Tisha B'Av: Guidelines to Geulah

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Tisha B'Av: Guidelines to Geulah

 

 

Manhattan-Henge at 96th and Columbus - May 5th, 2011
© Drew Kopf 2011

 

Tisha B'Av: Guidelines to Geulah

by

Drew Kopf

 

Updated on May 7, 2012 and based on a presentation originally given by the author from the pulpit of the Plainview Jewish Center on Shabbat Nachamu August 12, 2000

Jews throughout the world observe the Ninth day of the Hebrew Month of Av, Tisha B’Av, as an annual Day of Mourning.  It is a Day of Tears and Regret when the Jewish national tragedies of the destruction of the Holy Temples and other catastrophes are remembered and actively mourned.

In an earlier look at this interesting and special day, we presented an outline of the history of Tisha B’Av in light of Geulah, Redemption, in which we were able to see a clear indication that the goal of Geulah is not merely being in the Land of Israel but rather, remaining in the Land of Israel.  The lesson we learned from all the times that the Jewish People had been expelled from the Land was that those expulsions came about from their not having been collectively involved in Yahadus, Judaism; that is in the doing of Judaism; i.e. living by its precepts; in today’s parlance: “Walking the Walk”.

We learned further how Tisha B’Av enables us to review the part that each of us individually is playing in our own generation’s contribution towards regaining the ground lost by having drifted away from being Hashem’s people in deed and not merely through words.

In another subsequent focus on Tisha B’Av we expanded on this theme by proposing that the seven weeks from Shabbat Nachamu through to the Yamim Norahim, the High Holy Days, can be what we termed, a “Spiritual Trip-tik”. We deduced that this extended period could provide us with the necessary time to get our “spiritual ducks in a row.” We can do this, first, by stripping ourselves down to our emotional core during the mourning period in the weeks just prior to and during Tisha B’Av, and, then, by use of the period of comforting, beginning with Shabbat Nachamu, we can make the necessary alterations in our own individual ways of living in order to be ready for the highly charged final ten Days of Awe from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.

We listed things we could do for ourselves: quit smoking, read a book or two, loose some weight.  And, we reasoned that after really working at our own individual “make-over” for seven weeks, we would each be ready to stand before G-d and to ask, from a position of strength, for another year of life.

Now, as a further step along the way to gaining a personal appreciation of Tisha B’Av, we would like us to advance the notion that this entire period, beginning with Tisha B’Av and the weeks just before it, followed by the seven weeks of comfort leading to the High Holy Days, and the High Holy Days themselves, provides us with a kind of “decompression chamber” or, better still, a kind of “spiritual pit stop” in the, hopefully, long-distance marathon event we call life. As we become more-and-more in need of spiritual refueling, we can decelerate, in a sense, during the Tisha B’Av period and then coast into the pit during the seven weeks of comfort with the knowledge and faith that our spiritual gas tanks will be refilled by Hashem, that we will be rejuvenated, (such a great word for Jews when we think about it), so we can come out of the pit with confidence and energy to continue our ride through in the race of our life.

Hashem must have realized how difficult it is for us, as mere humans, to stay on track with all the many distractions and deterrents waiting to knock or lure us off our course. It is with that in mind, one would imagine, that Hashem equipped us with a means, or a kind of guidance device, to help us steer through the greater part of the year and to keep our goal of Geulah, Redemption, to Live in the Land of Israel, shinning brightly before our eyes. That guidance device we believe is the “Shema”.

The “Shema Yisrael” with its three paragraphs and the “Shimoneh Esray”, the Silent Devotion, are the crux of our morning and evening services. The “Shema” deals with the “Oneness” of Hashem (G-d) and our undivided loyalty to Him. In the “Shimoneh Esray” we pray to Him. For now, however, allow us to focus on the “Shema” by itself.

We are told by our Rabbis to recite the “Shema” in a very particular way.  While saying the first sentence, we are to cover our eyes so as not to be distracted.   If we are distracted, or if we do not have in our mind just prior to reciting the “Shema” that we are doing in order to fulfill the Mitzvah to do so, we must stop and repeat it with the proper “Cavanah”, i.e. concentration or intent.

The race of life that we run is won by each of us merely by the running of it. We don’t so much beat anyone else, but, rather, we stay the course for the sheer enjoyment of making the most of ourselves by what we do in Hashem’s great plan for Creation.

The twice-daily recitation of the “Shema” (exclusive of the “Shema al ha meta” which is the recitation of the “Shema” we say just before retiring to sleep) gives us a chance to review Hashem’s “rules of the game” and, at the same time, to visualize how well we are running our own race on a moment-by-moment basis, relatively speaking. 

Jean Claud Keeley, the famous Olympic Skier, was known to stand for hours at the foot of the mountain he would be racing on the next day with his gaze slowly tracing what he supposed the course might be or could be. They never announced the actual course or let the participants run the course until the time of their own run during the competition.  From the Starting Gate to the probable first turn, to the logical next gate, and then, gate-by-gate progressively down, down, down the course, he would picture himself aggressively approaching each turn, and precisely positioning his skis and his body to pass each flag perfectly.  He would see himself with energy and determination; with enthusiasm and intent; until he sped past the Finish Line to win the race!  And, then he would start at the top and review it again and again until the image of how he would perform on that hill was part of him. So, on the day of the race, it was like “old home week” for him as if he had really been there before.

In our race, in our lives, the days go by with such tremendous speed.  It seems like yesterday in some ways, that it was our own Bar Mitzvah on Shabbat Nachamu. Kids grow up; it seems, in the blink of an eye. “Time flies when you’re having fun.”

But, are we running the race we want to run or are we letting the many distractions in life wreck havoc with our goals and objectives? Can we spare a meaningful few moments to rejuvenate ourselves as Jews? 

When we recall our days as a student at Yeshiva University High School and Yeshiva College and how the young men who “davined for the amud”, i.e. who lead the prayers, after finishing the recitation of the “Shema” would wait patiently for each of us in the “Beis Hamedrash” (the all-in-one study hall and sanctuary) to complete our individual recitations of it. Invariably, it was a Rabbi, one of the teachers or school administrators, who had chosen, perhaps out of convenience, to davin, with our minyan (quorum of ten or more men above the age of Bar Mitzvah) who seemed to take forever to complete the “Shema”. Finally, when he would reach the end of his recitation of the “Shema,” and, as he did, we could hear his whispering of the last several words: “I am Hashem (the Lord), Your G-d”. And, then the “sheleach tzeboor” the leader of the prayers for that morning or evening service would continue on towards the “Shemoneh Esray”, the silent devotion.

There may be something there for us in the way those rabbis and teachers or administrators took so long to say the “Shema”. Perhaps we can take a cue from that way of saying the “Shema” where sufficient time was taken to read and recite the “Shema” with the full intention of observing the mitzvah of doing so and with the resulting benefit of allowing oneself to focus on one’s spiritual self betterment “Shema”-by-“Shema;” day-by-day; year-by-year for a life deserving of the pleasures of Geulah, Redemption; of being permitted to live in the Land of Israel as the Covenant with our forefathers had intended for us to do.

The second paragraph of the “Shema” seems to spell out the rules of the game in precise and graphic detail.  There is no mincing of words. It is clear. And, yet we are required to repeat it two times a day; “when we lie down and when we rise up”. There must be a reason. For us to rush or hurry through it may mean that we will miss the very point of saying it at all.

It is our prayer that each of us may come to consider the “Shema” and its three paragraphs with as much care as we need each time we pray so we may allow them to serve as the spiritual guide we all seek and need on our individual and our communal road to Geulah; Redemption.

 

 

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