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Parsha Matos

07/12/2018 10:47:01 PM


Rosh Chodesh Av ushers in the time period referred to as the “nine days,” when the morning period of the “three weeks” intensifies acutely in preparation for the great upcoming day of Tisha B’av.  Out of sensitivity in trying to appreciate the loss of the Beis Hamikdash, the law mandates that one should abstain from regular indulgences and luxuries during this time, which include eating meat, wearing freshly laundered clothing, bathing, and taking trips.  Summed up in one concise statement, the theme of the days is described by the Talmud as “When Av enters one should reduce Simcha.”  As such, an association is formed in our minds to view these days as cheerless, gloomy, and slightly miserable times.  How accurate is this association?

Elusive as could be, simcha and happiness are definitely states of mind that are not easily attained necessarily and are most certainly not contingent upon pleasure and luxury.  As the good old saying goes, “You can’t buy happiness.”  We share the undisputed and obvious mindset that what is convenient, pleasurable, and relaxing is not what gives us feelings of self-worth and happiness.  If the overall point of the nine days is to reduce in simcha, than how is it that the pragmatic application of this idea is manifest only in the domains of pleasure, relaxation, and convenience?  Is it the steak or the shower that make us happy throughout the year?  And even if the answer may sadly be yes to some degree, are the Torah’s laws here pertinent only in such non-idealistic terms?

The nine days are meant to be a phase of growth when we reflect on who we are, what has happened to us, and what could be with a Beis Hamikdash.  These are days of honesty and realization in where we stand and therefore also days of yearning and hoping for an era of rectification and actualization of our true spiritual dreams.  Ironically, it is through this process that these days afford us an opportunity to feel happier than we usually feel.  R’ Hirsch writes in many places that the word “simcha” is so close in sound to the word “tzmicha,” growth, and he explains that there is no truer and better source of happiness than a sense of growth.  He speaks of growth in its bare rudimentary definition, growth that cares less about results and more about process, growth that prefers the impalpable and embraces the challenge.  It is this sense of growth that is so powerfully liberating that it brings great happiness upon those we embark on its journey.  As such, the nine days are a great chance and lesson in internal happiness that is based around tzmicha, the development and progression of a person.

As much as we intellectually perceive that luxury is not tantamount to happiness, the fact that we are encased in worlds of endless ease and convenience make it harder to both implement and appreciate our inner intellectual value.  Marketing and society leave indelible marks in our heads that the gadget, food, or trip will improve life and overall happiness.  The restrictive laws of the nine days are intended to finally give us an opportunity to really feel the inner happiness that these days will afford specifically without the normal external and false senses of happiness.  It is through the elimination of superficial happiness that one can feel the power of the “tzmicha” of the nine days.  We are meant to be battling superficiality here in order to bring out what is typically dormant under layers of peripheral comfort.  We reduce in external simcha to extract the inner simcha underneath.

On Tisha B’av we refrain from greeting another person with the normal welcomes we use the whole year.  If the Temple was destroyed out of baseless hatred, wouldn’t it be more befitting on Tisha B’av to specifically greet everyone even more than we would normally do?  Shouldn’t we find a practice of solidarity more than lonely reflections?  Perhaps the point is for us to realize how superficial we typically are with our greetings.  The last thing you want when you mechanically mutter “What’s going on?” as you pass someone on the street is for them to stop and tell you how their life is.  Whether we realize it or not, we often misuse the amazing power of speech, especially in greetings, and that makes us so superficial in the way we relate to other people.  Tisha B’av comes to challenge superficiality and force us to feel for other people without the usage of cursory and hasty methods.  It is this process that draws the deep and true inner feelings of solidarity- from the depths of the floor, in solitary form, one can feel more than the normal inhibiting restrains of superficiality allow him to feel.   

Mon, November 29 2021 25 Kislev 5782