Tuesday, August 16, 2022

I was playing baseball as a kid, covering left field, when the batter hit the ball…hard! I moved in to catch it, but realized I misjudged the ball as it flew way over my head. By the time I reached the ball, the batter was on third base. The ability to judge how far an item is from you, and your relationship to it, is called depth perception. Each of our eyes sees the image slightly differently, and our brain pieces the two images together—causing convergence—to create a 3D image.

It’s an important life lesson: to be able to view a situation from different angles, to give us a more realistic and balanced understanding.

As we start the period of the Nine Days, it’s a time of national mourning for the loss of the Beis Hamikdash. Most of us have a hard time relating to this loss. The halachos of these days do help, but maybe we need to view this period of time from different angles to achieve “convergence.”

I experienced this insight when I spoke to Rabbi Shmuel Tzvi Berkovicz zt”l, whose yahrzeit is Rosh Chodesh Av. During the pandemic lockdown, I wondered what to tell my talmidim regarding a lesson from the pandemic. Surely, Hashem is telling us to do teshuva—to better ourselves. I talked to Rav Berkovicz about it. He said, “Baruch, people are so down, beaten and crushed, that they can’t be beaten anymore. We need to pick them up, lift them up and make them happy.”

Our yeshiva proceeded to broadcast a community shiur by Rabbi Berkovicz, and indeed his first message quoted Rabbi Akiva Eiger, saying a person has to make his house a happy place that dispels any type of sadness or depression. As the pasuk says, “Ivdu es Hashem b’simcha—we must serve Hashem with joy.” He added that people should literally sing in their homes and make it a happy environment.

Rabbi Berkovicz looked at the good in each situation, event and person. You could see his attitude, visibly, in the twinkle of his eye and the slight smile he always had on his lips.

In this light, we can view Rosh Chodesh Av and the period of the Nine Days in a more balanced perspective, beyond the sole aspect of national mourning.

The Gemara quotes Rav Yehudah, son of Rav Shmuel bar Shilas, who said in the name of Rav, “Just like when the days of Av enter, we diminish our simcha, so too when the days of Adar enter, we should increase our simcha.” The simple explanation of this direction is a contrast between Av and Adar—the month of Av is a sad time and the month of Adar is a happy time. However if we analyze the wording of the Gemara it is clear that the month of Av is not a sad time. The Gemara does not say to not have simcha in Av; it just says that we should decrease our simcha.

The name of the month of Av reflects this concept. The word “av” means “father”—someone who has compassion, mercy and love. We turn to Hashem in prayer, and ask in multiple places in davening that our compassionate Father please have mercy on us, like a father to his children.

We need to see these days of Av with a different lens, to appreciate what we had in the Beis Hamikdash and to see what Hashem will restore to us in the future. The pasuk in Eichah says “Eini eini yoredah mayim—my eye, my eye sheds tears.” The emphasis on both eyes, simply understood, is that no matter from what angle I view the loss, it is total. However, Eichah is perhaps emphasizing that we need to view the loss with both eyes in order to get a real depth of perception. The destruction of the Beis Hamikdash was an enormous loss, but it was done out of compassion by Hashem, Who chose to destroy His palace instead of destroying us, the Jewish nation, because of our sins.

The Dinover Rebbe notes that the gematria of the word “ayin” (eye) equals 130, and double that equals 260, which is the same numerical value as “Pinchas Eliyahu” (Pinchus who is believed to be Eliyahu). The proper perception of the meaning of these days has the ability to bring Eliyahu, as the Midrash says, “Tishah B’Av is the birthday of Moshiach.”

The Torah refers to our leaders as Einei HaEidah—the eyes of the people—because they give us the proper perspective. I was fortunate to have a role model like Rabbi Berkovicz, who helped me to see with both eyes, so I could see not only the sadness, but the silver lining as well. That’s balance. That’s convergence. That’s the time period we’re in.

If we focus and exercise our lens of simcha, in our observance of the mitzvos in general and the Nine Days in particular, we can look forward to the transformation of these days of sadness back to total days of happiness, with the rebuilding of the third Beis Hamikdash.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

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