July 23, 2024
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July 23, 2024
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Silent Contemplation

This week marked the 16th anniversary of the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001. A few years ago, on September 11, I was teaching my fifth-grade class at Ashar and was reminiscing about that fateful and tragic day. As I was talking to them, it suddenly dawned on me that the boys sitting in front of me hadn’t been born before September 2001. When I shared that thought with the class, one boy called out without thinking, “I was pregnant at the time.” When the boy behind him said that he would have liked to have seen that, the first boy replied, “Oh, you know what I meant.”

One of the things that stick out in my mind from the days and weeks after the attacks was that everyone and everything was consumed and completely focused on what had occurred. Not only was it a front-page story for quite some time, but even issues of business and sports magazines spoke about the events. The front page of a noted sports magazine had a quote on its front cover: “The day that sports stood still,” with a picture of an American flag draped over empty stadium seats.

The events forced the nation to consider and reflect upon its own values and ideals. The freedoms that were taken for granted were suddenly appreciated again. In the face of heinous evil, the value of human life, unity, self-sacrifice and compassion took center stage. Political barriers were cast aside as everyone viewed themselves simply as Americans, proud of their identity, who would not cower in the face of evil.

The shocking events compelled the entire country to step back from all of its bustling busyness and self-consumed, materialistic lives. In the quiet of the shock of what happened, Americans rediscovered latent patriotism and love for what their country stood for.

On Tisha B’Av morning, as we sit on the floor to recite the painful words of kinos, we commence with a quote from Megillas Eicha; in fact a single word: “Shovas—everything came to a standstill!”

When the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Beis Hamikdash occurred, the bustle of life and vibrancy in the spiritual capital came to an abrupt halt. Each year, on Tisha B’Av, we step back from the busyness of our lives to reflect upon the national tragedies that have occurred throughout the millennia.

On Shabbos morning, following Krias HaTorah, we read the haftorah, a passage from the Nevi’im. For most of the year, the passage reflects and parallels at least one section of the parsha. However, for a period of about three months, the focus of the haftorah is not primarily based on the parsha (though there are always subtle connections), but on the events commemorated during that period of the year. During the Shabbosos of the Three Weeks of mourning between Shiva Asar B’Tamuz and Tisha B’Av, we read three ‘haftoros of punishment,’ in which the prophets forewarned the nation of the impending doom that was imminent if they didn’t repent. The following seven weeks—from Tisha B’Av until the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah—we read shiva d’nichemta, seven emotionally stirring haftaros of consolation from Yeshaya HaNavi.

This demonstrates that there is an inextricable connection between the painful days of mourning and the days of repentance. Although by now, Tisha B’Av may seem like it faded into the limelight, it actually continues in a sense throughout the month of Elul. As we are readying ourselves for the great days of judgment, God is still consoling and comforting us for the destruction we recently mourned.

This week, Hillary Clinton published a new book, titled “What Happened?” about her failed bid for the presidency last year. Her shocking loss was a deeply humbling experience for her. The dress she had planned to wear to her first meeting as president she wore when she delivered her concession speech to Donald Trump.

Clinton described how, after losing the election, she took long walks in the woods near her home and reflected upon what went wrong. In her book, she takes responsibility for the loss and for deeply upsetting her supporters, and discusses the mistakes she made.

The truth is that not only should such a book be written from the vantage point of the loser, but the victor, too, should reflect upon “What Happened” so that he can capitalize on what went right.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that we become more reflective and introspective in the shadow of tragedy and loss. When things are going well, we have a much harder time stepping back to analyze and contemplate the reason for our success.

Perhaps that is part of why the weeks of consolation stretch through Elul. Those feelings of contrition and humility that welled up within us during the reflective moments of Tisha B’Av need to guide us into our quest for spiritual growth and repentance.

We would be wise to not only ask ourselves “What Happened” in regard to our failures and mishaps, but also regarding our successes and triumphs.

As 5777 comes to its conclusion, we hope we can learn its lessons—for good and for better—as we anticipate great accomplishments and events during 5778.

By Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW

 Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead as well as a rebbe and the guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, New Jersey, and principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. Rabbi Staum is also a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He also presents parenting classes based on the acclaimed Love and Logic methods. His email address is: [email protected]. His website is: www.stamtorah.info.



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