Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tish'a B'Av 2 - Kara alai mo'eid

In past years, I've often found myself enjoying Tish'a B'Av.

Due to the somber tone of the day, it never feels quite right engaging in personal activities (especially before midday), except when absolutely necessary. This lack of distracting activities enables me to delve deeper into the kinos, review the aggados of the churban, or work through Medrash Eicha - activities of the type that I'd like to do more of but too often find myself being diverted by other things. The fact that my learning increases on Tish'a B'Av is also slightly ironic. It seems to me that this reflects a sad truism of life, that often family and friends allow relationships to be relegated to the back burner, until illness or death, R"l, causes them to come together. Once the crisis is weathered, they depart amidst wishes of "May we only share simchas together", but often do not follow up on their resolution until the next time of trouble.

In a similar vein, I've sometimes wished that Yom Kippur would come more often. This date once a year forces us to closely examine our actions and to manuever through the long vidui a total of 9 times, communally confessing to a litany of sins, some of which are major sore spots in my personal avodah. I'll make resolutions to take concrete steps to improve my actions, and will succeed in executing them for short periods of time, but too often my plans become forgotten over the course of the year.

Last night, I read an interesting understanding of the idea of "Kara alai mo'eid", the verse in Eicha that serves as a reason not to say Tachanun on Tish'a B'Av due to its status as a "mo'eid" (a word that literally means merely "designated time", but is nearly always used in the sense of a festival). R' Shlomo Wolbe in Alei Shur (I 2:23) quotes R' Yeruchem Levovitz who notes that there two types of mo'adim, mo'adim shel kiruv, such as Pesach, Shavu'os, and Sukkos, which commemorate our being brought close to God in different ways, and mo'adim shel richuk, such as Tish'a B'Av, which commemorates our being thrust away from God on several distinct occasions. Tehillim 145:17 states that God is close to all who call Him in truth. This truth can either be a positive truth, if one's recent actions have brought him close to God, or a negative truth, if one's actions have distanced him, but as long as he recognizes what he is, so long as he calls to God, God is close to him. In this sense, even the extreme exile of Tish'a B'Av can be a time for growth and connection with the Divine, as focusing on how we have caused God to remove His presence from our midst can be precisely the method through which He returns to us; all one must do is think about his actions and use the special characteristics of this unique nadir position on the helical structure of the Jewish year to its utmost potential.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Life is Autocatalytic

Mi-dei dab'ri bichvodecha homeh libi el dodecha; al kein adabeir b'cha nichbados v'shimcha achabeid b'shirei y'didos - Whenever I speak of Your glory, my heart yearns for Your love; therefore, I shall speak gloriously of You, and shall honor Your name with songs of love.

These two lines of An'im Z'miros by R' Yehuda HaLevi express a very powerful truth that is essential in achieving one's potential in avodas HaShem, or for that matter, most other areas of life. We are taught that one mitzvah leads to another mitzvah. Hence, as soon as one does one positive action, one is more likely than not to be driven to perform another positive action, thus creating a cascade of mitzvos. Although the same is said regarding sins, that one sin leads to another, the two cascades become assymmetrical by virtue of the concept of repentance, which allows one to counteract the latter sequence (as well as to curtail the existent length of this sequence). This being the case, as time approaches infinity in an ideal world, one should tend towards performing only mitzvos. However, experience indicates that this is surely not the case.

The systemic factor that accounts for this deviation from expected behavior is frictional dissipation. Although the performance of one mitzvah increases the likelihood of the performance of another, if one does not immediately convert this potential into action, the advantage is lost. In a similar vein, falling victim to one transgression predisposes one to fall victim to another transgression; bad feelings breed bad feelings. One must therefore strive to break out of this vicious cycle of defeat before it begins to snowball.

That which was is that which shall be, and that which was done is that which shall be done. With dissipation of the positive on the one hand and positive feedback of the negative on the other often conspiring to thwart one's efforts, the only hope for a person to succeed is to consciously fight against these two trends.

For an expansion of the latter idea as summarized from Sichos Mussar, see my post at .