Thursday, July 26, 2012

sham yashavnu v'gam bachinu -- aveilus of the heart

Rav Shlomo Fischer (Derashos Beis Yishai 13) contrasts aveilus for the loss of a relative with the aveilus of 9 Av and churban habayis. Rashi (Sukkah 25a d"h tirda d'reshus) writes that the practice of aveilus for a relative expresses itself in certain behaviors: an aveil cannot wear shoes, cannot wash, etc.  However, writes Rashi, an aveil is not obligated to be sad.  R' Shlomo Fischer explains that aveilus is about exhibiting respect for the dead (kavod hameis), not about coming to grips with personal feelings of sadness or loss. 

Another proof to this idea: The halacha is that if there are no mourners, the community should have a minyan of people sit shiva (Shabbos 152). Even though these designated mourners have no relationship with the departed and feel no sense of loss or sorrow, the halachos of aveilus are still practiced.

Aveilus for the churban, however, is primarily about our feelings of loss and sorrow; it is about what goes on in the heart more than about external behavior. In contrast to the laws of mourning for a relative which lessen in intensity as time passes (aninus is most severe, follows by shiva, followed by shloshim, followed by shana rishona for a parent), the mourning for churban habayis increases in intensity as we progress through the period of beis hametzarim, the three weeks to shevu'a she'chal bo and finally the day of 9 Av itself. When it comes to mourning the churban we need to allow time for our feelings of loss to build, as those feelings are the primary driver of our aveilus.

The halacha is that a mourner counts Shabbos as one of his days of shiva, but according to most Rishonim there is no halacha of shav'ua she'chal bo when 9 Av falls on Shabbos, even though in both cases (according to the Rama) mourning halachos done privately, b'tzina, apply even on Shabbos. If Shabbos is to some degree treated like a day of mourning, why does the week before and afterwards not have the status of shavu'a she'chal bo, while the week of shiva continues despite the break of Shabbos? R' Shlomo Fischer answers that Shabbos is a day of simcha; the joy of Shabbos stands in direct contradiction to the sadness of mourning. When it comes to the aveilus of 9 Av, since that mourning is rooted in the emotional experience of feeling loss, the aveilus is negated by the spirit of Shabbos that sweeps away depression and sorrow, even if behaviorally there is still some vestige of mourning practices. However, when it comes to aveilus for a relative, since that mourning centers around the behavior of aveilus, not the emotional experience of loss, the change in emotional state that comes with Shabbos does not disrupt the aveilus. 

Why is there such a distinction? Why is it that when morning for a close relative, "aino chayav l'hitzta'er," one is not obligated to be sad and it is enough to exhibit mourning behavior, while when it comes to mourning the churban, the behavioral aspects of morning are treated more lightly by halacha ("shani ... d'kal hu) while we do our utmost to focus on and feel the sadness and sorrow of the loss of Beis haMikdash?

I am going to depart from Rav Fischer's approach here and encourage you to read this post by Rabbi Joshua Maroof because I think he hits the nail right on the head. The generation that experienced the churban (certainly during the Second Temple period) were not lax in observance -- they were punctilious in their study of Torah and observance of mitzvos. The problem was that they were halachic "technocrats" who kept to the letter of the law but skirted it's spirit. Loopholes and legal subterfuge can be used to justify almost any behavior. Therefore, I think that when it came to enacting halachos that define how to mourn the loss of the Beis haMikdash, Chazal departed from the behavioral framework that runs through the usual laws of aveilus and instead placed special emphasis on capturing the feeling of loss, on the spirit of mourning, because it was precisely the mistaken emphasis on behavior to the exclusion of the law's spirit and emotional content that led to the churban itself. 

Make no mistake about it -- mourning the churban is hard. We, thank G-d, live in a land where we enjoy freedom of religion and where we have managed to build Torah centers and flourishing communities. In a few days tens of thousands of people will gather in a sports stadium to celebrate limud haTorah and kavod haTorah in a land that was was once known as a "treife medina" where many thought Torah would never flourish. We even have kosher sushi! It's hard to feel a sense of loss when we have it so good.

"Al naharos Bavel, sham yashavnu, gam bachinu b'zacreinu es Tzion." The Chasam Sofer explains: "Sham yashavnu" -- the term "yeshiva" means settling down, enjoying peace and prosperity (Vayeishev Ya'akov = bikesh Ya'akov lasheves b'shalvah). Yirmiyahu haNavi even encouraged those who went into exile to build homes and communities there, and they did -- they became successful and comfortable, so much so that Ezra could not get most of the people to budge when it was time to return. Maybe the kosher sushi of Bavel was made right there on the banks of the river (can't get fresher than that) where this mizmor was composed. And yet, despite all they had in Bavel, despite "sham yashavnu," the mizmor tells us that "gam bachinu," those who were in exile there still cried, they remembered Tzion and mourned its loss.

Davka where our right to externally behave as Jews is not challenged, we have a greater onus to mourn the churban and show that looking like a Jew and acting like a Jew are not enough -- we mourn because we remain spiritually incomplete on the inside, where it counts the most, so long as we remain separated from our true home in Tzion.   


  1. Anonymous12:28 AM

    what a mix up! those who stayed behind in Bavel
    cried, while ""technocrats"" returned to rebuild;
    had the criers gone with Ezra & lived b'Yisrael
    in the spirit (emotion) of the law, we might any of us be hanging out in The Azara this weekend...
    {but so it is-- (comfortable) crybabies sit & wail; doers (dry-eyed or dried-eyed?) tend toward discipline}

    aren't we like the sit-in minyan (of paragraph 2)
    regarding the Temples, in that we've had "no
    relationship" with either building? & yet, unlike that tensome, we're obligated to mourn...

    1. Anonymous12:48 AM

      "crybabies" is on the one hand a crude term here, used to convey a point-of-view; crying is of course a profound, dearly vulnerable, mysterious & adult* business, a subject no doubt worthy of protracted meditation...

      *m'chadeish b'chol yom tamid ma'aseh bereishis -- babies emerge
      crying; has Hashem preserved within us the capacity to cry like them with each emergent moment of the newborn world?

  2. great unknown6:12 PM

    a)with the attack on metziza b'peh in NYC, and milah in general in Europe, only one aspect to consider, how certain are you that "our right to externally behave as Jews" is not under challenge. Rav Eliashiv ztz"l was quoted several years ago that vis-a-vis milah we are living in a שעת השמד.

    b) Not just "halachocracy". Rav Yochanan says very clearly and openly "...ענוותנותו".

  3. You are right to some degree, but it is nothing like in the past (yet). We don't have pogroms, inquisitions, or crusades to worry about for the most part here in the US (again, yet). That being said, as anyone who lives in my my home can tell you, I often bemoan what I see as the steady progress toward true shmad and the absolute blindness of most everyone to it. In general, our liberty in this country is going out the window and there is no way to stop it. You mention metzitzah b'peh, but that's just one example of NY's dictatorial mayor abusing his power. It makes more of a difference to us than whether you can buy a big gulp soda, but both issues exemplify the degree to which our freedom can be seized with no recourse. The kicker though is that were he to run again, I am sure our bretheren would not hesitate to vote for him.

    1. great unknown8:55 PM

      As they will for our "best President Israel ever had" in this election. Which is why we just fasted...
      It's "funny" how anti-Judaism and totalitarianism go together.

    2. Anonymous12:15 AM

      "anti-Judaism and totalitarianism go together"

      because other totalitarianisms necessarily compete with the Judaic version?

      concerning milah, it makes good secular sense to consider circumcision genital mutilation; it makes good moral sense, in popular terms, to protect 'the rights of the newborn'-- for those who don't believe in the Torah to do anything less, would be remiss {in other words, isn't the burden-of-proof properly on the Jews to show that their 'commandment' is more than traditional, that it is definitely Divine?}

    3. great unknown11:14 AM

      A religion, by it's very nature, is totalitarian. G-d is not optional, nor part-time, nor subject to editing. Which is why I consider "liberal" branches of Judaism to be philosophies or social clubs as opposed to religions.

      In a country which promulgates "freedom of religion", there is no burden on any religion to prove Divinity, only tradition. For example, I would challenge anyone to prove the divine origin of Kwaanza...

    4. Anonymous12:12 PM

      if headhunters (the wild, not employment, variety) should move into your neighborhood (G-d forbid), must the >>>country which promulgates "freedom of religion"<<< uphold their right to wield the ax?

      >>> the divine origin of Kwaanza

      wasn't Karenga shown an image of the kinara on the mountain?

    5. Anonymous1:02 AM

      when a host culture perceives (or comes to perceive) a
      'religious' practice in its midst as criminal, that culture
      should (short some sort of 'Divine proof') ban the

      if one learned of a sect in Idaho that amputated the right
      earlobe, the right thumb, & the right big toe of its males
      at 21 days old, would he not want his host country to possess a sensibility formally opposed to the practice? a sensibility opposed to 'child abuse/trauma' effected in the name of an unproven 'faith' or 'inspiration'? not to cut up a baby is a self-evident 'mishpat' that needs no revelation, while a categorical acknowledgement of the rite to do so should, responsibly speaking, await the verification --in local terms-- of a revealed 'chok';

      mightn't Hashem chase His religious remnant out from their
      duplicitous diaspora by setting once tolerant cultures against her ways, leaving her no where to go but eretz Yisrael? wouldn't that be best, reflecting at once the sound mishpatic judgement/repugnance of the nations, & stopping the indignant*, scattered remnant from continuing to have it both ways? is the yetzer hara, well at work in the world, guarding the status quo for this very reason, accomadating observant Jews at least enough that they don't feel compelled to regroup in the land of their inheritance?

      *over threats to milah

  4. Anonymous12:35 AM

    >>> we long as we remain separated from our true home in

    do we mourn in bad faith?
    we don't go up, neither from Babylon, nor
    from the New World, because, on balance, at the break of day*, we'd
    rather not**; it all works itself out just as He intends-- not the least dust of idolatry*** belongs in eretz Yisrael...

    *can we with clear conscience say 'modeh ani >l'fa'necha<'?
    **or is it because we don't listen, or can't hear ('lech lecha')?
    ***doing what we want, rather than what He wants = self-sevice =
    idolatry (or a trace thereof); thus we're self-selected to remain chutz, or chosen by Him to possess the land

  5. I never noticed that you highlighted my post in yours...I just came across this today...thanks! I appreciate it.