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Thought for the Day: Treating Spiritual Illnesses With Physical Suffering

I am one of the better fasters in my home, so I often get the job of keeping the children occupied for some portion of the day.  My go-to is the Museum of Science and Industry.  The downside for me, of course, is that my mind is more on watching the kids (and, frankly, the cool exhibits) than on the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.  Given to whence my unoccupied mind wanders, though, I am probably better off on balance than siting at home whining about my stomach.

On the way home, my six year old granddaughter asked -- out of the blue, pretty much de rigour for her -- if Jews were ever born blind.  I answered that, unfortunately, yes.  She then asked, "Is that a punishment for them?"  I obviously told her that being born blind is not a punishment since they were born that way.  (No, I did not think this was the time nor venue for introducing the topic of gilgulim.)  She wasn't finished, though (also de rigour for her); "But they can't see.  It will be so hard for them."  I started to explain about how every neshama has a job and gets the tools for it needs.  My grandson (hearing the word "tools") piped up with, "So what's my job?"  Mercifully, we got home soon thereafter and I handed them back to their parents.

Tisha b'Av literally means, "The 9th of Av".  We actually fast, though, on the 10th of Av whenever the 9th occurs on Shabbos (which happens about one out of four years, on average).  I can understand "making up a fast", that's standard even for other fasts that have to be pushed off.  But Tisha b'Av is called a מועד/appointed time (not festival; though a festival is also called a מועד).  A מועד comes with side effects; the most notable that we do not say tachanun on the מועד nor even the mincha before.  Also each מועד has its signature features; Rosh HaShannah is shofar, Sukkos is Sukkah, Pesach is Matzah, Shavuos is expanded/all night learning (and cheesecake), and Tisha b'Av is a dearth of learning.

The Torah view is that time is not a straight line, but more of a helix (think "slinky").  We move forward in time, but we keep revisiting the same spiritual influences year after year at the appropriate time -- מועד.  In fast, the s'farim explain that each מועד has it's signature obligations precisely to tap into the particular spiritual energy that is available at that season/מועד.  So how in the world  does moving when I fast move when the spiritual energy of the 9th of Av?  Why don't I say tachanun on Sunday, the 10th of Av and why am I allowed unrestricted learning (at least until noon on Shabbos according to all and even all of Shabbos according to most poskim nowadays) on the 9th just because it is Shabbos?

So here's my thought; and this is really, really my thought, I have no source, just a feeling.  Really we should commemorate the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash on both the 9th and 10th, but we are unable to fast for two days.  That is, whatever treatment my neshama needs each year is accomplished already with one day of fasting.  In fact, we see that when the 9th of Av does not fall on Shabbos, then we need to refrain from meat, wine, haircuts, and whatnot through to noon on the 10th.  Why?  Because the destruction continued into the 10th.  Meaning that they spiritual energy into which I can tap is available both on the 9th and 10th of Av.  It is only my physical limits prevent me from utilizing all that energy.

When Shabbos comes on the 9th of Av; I am not really pushing off the fast to another day, but the spiritual energy of Shabbos prevents my neshama from being able to benefit from fasting.  Once the k'dusha of Shabbos has passed and I have not yet tapped into the energy of the 9th and 10th of Av, I immediately begin fasting.  That is, I always fast one out of those two days; and whatever day I fast carries with it all the other aspects of the מועד of Tisha b'Av -- no tachanun, diminished Torah learning, refraining from washing, wearing leather shoes, and physical intimacy.

When I was undergoing chemotherapy, it was a 12 week program.  I asked the doctor why he couldn't just give me one shot and be done with it.  "Because it would kill you," he replied; not the chemicals themselves, but the amount of tumor that would be destroyed would have left so much dead tissue in my body that the system would have been overwhelmed and failed.

Every year we get another dose of spiritual chemotherapy to cure us of the שנאת חינם/baseless hatred that got us into this mess.  We will be cured, but it takes time.  Time so we can recover and renew ourselves with אהבת חינם to survive and thrive in an era with a renewed Beis HaMikdash; may it be soon and in our lifetime.

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