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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Devarim/Tisha B'av

Parshat Devarim/Tisha B'av

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Tisha B'av Edition 
9th of Av, 5779 | August 10, 2019

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Asher Sinclair 
Not Abandoned

In the early hours of Thursday, July 23, 1942, a train transport of deportees left Poland, consisting of 6,500 Jews. The train was made up of sixty closed cattle cars packed with Jews from the Warsaw ghetto. The train doors were locked from the outside and the air apertures were barred with barbed wire.

July 23, 1942 was the day that the murders started in Treblinka. July 23, 1942 was the 9th of Av, Tisha B’av.

The ninth of Av has been a day of tragedy for the Jewish people ever since the Exodus from Egypt and the Sin of the Spies in the desert.

In Auschwitz, there was of all things a chapel. The chapel had a priest whose job it was to administer services to the camp’s staff. Day after day after day he watched as train after train after train disgorged its desperate human cargo. Day after day after day his eyes lifted to the smoke wafting from the ovens through the ominous clouds that hovered above a living purgatory on earth. That smoke was all that was left of millions of lives, millions of mothers and fathers who would hug and kiss their children, and millions of pairs of bewildered, frightened eyes staring lifeless into eternity.

Day… after day… after day…

One day, the priest entered into his chapel and walked straight up to the cross. He picked up the cross and slowly, with his bare hands, broke it apart piece by piece. He smashed the cross into nothingness, saying over and over again, “This is the people of G-d! This is the people of G-d!”

We usually think of a miracle as a cripple throwing away his wheelchair, or a blind boy suddenly claiming he can see. But there are other kinds of miracles.

R’ Yochanan ben Zakkai lived during the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. There was unimaginable hunger in the Land of Israel. One day, he came across a young girl picking out undigested barley from amongst the dung of an animal. It was the only food she could find. This girl was the daughter of Nakdimon ben Gurion, one of the richest men of the world. R’ Yochanan started to cry, tearfully exclaiming, “How happy are you, the Jewish people, when you do the will of G-d, for then, no nation can rule over you; and when you forsake G-d’s will, you are delivered into the hands of the lowliest nation, but not even into their hands, but into the hands of their animals.”

That the Jewish people should be happy that no nation rules over them is self-evident, but why should we be happy sifting dung to survive?

When natural disaster strikes, the likes of an earthquake, a flood, or a collapsing building without reason, it means that G-d is punishing us without revealing Himself. He has used the natural world as His agent, which means that He does not want direct involvement with us. He has distanced Himself from us.

But when something happens that is so totally unnatural, something miraculous, then even though the punishment is terrible beyond words – sifting through the dung of our enemies to find a few measly remnants of nourishment – nevertheless, we recognize that our punishment is coming directly from Hashem and not through the hands of an agent. Even in that terrible time we know that we have not been abandoned by our Father in Heaven.

Rabbi Yaakov Rahimi 
Preparing for Eternity

As the ruler of Egypt, Pharaoh dreamed that a major famine would soon overtake his land and leave his nation harshly compromised. Realizing that action must be taken now to thwart the future cataclysmic potentialities, he sought to devise a plan that would be preemptive. In arranging for such a plan, Pharaoh looked for an administrator to oversee this project. Yet he was not just looking for any organizer. He was looking for someone who was “chacham v’navon,” literally “wise and discerning.” Navon refers to someone who can analytically delve deeply into something and arrive at a conclusion while taking into account multivariate factors. Yosef HaTzaddik fit this bill, as the Torah goes on to tell us.

But why did Pharaoh need someone so sophisticated and keenly perceptive? Why could he not do just as well with a mere organizer who would plot out how to store food for several years?

Rav Moshe Shternbuch shlita (Sefer Taam V’Daas) explains that Pharaoh could not have delegated such a position to any person. This was not because of the enormity of the time or effort needed or even the smartness required for the job. It was because all the while that plans for the eventual famine would be made, there would be a multitude of plenty in the Land of Egypt.

The challenge was to find someone who could tactfully deal with the realities of a future famine at a time of current abundance and prosperity. Possessing that ability to remain focused on the future of deprivation when the present moment manifested itself to the exact opposite – i.e. abundance – would take a special person. Generally, people live with short-sighted vision and deal with what is in front of them. To act with as much gusto and insight as if the future was unfolding in front of your eyes right now is no simple task.

This is one of the traits that Yosef HaTzaddik bequeathed into the Jewish soul and conscious: to think ahead, plan for the future and make wise decisions now when we are pulled in the opposite direction.

There are many opportunities we have on a daily basis, from moment to moment, to learn Torah, perform mitzvos and carry out good deeds which all earn us reward for eternity.

Nonetheless, given that the reward is not instant, and we live in a result-oriented world where we expect to see everything before our eyes, it is particularly difficult to store away merits for Olam Haba. Yet, once we leave this world and enter the World to Come, whatever we have done will enter alongside us. And that is it. Nothing more can be added. What we have prepared and stored away in this world will accompany us and that is it. To live with this mentality today in our very physical world and existence is akin to the challenge Pharaoh and Yosef faced in Egypt. Just as they were faced with the need to store up food at a time of plenty for a time of famine, so too, we must do what we can now and prepare for eternity.

In this vein, our Sages say, “Anyone who prepares on Erev Shabbat (Friday) will eat on Shabbat.” We must prepare in this world, and accrue merit, to have something remain with us for eternity in Olam Habah. Yosef HaTzaddik lived with this attitude, and that is what propelled him to be so successfully prodigious in his efforts. We are to follow his example and do the same.

Rabbi Daniel Coren 
Taking Comfort With You

Amid the words of Kaddish, we describe Hashem as being “above all blessing, exaltations, praises and comforts.” When taken note of, it is quite strange to consider that we ascribe Hashem to being above all “comfort.” What comfort would Hashem ever need?

The Machzor Vitry, authored by the students of Rashi, explains that it indeed refers to Hashem. In further elaborating this, I once heard a fascinating insight.

The main theme of Kaddish is the revelation of G-d’s presence, which was most acutely sensed when the Beis Hamikdash stood. Why though is Kaddish so predominantly associated with the passing of a person? Why is it recited when someone passes away?

The answer is that when a person leaves this world, a void remains. A soul, which was used as a vehicle to manifest G-dliness in this world, is no longer present on earth and there is a palpable emptiness. That soul is no longer capable of bringing G-d into this world by itself directly.

The Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 3:14) states, “Beloved is a person for he was created in the image of G-d.” The commentaries explain that the underlying intent of this Mishnah is that we are created in the image of G-d, insofar as we do the same as Hashem in creating and manifesting G-dliness. We too are vehicles to express spirituality and holiness into the world. We share that same image that G-d does.

When a person passes away, that void which is left is experienced not only by people in this world, but by Hashem too. G-d must be comforted for the loss of this soul being able to express G-dliness into the world.

After the war years, Rav Yisroel Zev Gustman zt”l used to deliver a weekly shiur (Torah class) to his yeshiva. Attending this shiur was a cross-section of all sorts of Jews, from scholarly to laymen to university professors. One particular Professor Ulman used to regularly attend Rav Gustman’s shiur, and over the years developed a close connection with him.

In 1982, during the war in Lebanon, many Jews were injured, including Professor Ulman’s son who was killed. Rav Gustman attended the levaya, after which he went to visit Professor Ulman at his home. Professor Ulman appreciated Rav Gustman’s presence, but insisted that he return to the yeshiva.

“I want to tell you something,” Rav Gustman said. “I had a child, Meir, who was killed by the Nazis in front of my eyes. I needed to barter his shoes for food, which I couldn’t even bring myself to eat. Right now, in heaven, your son who fought for the Jewish people is being greeted by my son. But there is something very special about your son. He is the shaliach tzibur, representative of the community of the Jews. He went out to war on behalf of us all and gave up his life.”

And with that, Rav Gustman got up and took a seat on the floor. “I never fully sat shiva for my son, Meir,” he said, “would I be able to join you?” Rav Gustman went on to be comforted alongside Professor Ulman.

When an individual passes away, family members sit shiva, mourn the loss and seek comfort and consolation. But Hashem sits with the family too, and is comforted alongside them. 
On Tisha B’av, Hashem mourns the loss of His home, the Beis Hamikdash. The question is if we will join Hashem in mourning that loss too. If we choose to do so, both Hashem and us will be comforted together.

Rabbi Mordechai Becher 
How to Be Fulfilled

When will a person experience joy in what they are doing? When you believe that what you are doing is why you are here on this planet. If you believe that your purpose of being is to do a-b-c, and you follow through with that, you will experience deep joy, because you are fulfilling your purpose. This is true as it relates to anything. If a person takes care of their child, and believes that it is their purpose to do so, then there is a flow of joy when experiencing that. With anything we are doing, no matter how mundane it may look, when we believe that it is our purpose in creation, then we will be fulfilled doing that.

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