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August 28, 2015 / 13 Elul, 5775
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Them and Us

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Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel

“Monopoly was created for a summer Shabbat and Fast Days…”!

So I heard, time and again, in my early years.

Distractions are perfect for these two days, and thus, some suggest, the less you think about what you’re missing [i.e.- be it the T.V/Computer on Shabbat, or food/water on a Fast-Day,] the better off you will be.

Years later, I know rather too well that while “Monopoly”  has a place in the Jewish home, I am not sure about it’s appropriateness to either Shabbat or a Fast-Day. Leaving the former for another time, let’s talk about the latter.

Seems to me that being “distracted” on the fast day… is exactly the opposite of what the intention of our sages was. In the words of the Rambam [Laws of Fast-Days, Chapter 5/1;]

“There are days that all of Israel fast on, because of the tragedies that occurred on them, in order to awaken the hearts, and open the paths towards Teshuva/Repentance, and they shall be a reminder to our wrong/evil ways, and those of our forbears, that were like our own today, which has/had resulted to them and to us in these tragedies, and by remembering them, we will return to proper ways… .and they are… the 17th of Tamuz…

In a word, the Rambam is saying that a typical Fast day is a means to an end-it’s a tool for us to repent for actions and behaviors that caused both tragic events of the past and those of the present.

Following suit, seems that we should be distracted on this day, and the natural feeling of hunger and thirst should lead us to deep introspection as to the way we act, speak and more.

So, as I sit in front of my screen on this commemoration of the 17th of Tamuz, allow me to pick on but 1 behavior pattern that seems to be a throw-back to then, and to my dismay, is continuing now.

It’s no secret that we are fasting today to recall, amongst others, the breaching of the walls surrounding Jerusalem, probably [only] during the period of the 2nd Temple [Tractate Ta’a’nit 28b, which suggests that during the 1st Temple, this happened on the 9th day of Tamuz.] It is also well known that the 2nd Temple, according to the prevalent view of our sages, was destroyed due to “Sin’at Chi’nam”/Senseless hatred [Tractate Yo’ma 9b.]

Putting two and two together, seems like today is a day that we are still fasting, and not [yet] feasting [as, hopefully, we will-see Tractate Rosh-Hashana 18b] due to such senseless hatred still continuing in the year 2012.

“But I don’t hate anyone?”

True, we probably seldom used the term “I hate…” for another Jew. But there is something that is still be done today, and is a by-product of the above- the use of the word “them” about fellow Jews.

You all know the scene – you are watching the news, and see some sort of an occurrence. As Jews seldom stays quite and refrain from voicing their opinion, I am sure one of the following statements were uttered recently about the latest events in Israel;

  • They should make a deal and go to the army”
  • Violence won’t get them anywhere.”
  • They are really two-faced, just demonstrating in the summer and not in the winter…”

The list goes on, but I’m sure you get the point.

There’s only one problem with it; “They” are really… us!

We are not speaking about some group in the hinterlands of the USA doing this or that, or what the locals are constructing in the Far-East! We are speaking about… our fellow Jews!

  • You may not formally have a membership card into the [so-called] “Charedei” world, but when seeing the recent controversy concerning the “Tal Law”, how many of us said, “I feel bad… for us” versus “them?”
  • You may not live in Tel Aviv, and thus are not part, or are not personally effected, by the “Social demonstrations” of recent. But how many of us looked at the news reports on it, and commented that this is not a good thing… for us, rather for “them?”

Sin’at Chi’nam”/Senseless hatred is not just hating someone. In my opinion, it would include creating a feeling of two nations within the same people/it would include looking at current events in Israel, being produced by fellow Jews, and referring to it as “what’s happening to them.”

Assimilation, the Tal-law, the social demonstrations, the morality or lack-thereof of Israeli politicians, kids that have went “off the derech” and [sadly] more, are not “their” issues but rather-ours. These are not just news-items that are interesting/provocative [as they must be to make the “news”] but rather are our issues. The above occurrences are happening to the Jewish people and therefore, when referring to the above, it would both suitable, and perhaps even obligatory, to start changing the term “them” to “us.”

If we want these days to transform from fasts to feasts, we need to start fixing the reality in which we live. None of us can solve the world’s problems, but 1 small step we can make to eradicate the “Sin’at Chi’nam”/Senseless hatred that seems to still be a reality [see Rambam above;” and they shall be a reminder to our wrong/evil ways, and those of our forbears, that were like our own today, which has/had resulted to them and to us in these tragedies…”] – let’s start talking like 1 nation.

So today, as you feel hungry and thirsty, and perhaps upset that a beautiful Sunday can’t be used for too much, do feel distracted! Leave the monopoly on the shelf, and while reading the paper or hearing the news about your fellow Jews, please don’t allow the word “them” to be uttered.

About the Author: Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein is Director of training and placement at The Straus-Amiel Institute at Ohr Torah Stone.


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