen. And should there be a krechtz and a ziftz on our part, then we will have come that much closer to communicating beyond words, that which is in our hearts.


Rabbi Shawn Zell has recently returned to New Jersey, after serving at a pulpit in Dallas. He possesses certification in teaching Yiddish. Rabbi Zell is the author of three books.

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