April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Tisha B’Av: A Springboard for What’s Next

We are coming into a weighty few days in this last run up to Tisha B’Av.

The Chafetz Chaim shares a beautiful insight in his Sefer Shmirat Halashon (Sha’ar Hatevuna, Perek 11) about two children sitting at their father’s table. The father gives a portion to each one. One child takes away the other’s portion, and despite being provoked, the aggrieved child chooses to simply ask for another portion rather than fight with his brother. His father is so pleased, he kisses his child and gives him another, bigger portion. The child’s strategy of not fighting earned him more in the end. This is an idea that many of us parents can appreciate. We, too, want our children to get along. It is a unique kind of unpleasantness that sets in when the reverse transpires. And so we are willing to bend the rules when our children are peaceably coexisting. We will tolerate mess, chaos and late bedtimes when everyone is enjoying each other and getting along. So too, Hashem. The takeaway from this very rich perek is clear: above all, Hashem wishes for His children to get along. We all benefit when we do.

At this time of year, this thought becomes ever more relevant. We desperately yearn for the geula. But what can we do? Our strategy thus far has been to concentrate on performing Torah and mitzvot to be worthy of the redemption, as well as continuing the beautiful migration of Jews to Israel. However, given some of the more concrete elements of the geula, we cannot move forward independently. We can’t build a Beit Hamikdash, and we can’t elect a Mashiach. But we can still make progress in our sense of nationhood. We can work to evolve into a more cohesive body that is ready to be led and ready to embrace the next stage of our history.

One deterrent to national unity is our inability to apply one very simple truth to our understanding of klal Yisrael: that the world is designed with variety. We all readily accept the notion that every unit of Creation has differentiated parts with specific roles to fill, such as a single cell, the human body, ingredients in a recipe, words in a language, elements of the periodic table. This variety works together and is the foundation of every aspect of our existence. However, we often incongruously refuse to generalize this known fact to our view of others. We expect people to be similar to us, and if they differ in any way (fill in the blank) it gives us license to be wary. But the truth is that the different paths of forming a relationship with Hashem are not just meant to be tolerated, they are the very ingredients that are necessary for us to move forward. We each have something to offer, we each add nuance to avodat Hashem, and we each have what to give to each other. It is the embrace of the other and the recognition of the Godliness in the other that can bring us closer to achieving a larger goal. Imagine for a moment that we—the Jewish people—are in a team-building exercise in which all members must traverse an obstacle course. Deriding or shunning teammates is not an effective strategy. We must embrace each other and figure out how to work together to make it through. Only in this way can we build a nation ready to move toward geulah.

Which brings me to the following. We are coming to Tisha B’Av, which is followed by a 49-day period to Rosh Hashana. What if we use a moment each day to consider one relationship that we can develop or improve upon? There are so many relationships we have: with siblings, children, parents, extended family, friends, neighbors, shul mates, spouses, colleagues and even strangers. What if, on each of the coming days, we try to make one small improvement in a different relationship in our lives? We could go out of our way to greet an acquaintance, call or text a friend hello, have an extra iota of patience for a family member, do a random act of kindness for a co-worker, or even daven for someone’s well-being. Hashem knows our thoughts, Hashem acknowledges our efforts. Even if it’s a relationship with someone we don’t know, we could conceptually bring them closer by recognizing our relationship to them as part of klal Yisrael. They are our brothers, sisters and cousins. This personal progress on relationships will generalize outward to the global community. As citizens of the world, we have work to do in building our nation, one individual relationship at a time.

Some of us can even take this a step further. If you have the privilege of being fluent in your understanding of more than one Jewish community—whether because you grew up in a different community, are working with a different group, have married into a different hashkafa, or have a wide range of religious observance among your family members—you are the proud owner of multiple perspectives. If you have been able to bridge your varied experiences in a positive way, then you recognize that Judaism is not a zero-sum situation. You have embraced a multifaceted approach and are able to appreciate that each group has what to offer. If this is you, I hope you share these insights with others, thus performing one aspect of the mitzvah of ahavat Yisrael: speaking well of others.

I have two micro-experiences to share. I had the opportunity to work closely with a woman from Satmar for several months a few years ago. When she asked where I lived, and I told her Teaneck, she said, “I heard that in Teaneck there are tochendige people [people of tochen, substance].” What excited me, aside from the beautiful compliment, was that a chasidishe woman could appreciate value in a community very different from her own. The second happened just a few days ago, when I was sitting in a water park keeping my eye on my son and his friends while writing this piece. Two teenage boys, on separate occasions, initiated a brief conversation with me, asking if I was Jewish. They said they are at a B’nai Brith Jewish camp, having a great time, and that they were Jewish, too. They were looking to connect to the whole. They were proud to be Jewish.

That is the larger reality of it. We are one large, varied family. Many of us want to connect. Many of us can see value in each other. There are a lot of ways to do this. We can direct our thinking, particularly when it comes to our thoughts about other people. We can choose selective attention, noticing only what’s good in others and ignoring the rest. Maybe we will be zoche for Hashem to do the same for us. This is not necessarily easy to execute, but it’s a happier mindset to inhabit. Forty-nine days, so many ways—small thoughts or actions, but genuine movement forward. Let’s use Tisha B’Av as a springboard. Let’s choose a national mindset, embrace that what each has to offer, and in the coming weeks bring Hashem the nachat of His children getting along.

By Grunny Zlotnick


 Grunny Zlotnick is a resident of Teaneck and active in a number of local organizations.

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