Where Every Jew is Family

Accentuate the Positive…


Nag, Nag, Nag!  In the beginning of this week’s parsha, Moses rebukes the Jews for their many foibles throughout their time in the desert.  But I find two things quite interesting.

First, he does so in a coded way.  He doesn’t just say, “You guys did such and such, how terrible.”  He alludes to the events through the names of the places they occurred and even makes up some names so it won’t be so direct.

Second, he ends off by reminding them about the successful wars they fought and reminding them that G-d will be with them when they go into the land of Israel to fight for the Promised Land with Joshua as their new leader.

These two events teach a very important lesson.  We often focus on negative events.  It’s just one of those weird things in human psychology.  But we must make a conscious effort to balance that by reminding ourselves of our good qualities as well.

And when it comes to the negative, don’t be such a “Debbie Downer.”  Even when rebuking yourself (and especially another person), you mustn’t go full bore on the negativity.  Be sensitive and do so in a way that doesn’t flaunt your (or their) faults, but gently reminds you/them to do better.

This fits with “The Nine Days” and Shabbat Chazon coming up this Shabbat.  From tomorrow until next Tuesday, we intensely mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.  You can check out the various mourning practices here.

But the point I want to bring out is that even when we mourn, we try not to become too sad.  For instance, during the nine days, we attend the completion of a tractate of Talmud so that the joy of Torah learning should mitigate the sadness. On Tisha B’av itself, some communities have a custom to throw burrs or beans at other attendants. One of my favorite Tisha B’av stories is that of the Ruzhiner Rebbe.  The story goes as follows:

The Holy Ruzhiner (Chassidic master Rabbi Israel of Ruzhin, 1797-1851) rejected all feelings of sadness, even of bitterness. So his chassidim would engage in all sorts of practical jokes on the Ninth of Av (in order to mitigate the sadness of the day). They would throw burrs at each other. Then they conceived of the following prank: they opened a skylight in the roof of the study hall and dropped a snare; when someone walked into the study hall, they would yank on the rope so that the snare fastened itself around him, and pull him up to the roof.

It happened that the Ruzhiner himself walked in to the study hall. Those who were up on the roof could not see clearly who was coming in, so they pulled him up. To their dismay, they saw that they had pulled up their rebbe! As soon as they recognized who it was, they let him down.

Cried out the Ruzhiner: “Master of the Universe! If Your children are not properly observing Your ‘festival,’ take it away from them!”

May you serve Hashem with joy even at this sad time!
Rabbi Yossi

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