The War, Tisha B’Av, and a Season for Self Assessment
Since childhood, we have been taught how to behave. We have been trained well in the arena of do’s and don’ts. We have also been taught which emotions are appropriate and which are not. Usually, we know which feelings are appropriate; hope, or trust, or sorrow, or regret. Regarding some people, we should feel love, towards others, compassion. Yet to others, anger or hostility. But in the words of one of New York’s former mayors, “how am I doing” is an easier question regarding our behavior, as opposed to our emotions.
Behavior is discernable, measurable in hours, dollars, words or activities. Feelings are elusive. Feelings reside in our hearts and cannot be observed, touched or quantified. How are feelings measured? Perhaps we are behaving as directed, but failing to internalize our commitments. We act as we should, but does that deem us to be the person whom we should be? Are we defined by what we do, or by what we feel?
The Jewish nation is at war. The residents of Israel are vulnerable to rockets and terror, and once again, young Jews are marching off to battle, confronting the horrors of war. Those of us watching from the distance are challenged with the deepest of challenges – how are we to act, and how are we to feel? Particularly for those of us whose children have avoided the front lines by living outside of Israel, or by choosing the role of full time Israeli Torah students, these are days of reckoning. How are we to act? How are we to feel?
No doubt, we will all try to act properly. We will cry out Tehillim daily, and we will assume more hours of Torah learning. Many of us will donate funds to noble efforts to ease the pain of Israeli soldiers and civilians suffering during these horrid days. We may not be able to emulate the legendary Chofetz Chaim’s refusal to sleep in a bed during World War I, declining the comforts of a bed while young men spent their nights in foxholes. But we will likely defer vacations, or at least moderate our summer frolicking while Jewish children are at war. And so too, I imagine, will our children assume their proper role.
But what of our feelings? Can we judge the authenticity of our our emotions? How are feelings measured?
The great teacher, Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus, Z’l, taught that Tisha B’Av is the unique day in our calendar when we can actually assess where we stand in our relationship with G-d. Rabbi Pinkus noted that when attending a celebration, such as a wedding, it is difficult to ascertain from mere observance the closeness of the relationship of the respective attendees with the bride and groom. All men surround the groom with glee and joy. In the dancing circle of a wedding, barely is there a distinction between the celebrating eyes of the closest of friends and the casual neighbor. All dance in joy.
But a funeral or house of mourning is different. At a funeral, there is a stark distinction between the eyes of the brother and those of the casual acquaintance. The difference is readily apparent. From one, bitter tears flow freely, and sobs of anguish pour forth. While the other’s eyes are merely damp, if at all. The degree of closeness of the relationship between the various attendees and the bereaved are easy to discern.
On joyous dates, such as Purim and Simchas Torah, we all celebrate with G-d. And G-d welcomes our participation. Our laughter and joy, however, are hardly a valid measure of our relationship with G-d since even the casual acquaintance can celebrate with joy. On Tisha B’Av, however, G-d sits on the ground, as it were, mourning the loss of intimacy and closeness in His relationship with the Jewish nation. On Tisha B’Av, there are dramatic differences among Jews in how deeply the mourning of Tisha B’Av is felt. Who of us is in touch with G-d’s pain? Do we feel G-d’s loss? On Tisha B’Av, noted Rabbi Pinkus, we are uniquely afforded the opportunity to assess where we stand in our relationship with G-d.
In these days of tragic war, we are able to assess where we stand in our relationship with the other members of the Jewish people. And perhaps also where we stand in our relationship with G-d, since, after all, G-d is surely in pain over the suffering of His children.
“How are we to act?”
Not without some trepidation, I did my part, or part of my part, yesterday. I put my 13 year old on a plane to Israel and did not cancel his (or our) planned trip, despite rumours of daas torah saying not to come.
My thinking is that if we are not in Israel doing the military thing, the least we can do is the civilian thing, by not piling on to the demoralization by canceling or avoiding going.