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Thought for the Day: Staying Focused on Tisha b'Ava

In light of recent events, I mentioned to a colleague at work that we are not allowed to pray when a close relative passes away until after the burial.  She expressed surprise, since that seems like a time when a person particularly needs to pray.  I told her that to make a long story short, the person is supposed to be consumed at that time with the pressing needs of the burial.  She smiled and said, "That's what I love about Judaism; it's so practical."

That's good for a goy's understanding, but we need to realize that the Torah is much more than practical; the Torah is guiding us in how to perfect ourselves to live for eternity.  In a sense, when we are most restricted, we can be most confident that we are moving in the right direction.  Besides the personal experience of losing a relative, probably the most restrictive day of our year is Tisha b'Av -- a day of national mourning.  The restrictions are physical, spiritual, and even mental; a truly unique day.  It is the one time of the year that we are actually forbidden to learn most areas of Torah at all.  Those that are permitted are permitted at only the most superficial level.

A question that is discussed among the poskim concerns the nature of this issur.  Is there an obligation of Talmud Torah, but only some areas are permissible; or are we patur from Talmud Torah, but we but there are areas we are allowed to learn if we want to?  It seems to be a machlokes rishonim and R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach concludes that there is no obligation of Talmud Torah that day.  If you want to learn, then there are things you are allowed to learn, as long as you don't get too involved in the learning.

What's with that?  Wouldn't this be exactly the time to learn about the churban, hilchos lashon hara, m'silas y'sharim, etc, etc?  The problem, explains R' Auerbach, is that it is very easy to use the learning as a distraction from the main avoda of the day.  If one is using the learning of those permitted areas of Torah to deepen one's focus on the aveilus of the day, to gain a better appreciation of the awesome magnitude of the loss, how every sorrow -- without exception -- is rooted in this one national sorrow, then one is using the permitted areas of Talmud Torah appropriately.  If not, better to stop learning even those few permitted areas and focus back on the discomfort.

It goes without saying (which always means that this must be said), that if learning Torah is forbidden because of the distraction, of course anything else -- news, etc, -- is all the more so forbidden


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