Monday, September 27, 2021

I have the privilege of teaching a few halachot in between Mincha and Maariv each day, and lately we have been reviewing the laws of the Three Weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av. Most people are familiar with the basic restrictions, but there are some contemporary questions that are fascinating. For example, when does the obligation for the recitation of Shehecheyanu take place? When you buy clothing or when you put it on? Can you order online during the Nine Days if the item arrives after Tisha B’Av? There are many issues that current poskim deal with that were not discussed in prior generations.

We know all about what we cannot do during this period. The “Thou Shalt Nots” seem to overwhelm halachic practices during the Three Weeks. One congregant asked a very profound question. “We know what we cannot do, but what are we supposed to do during this time period?” A very good question. Eicha and kinos provide plenty of food for thought on Tisha B’Av itself, and the sources list appropriate reading for Tisha B’Av. But what should we be doing during the preceding three weeks?

There are two basic rabbinic texts about the destruction of the Temples and Jerusalem, Gittin 57b and Shabbat 119b. Of course there are many other sources, but these speak to what I believe answers this question. The story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza demonstrates that the downfall of Jerusalem and the Temple was due to sinat chinam, petty disagreements and trifling personal animosity that snowballed into the greater conflict. If Jews presented a united front they may have successfully defied the Roman onslaught. Because the Jews were divided among themselves Jerusalem was destroyed.

The lesson is clear. We are divided on so many levels. If we spend this time period building bridges instead of erecting barriers, so much could be accomplished as individuals, as a community and as a nation. Rav Kook famously quipped that just as Jerusalem was destroyed because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred, we have to rebuild it with ahavat chinam, an overabundance of love for all Jews.

The rabbis sought to determine the causes of the destruction and came up with a number of factors. “Jerusalem was destroyed because the inhabitants neglected to recite the Shema in the morning and in the evening.” Aside from the many mitzvot in the first paragraph—belief in and submission to God, mezuzah, etc.—there is the mitzvah of teaching one’s children. Without an educated generation to carry on, disaster is imminent. It can also be understood as a call to attend minyan twice daily.

“Jerusalem was destroyed because its inhabitants did not have shame.” Shame here is understood as self-respect, not engaging in inappropriate activities and indifference to public opinion. This manifests itself when those who are careless about the effect of their actions are blamed not for their human frailty but for their Jewishness. This is exemplified by all those of our brethren sitting in jail while attending Daf Yomi, eating glatt kosher and davening in a minyan. “Jerusalem was destroyed because its inhabitants did not reprove one another.” I have personally witnessed three of these criminals receiving all sorts of blandishments, fawning and kibbudim after their release from prison. We cannot be indifferent to those whose harmful actions inflict injury to us as Jews.

“Jerusalem was destroyed because children were not being educated.” We must do all we can to ensure that every child who desires a Jewish education is able to afford it. Any and all fixes to the problem of costly day-school tuitions must be addressed. We must also strengthen organizations like NCSY and JSU that expose public-school students to the beauty of Judaism.

“Jerusalem was destroyed because inferiors and superiors were deemed equal.” There are many educated laymen. But there are some whose ignorance of Torah is only equaled by their impudence to question rulings of true Torah scholars. This leads to anarchy. In many ways all Jews are equal. That is, all Jews have an equal opportunity to become scholars. The reality is that we have a hierarchy. Those who teach and interpret Jewish law, and those who follow those teachings. We are the chosen people. This distinction comes with a responsibility to respect the Torah that we were chosen to receive. This leads us to the last observation that “Jerusalem was destroyed because its inhabitants denigrated Torah scholars.” To borrow an analogy, in the army one follows orders from a superior officer without necessarily understanding why the order was given. So too with decisions made by Torah scholars. Some may understand a certain psak, some may not, but the obligation to respect the decision and the decision maker is the same. This also applies to showing respect and honoring Torah scholars generically.

If we work on these issues as individuals and as a community during the Three Weeks and during the entire year we may yet see the rebuilding of our Temple, speedily and in our days.

Rabbi Wallace Greene has been offering classes at his shul for many decades.

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