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Thought for the Day: Why Aveilus on Tisha b'Av? Fixing Our Relationship with HaShem by Fixing Our Relationship with Fellow Jews

I did not ride my bike to work today.  It is erev Tisha b'Av, 5777; though it is certainly permissible during the nine days to shower enough to not offend my coworkers, I felt that on erev Tisha b'Av itself there was no reason to bring myself to a situation of relying on a leniency that was easy to avoid.  I did, though, ride many of the nine days and certainly several days during the three weeks.  Since the whole period is one of increased danger, I listened to fewer shiurim than usual in order to pay more attention to the traffic.  Having that extra time (even with heightened vigilance, my mind had a chance to wander here and there), I was struck by two questions on the way we conduct ourselves during the three weeks, nine days, and week during which Tisha b'Av falls.

The Orach Chaim section of Shulchan Aruch is the section on laws of daily living.  The organization is basically chronological by most frequent.  You will therefore first find laws of waking, getting dressed, donning tzitzis and t'fillin, morning prayers, etc.  After finishing the day, we move to brachos -- a man has to eat, afer all!  From there Shabbos (happens weekly), then to Pesach (which happens annually).  From Pesach we move to the halachos of Yom Tov in general, then to chol ha'mo'ed.  Chol ha'mo'ed has restrictions on (among other things) aveilus.  From aveilus we get to Tisha b'Av.

Essentially, we see, the laws around Tisha b'Av are founded on the laws of aveilus.  Let us consider: What puts a person into aveilus?  Answer: a death.  That is, aveilus is the reaction to an experience that signifies an end with finality.  Until the person has actually died we don't even talk about aveilus.  Till the last second we are davening and taking any medical actions that have even a remote chance of being successful.  We only enter into aveilus once all hope is gone and the final breath has left.  Is that what Tisha b'Av is about?  The final, irrevocable death of our hope to reconnect with our Creator?  We speak constantly about our hope for and belief in the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash (may it be soon and in our lifetime!); why, then, is aveilus the way we express that hope?

Second question.  As Tisha b'Av approaches, we refrain from eating meat and drinking wine.  We can have all sorts of delicacies (except at the final meal) and drink any other kind of intoxicating beverage.  Why not meat and wine?  Because meat and wine are associated with the offering (sacrificial rites, if you prefer) in the Beis HaMikdash.  We don't have that form of worship, so we refrain completely from meat and wine.  It would seem to me that there is nothing more intensely expresses the relationship between man and his Creator than the sacrificial rites.  Yet, we are told that the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash came about because of needless/baseless hatred among Jews.  If the source of the destruction -- and therefore the seeds to its rebuilding -- is a breakdown in the relationship between man and his fellow man, then why do our Tisha b'Av practices express that?

I would like to answer the first with a gemara and the second with a story.  The gemara (Shabbos 30b) relates that a potential convert approached Hillel and asked to be taught the entire Torah while standing on one foot.  Hillel told him, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your friend.  The rest is commentary; go and learn it!"  Rashi gives two explanations.  (1) "Your friend" means HaShem (based on a verse in Proverbs).  (2) "Your friend" really means your fellow Jew, as most of the mitzvos are about interpersonal interactions (stealing, adultery, damages).  How do those go together?  Simple.  Of course Hillel meant our relationship with HaShem is our ultimate and overriding concern.  However, I have no way to feel that.  Every single human with whom I interact, though, has been created as a reflection of HaShem.  Every single interaction with another human is, therefore, and interaction with the Divine.  Of course ultimately I need to correct my relationship with my Creator.  How do I do that?  By working on my interpersonal relationships.

The story concerne the G"ra.  When the G"ra was on his deathbed and so ill that he no longer accepted visitors, he said that he needed to talk with a particular Jew.  He was adamant; please bring that Jew to him.  The G"ra was so weak he could barely move; yet he spared to effort in convincing his caretakers of the urgency of this request.  The request was a surprise to everyone -- including this Jew -- because he was not at all frum; in fact, he had married a shicksa and long since have abandoned any semblance of a Jewish life.  The Jew was brought, and the G"ra thanked him for coming, as he felt he would be leaving this world soon and wanted to say good-bye.  The Jew was puzzled, "But surely there are people closer to the rabbi, to whom he wanted to says his final good-bye's?"  The G"ra responded that he had no need to say good-bye to anyone else, as he would be seeing them all in the next world.  "You, though," explained the dying sage, "I will never see again."

Aveilus is not about lost hope; quite the opposite.  Aveilus is expressing the intensity with which we are missing the person, specifically to keep the love alive and to comfort the one who has left.  He affected our lives, he continues to affect our lives, we will continue to live our lives looking forward expectantly to that day when we can be reunited forever.

We are not now able to experience the service of the Beis HaMikdash and we miss intensely the closeness with our Creator that service brought.  We mourn to comfort ourselves; the Beis HaMikdash affected our lives, it continues to affect our lives, we will continue to live our lives looking forward expectantly to that day when we again have the Beis HaMikdash; this time never again to be destroyed.

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