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Thought for the Day: Preparation for Tisha b'Av -- Improve Interpersonal Relationships Now

I had a rough time at the end of the day on Tisha b'Av this year.  In fact, I had to end my fast early (based on p'sak from a rav, of course).  When my granddaughter saw me eating and heard that the rav has told me I needed to eat, her comment was, "Oh.  Yes, I have heard that old people have trouble fasting."

Me?!  Old?!  Yes... me; old.  I didn't prepare any differently this year than previous years.  That was a mistake, because there is a big difference between this year and previous years; namely, the intervening years.  My first "take away" is that I need to start now preparing for Yom Kippur.  Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

My second take away is that I should really start now preparing for next Tisha b'Av.  As noted, the current observance of the Tisha b'Av season is lamenting our deficiency in our interpersonal relationships.  But we also know that the messiah is born (that is, the ultimate redemption begins) on Tisha b'Av and eventually -- may it be soon and in our lifetime -- we will celebrate on Tisha b'Av.  To that end, we need to work on our interpersonal relationships.  What better time to start than now?  I thought it would be a good idea to review some of the decrees and ordinances that Chazal instituted to improve peace and harmony among Jews, and to promote love of fellow Jews.

First, we don't blow shofar on Rosh HaShana when it falls on Shabbos.  We also do/would not read the megillah when Purim falls on Shabbos.  Same reason for both: so a Jew shouldn't forget himself and carry the shofar/megillah in a public domain to get help blowing/reading it.  Let's ask: how likely is that to happen?  I mean... really?  A Jew is going to forget it's Shabbos?  Pretty unlikely; yet Chazal said better that the entire Jewish community miss out on shofar/megillah than take even the most remote chance that one Jew will forget himself and violate Shabbos.  That's one dimension of loving your fellow Jew.

Stealing is very bad news.  Suppose a robber wants to repent.  His first duty is to return the stolen object.  What if that's hard?  Let's say he stole a beam of wood and has built it into his house.  To return that beam, he would have to dismantle at least part of his home.  Chazal therefore decreed that he can return its value.  Here's another: suppose the robber stole a car and then installed a stereo system.  Now he wants to repent, the victim will have to pay him for the improvements made to his vehicle.  We spend money on mitzvos all the time; this is just another expenditure on a mitzvah: The mitzvah of helping another Jew return to the Torah and repair past indiscretions.

Wasting time is very bad; wasting someone else's time is even worse.  When called for an aliyah to the Torah, we make the first bracha with the sefer Torah open.  Why?  Because if we close it, then the reader will have to take some time to find the place again.  How long does that take?  Just a few seconds (or less).  None the less, you should be so cognizant of another Jew's time that you are careful even on that.

Kohanim don't wear shoes when they duchan.  Why not?  He might notice the laces are untied and stoop to tie it while the other kohanim are going up to duchan and end up missing the whole thing.  Someone seeing that might have a fleeting suspicion -- until he sees the kohein just tying his show -- that the kohein is actually the son of a divorced woman and hence unfit to serve as a kohein.  How likely is that?  And it's only for a few seconds (or less).  Nonetheless, the imperative to judge your fellow Jew favorably is so important that Chazal wanted to remove even that most remote chance of even a fleeting suspicion.

When learning about these decrees, the natural (ok, my natural) tendency is to roll my eyes and think, "Come on... how likely is that?"  The work of preparing to celebrate Tisha b'Av is to instead reflect, "Whoa... how likely is that?!?  I hadn't realized how important it was to help/judge favorably/be careful with the time of/... my fellow Jew!"

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