Friday, July 31, 2015

What is Shabbos Nachamu?

Today is the Tu B'Av. As it falls out in this year's calendar, it is immediately followed by Shabbos Nachamu. Even those who know it by name don't always understand what it is really about.
What is Shabbos Nachamu? A teacher at a post high school Jewish study program for young women related the answer one girl wrote to that question on an entrance exam: "It's the Shabbos when everyone goes to the country." Obviously, this student was a New Yorker.
While some New Yorkers seem to consider it a mitzvah to spend the whole summer in the country, there are those who have jobs or other obligations in their hometowns and cannot get away that long, though they do like to go up to the mountains for weekends, particularly this weekend. The reason this student associated this particular weekend so strongly with going away is that it is the first one after the the 9th of Av. Some people curtail their travels during the 3 Week and 9 Days period, so this would be their first weekend free of such restrictions.
However, the teacher was not pleased with the student's answer because it described what people but did not explain why this Shabbos, like a few others, is distinguished by name. Like the Sabbath described in that posts, this one is named for the Haftorah, which is also drawn from Yeshayahu [The Book of Isaiah]. While last week's reading foretold destruction, this week's reading promises consolation for the suffering of exile. It is signifcant that the ultimate vision of devastation and the ultimate vision of consolation both come from the same source -as Rabbi Akiva indicates in his reaction to the vision of the churban described in A Sabbath of Vision.

Here's some more insight into what this weekend is about. It is is adapted from a piece written by Rabbi Chaim Brown that appeared in his blog:

Nachamu Nachamu Ami… The Midrash tells us that the Jewish people are doubly-consoled (hence the repetition “nachamu nachamu…”) because they sinned doubly and were doubly punished. Why do we say that they sinned doubly? The 600,000 paradigmatic Jewish souls of the people of Israel correspond to the 600,000 letters of a Torah scroll. Just as if one single letter is missing or defective, the entire sefer Torah becomes pasul [invalidated] so too, if one Jew is defective in his observance, the nation as a whole is deficient. Each sin is doubled -- becoming “kiflayim” -- because each sin affects both the soul of the individual who has acted and the the soul of the Jewish nation.

When we are punished, the punishment is not borne singly, for the pain of each Jew has a doubled effect in creating suffering and weakness in the Jewish nation. “Nachamu nachamu AMI”, [Be consoled, be consoled MY NATION]. A single perfect letter is a pasul sefer Torah, for all its hiddur and beauty, is lacking in kedushas sefer Torah – only when the sefer as a whole is complete is that single letter also endowed with kedusha. And only to the extent that we view ourselves not as isolated individuals responsible only for our own religious fate, but as part of the greater nation of Am Yisrael, can we be receptive to the comfort of Nachamu.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

This year's thoughts on Tu B'Av

This year's thoughts on Tu B'Av. In the space of a less than a week -- 6 days to be exact _- we go from the day of deepest mourning to one of the most joyous days of the year. It really is a 180 degree shift. What's interesting is also the emotions that underlie the polar opposites of the 9 of Av and the 15th of the same month. 

On the 9th we mourn the continued state of destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, which reflects the state of a loss that we feel in our relationship with G-d. While the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed for cardinal sins, the second was destroyed and remains so because of sinas chinam, baseless hatred (see suggest that the remedy for that is   ahavas chinam, baseless love.  The more precise term for love that demands nothing in return was already set by Chazal in Pirkei Avoth as ahava she'eyna tluya badavar love that does not depend on anything. 

With that in mind, it's possible to take a new perspective on what the young women say to the men in the vineyards. The first two groups appeal to love on the basis of beauty or family connections. But the last group ask for love without an appeal to anything external at all. That is true love for the essence of the person and not the individual's physical, material, or social assets.  To see the citations and other interpretations I've written, see the links here.

 I've written a number of posts on the accounts of Tu B'Av: The first one which gives the origins of the day with the 6 positive historical events is

I wrote another one the next year, in which I wrote:
This year I've been thinking about further ramification for the Talmud's account in Taanis 31a

The most amazing is that the girls who have the least to offer -- the ones termed outright ugly in the description -- declare that they too have a right to marry. Furthermore, they place the onus of attractions on their husbands-to-be with the assurance that the right jewelery and clothes (as Rashi, I believe, says) would work wonders on their looks.
After seeing some discussions by singles, I have a new angle on what this means. So many people are quick to dump someone after a first date because they were less than impressed by the first impression. What the ugly girls' s argument really consists of is something like this: "So we are not striking beauties but we can grow attractive to you if you invest in the relationship." This truth can apply to traits beyond looks; just substitute whatever striking trait you identify as attractive, ie. sparkling wit, charm, etc. Some people grow on you, but they have to be given the chance, and that takes a willingness to invest the time to allow their positive traits to shine through. And they would prove worthy of the adornments given them.
The daughter of Israel go out and dance in the vineyards. Anyone who lacked a wife went there. . . . Our rabbis learned: The beautiful ones among them would say: "Raise your eyes to beauty, for a wife is only for beauty." The girls who had yichus[well established, reputable families] would say, "Raise your eyes to family, for a wife is only for children." The ugly ones among them would say, "Take what you take for the sake of Heaven, and adorn us in gold jewelry."

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Etiquette and nichum aveilim

I just came across this article with tips on shiva visits: They are definitely useful, especially remembering that the point is not to fill the air with idle chatter but to be there for the avel.  Earlier this year my husband sat shiva,  and among the visitors was one who spoke about the major faux pas people tend to make even when they mean well. So here are my additional notes.

Things not to do:
Don't try to comfort the person by saying "it was their time to go." Rabbi Yaffe said that some people say that even to parents who have lost children. It's not appropriate to make any such statement, nor to point out to parents that they still have surviving children.

Don't start criticizing the avel in any way, shape, or form. That extends to the situation of the niftar or even the setup for the shiva house. My husband's mother has a dog that she kept upstairs most of the time when people were dropping in. One visitor said she was being cruel to the dog, which hurt her feelings quite a bit.

Things to do:

Say it with food seems to be the motto of the members of the tribe. During shiva a lot of food is sent over by well wishers. Much of it is used and very much appreciated. But some really goes to waste. During the shiva, my husband's family threw out whole huge fruit platters that remained untouched after a few days. They happen to not be big on fruit and hardly made a dent in all the fruit sent. Yes, fruit platters are nice, but they don't keep fresh very long. So it's a good thing to check ahead about the family's food preferences and what they have. When in doubt, send something that keeps longer. Another nice thing to do is to find out about what foods they really shouldn't have, like deli meats that are high in salt for people with high blood pressure.

Do call if you can't come. The Kveller article said coming in person is what it's really about. That is true, but sometimes it really is not feasible. I can tell you that my husband who is really not a phone person still appreciated getting calls from people he feels connected with when they couldn't come in person, particularly as he was sitting away from his own home and was most often surrounded by people he didn't know.