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Thought for the Day: Learning on Tisha b'Av

One of the coolest things about the Chicago vasikin minyan is getting to hear two halachos from the Mishna Brura before or after (depending on time of year) davening from R' Dovid Cohen.  You may be thinking, "What's so cool about that?  I can read the Mishna Brura myself."  That, dear friend, is like saying, "Why should I go to a Yitchak Perlman concert?  I can get the same sheet music and hum it to myself."  More than that, you will get extras, such as quotes from Rebitzin Isserles, which are available exclusively at our vasikin minyan.

What prompted this particular exposition was finally hearing an accurate statement about learning on Tisha b'Av.  The oft quoted misstatement is that one is not allowed to learn on Tisha b'Av.  That is more than misleading; it is patently false.  One is always obligated to learn, just as one is always obligated to breath -- the Torah says "v'chai bahem", you shall live by them [divrei Torah].  So what is the halacha?  One is restricted in what is allowed to be learned on Tisha b'Av; not forbidden, just restricted.  The reason is that divrei torah enliven and infuse joy into your life.  (It should be a mussar haskel that just restricting what one can learn already removes some of that joy.)

Almost every aspect of learning has a permissible venue.  Torah: we have a torah reading; Navi: Yermiyahu (except any verses of consolation); K'suvim: Eicha (don't worry... there are no verses of consolation) and Iyov.  Halacha: hilchos tisha b'Av and aveilus; Medrash: the medrashim on Eicha; Gemara: Gitten 56a-58b concerning the causes of churban Beis haMikdash -- May it be rebuilt soon and in our time.  Of course, you can't learn b'iyun (in depth), but there is plenty to keep you occupied.

One thing is missing from the list: mussar.  I asked once (I think it was the first Tisha b'Av I observed) if I could learn M'silas Yesharim.  I was told: no, because he quotes too many sources from Chazal.  Seems strange that on this day of any I should not be allowed to learn mussar.  On second thought, though, its not so strange at all.  Learning mussar is to encourage you to be careful about making mistakes and the importance of fulfilling mitzvos.  We start with the Three Weeks, which ramps up to the Nine Days, then the week during which Tisha b'Av falls.  If a day of fasting, sitting on the ground, reading kinos, and all the other Tisha b'Av observances that come after so much preparation does not make you feel the pain of sinning (especially bein adam l'chaveiro) and doesn't encourage you to be more careful in your mitzvah observance... reading a book will?!?

Tisha b'Av is a mo'ed -- an appointment with the Creator of the World.  It's not so comfortable, but it is comforting that He still believes in us and wants to spend time with us even when things are not so good between us.  Use Tisha b'Av to feel that pain, and we'll turn Tisha b'Av into a celebration of rebuilding the Bais HaMikdash and renewing our relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

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