By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
These past weeks we have been focused, if not fixated, on the events unfolding hour by hour and at times minute by minute in the Land of Israel. We also are in the saddest period of our history and of the Jewish calendar.
This is the period referred to as the “Nine Days,” beginning with the Hebrew month of Av and culminating in the day of Tisha B’Av, or the Ninth of Av, which begins this year the eve of Monday, Aug. 4 and ends the following night.
This period and especially that day is a time of national mourning for the destruction of both holy Temples in Jerusalem, leading to our first and our present exiles. All the tragedies that have befallen us during our long period of exile trace back to the original calamity of the destruction of the Temples; most directly affecting us is the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE as we are presently enduring the exile subsequent to that destruction.
It is important to note that the present situation in Israel is another sad outcome from that destruction and symptomatic of the widespread anti-Semitism which brought about the Holocaust and other destructions of Jewish communities both before and after that dark period.
As we discussed last week, the Talmud cites idle hatred among Jews as the final straw that broke the back of the Temple. The Divine Presence, or Shechina of G-d, which is the lifeblood of the Temple left that edifice and returned heavenward when there was strife among the Jewish people.
G-d only rests His Presence among us when we live together in the spirit of brotherhood and mutual respect and love for one another. Acts of love and kindness between Jews, which fulfill the mitzvah to “love your brother as yourself” cause G-d to reassess the situation and reconsider returning us all to our homeland together with His presence.
We can all learn a very moving, meaningful and important lesson from another side of the coin of what is presently transpiring in Israel, in the words of a soldier stationed at the Gaza border:
“What’s happening here in the staging area [area where soldiers prepare to enter Gaza] is beyond comprehension, not rationally, not emotionally and begs the imagination.
“Almost every hour a car shows up overflowing with food, snacks, cold drinks, socks, underwear, undershirts, hygiene supplies, wipes, cigarettes, backgammon and more. They’re coming from the North and the Center, from manufacturers, from companies and private businesses, from prisons, Charedim and settlers, from Tel Aviv and even Saviyon.
“Every intersection on the way down here we get stopped, not by the police, but by residents giving out food. What is amazing is that the entire situation wasn’t organized and everyone is coming on their own without coordination between the folks coming.
“They’re writing letters and blessings, how they’re thinking of us all the time. There are those who spent hours making sandwiches, so they’re as perfect and comforting as possible.
“Of course representatives of Chabad are here to help soldiers put on t’fillin and distributing Cha’Ta’Ts (Chumash, Tehillim, Tanya) for every troop transport and Breslov are showing up to the border and dancing with the soldiers with great joy.
“The Charedim are coming from their yeshivot to ask the names of the soldiers with their mothers’ names so that the whole yeshiva can pray for them.
“It should be mentioned that all of this is done under the threat of the terrorist tunnels and rockets in the area.
“Soroka Hospital (in Be’er Sheva) today looks like a five-star hotel. A wounded friend who was recently discharged told us how the Master Chef truck is parked outside and is preparing food for the wounded.
“It goes without saying the amount of prayer services that are going on. On the religious front as well, there are lectures and Torah classes, all the food is obviously kosher. Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv with Sifrei Torah. They’re giving out tzitzit and Tehilim by the hundreds. It’s become the new fashion! The Rabbi of Maglan [special forces unit] told me that almost the entire unit has started wearing them, because the Army Rabbinate has been giving out tzitzit that wick away sweat. They’re gaining both a mitzvah and a high quality undershirt. We’ve started calling them “Shachpatzitzti” (a portmanteau of the Hebrew term for body armor and tzitzit). We’re having deep conversations late into the night without arguments, without fights and we find ourselves agreeing on most stuff.
“We’re making lots of jokes at Hamas’s expense and without politics. There’s lots more to add but my battery is running low and the staff has been requesting someone give a class on Likutei Moharan (Breslov).
How happy is the nation that is like this.”
May we all learn a lesson from this letter to find ways to bring comfort, happiness and joy to other Jews (even our families and our spouses), and may that be a merit for the Jewish people to end this exile soon and all return speedily to our beloved homeland, and Tisha B’Av should become a day of celebration for all time.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.