Why should I feel bad on the 9th of Av?

EichaOn Tisha b’Av we sit on the floor and cry. Or at least that is what we are supposed to do.
What are we crying about, or maybe the question should be why are we not crying?

To understand what there is to mourn for, we must understand what we are missing.
There are a whole load of kinnot written on this very subject. However, these kinnot were written many years ago, and unfortunately, times have changed. Nowadays, believe it or not, we see much more the destruction of Jerusalem and what it means to us.
In Eichah (1:7) it is written, Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and of her miseries, all her pleasant ones that she had in the days of old…
Who were these ‘pleasant ones’ that she had?

The Jewish people were created to be a light unto the nations (Devarim 14:12). When we were given the Torah we became a ‘mamleches kohanim vegoy kadosh’ (Shemos 19:6), a nation of priests and a holy nation.
Looking back through history, we were always a nation of ‘greats’.
Our forefather Avraham discovered Hashem on his own, and even managed to work out all the 613 commandments, without any divine assistance.
Moshe Rabbeinu spoke directly with Hashem, even demanding responses for his questions.
Although there are only 32 books of prophets, there were many more prophets over the generations that prophecy existed. The prophecies that we have recorded, were only the ones that are pertinent to all future generations of our nation. There were in fact millions of Jewish prophets over the generations if not in each generation.
All the people mentioned in the Talmud were at least capable of reviving the dead, apart from all the other miracles they could do, from making rivers flow backwards to calling on Heavenly beings to say what they wanted.
The Anshei Knesset Hagedola created the Shemone Esrei prayer. They built it in such a way that each and every single time it gets said, by each person who recites it, there is a different meaning and connotation.

Jewish_Memorial_P1000723Since the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jewish highs have been different, but no less heroic and great. Stories of heroism are told about Jews throughout the generations, who gave up their lives, preferring to die sanctifying G-d’s name, rather than give in one iota with regard to their religion.
When we go through the kinnot, we see such heroism time after time. Often religious heroism, where we as a nation have shown countless times that the Torah and its ideals are the only thing we are prepared to believe in and follow. It is the absolute truth.

But why did they give up their lives? Was it so that their future generations would willingly give up this rich heritage? When we look around us, we see something that didn’t exist before the exile, an apathetic lack of religious knowledge and practice amongst the Jewish nation.

Rabbi Uri Zohar writes a graphical description of the non-believing Jew of pre-war Europe. When the Christians came looting after their Sunday mass, he was the one who didn’t go into hiding. He was sure that his Christian friends, the rioters, would not touch his house. But when the time came, his non-Jewish friends turned their backs on him, coming themselves to loot and plunder his house. When they burst through his door and dragged him outside, he may have been very shaken at the lack of faith shown by his friends. However, when the sword was put to his neck and he was given the choice to convert or to die, there was no question, not even a hint of a consideration that this non-religious Jew would give up his rich heritage.
Why is it then that nowadays, we cannot imagine ourselves overcoming such temptation? In fact, we are willingly doing this to ourselves, running away from our religion and tradition.
Knowing this, can there still be a question of whether or not to cry! This is a real exile! If only the Temple would not have been destroyed, if only we would still be on the religious level we were when the Temple existed, such things would be unthinkable.

http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/will-your-grandchild-be-jewish-chart-graph.htmAt the beginning of the ninth kinnah, Reb Eliezer Kalir writes, ‘this is your fault,’ you, the Jewish nation caused the destruction, don’t blame Me (Hashem). This sounds incredulous, we caused the destruction?!
The Vilna Gaon writes that the last exile the Jewish people will go through, is ‘Galut Yisrael’, the exile of the Jews. Generations have seen this piece and wondered what hidden meaning the Gaon could have had in this, all the exiles must have been Galut Yisrael, an exile of Jews, as otherwise it would mean that Jews are persecuting Jews, which is unfathomable.
This generation though can truly marvel at the heartbreaking truth of these words of the Gaon. Only in the last one hundred or so years has there been such a concept of Jews making an exile for and to themselves.

Though we are living in what is probably the most comfortable exile in Jewish history, there is almost no open hatred, we do not need to fear the post-Sunday-mass progroms every week, we don’t have to lock up our houses and hide in the woods during the non-Jewish festivals. We even have plenty of money, not having to worry if we can afford a sliver of chicken for Shabbat or slice of bread for tomorrows meals, relatively, we are most likely in the wealthiest period of our exile. Yet, we are not getting anywhere with our spiritual lives. Over eighty percent of Jews, voluntarily, don’t even define themselves as Jewish, and how many of those eighty percent have not yet married out?

What was the Jewish nation like at the time of the destruction, and what are we like today?
There is a rule in Judaism which has only been proven right by each and every generation. This is the rule that every subsequent generation, as they are further removed from Sinai, are on a lower spiritual level. They therefore cannot attain what previous generations attained in their religion.
If we wouldn’t have been exiled, this would have happened, but not on such a large scale. Who nowadays would be prepared to give their lives and their family’s lives up for the sake of their Judaism? Perhaps when it comes to it, many people would manage, but how many things do we do that are contrary to how Judaism should be portrayed?
How can we not cry when we see how far removed we are from the pre-war generation, never mind the generations of prophecy when the Jews originally went into exile. How can we not cry when we see ourselves sitting back and being happy with what we are achieving, when however good it might be, it can never possibly be anywhere near where it should and would have been had we not gone into exile.

This is truly destruction, and it really is a galut.

Let us truly feel this sadness, and daven hard that Hashem should redeem us, not just for the petty things that seem so important to us, but for the sake of His honour, which is sorely lacking in this ‘Galut Yisrael’, our self-made exile, where we, on our own accord are wiping ourselves out.


Is blue a Jewish colour?

What does blue make you think of? The colour that is, not the band!

In football, it could mean Chelsea, Manchester City, or Everton, amongst others. In politics, it would be the Tories. In technology it could mean most social media platforms. In nationalities, it could mean Scotland, Australia and of course Israel, to name but a few.

What does blue mean in Judaism? Obviously, the first thing that springs to mind is our homeland, with its blue flag. However, there must be a ‘blue’ that dates back further than that. In fact, if there is, this may well be where our national flag gets its blue from.

Western_Wall_-_by_Jacob_RaskLet’s look for blue in the Torah. When one thinks synagogue and blue, the Tallit, the prayer shawl, is probably the first thing one thinks of. A Tallit has stripes on it. Many people wear a Tallit with blue stripes, others wear with black, whilst there are those that wear ones with multi-coloured stripes. Where do these stripes come from and what are their purpose? That the blue of the Tallit is derived from Israeli national colours seems unlikely, as there are Tellitot that are older than the state that also have blue stripes. Rather, the blue colours of the state seem to come from the Tallit. The question that follows is therefore, where did the Tallit get its blue stripes from?

At the end of this week’s Torah-portion, we read how the mitzva of Tzitzit was given to the Jewish people. The Torah teaches that G-d told Moses that any four-cornered piece of clothing requires Tzitzit-strings on each corner. What do the Tzitzit-strings actually comprise of? The Torah teaches that there are four strings doubled over (through the hole in the corner of the clothing), and tying together, thus we end up with eight strings. One of these strings, writes the Torah, must be dyed blue. This is the first time we meet the colour blue in Scripture, with regard to our daily life. (The other time is with regard to the clothing of the priests, especially the high-priest.) It seems to follow that the blue on a Tallit stemmed from these blue strings, coupled with the fact that we don’t put blue on our strings anymore, and the idea that one should have a nice Tallit.

To understand the meaning of blue in Judaism, we must understand this blue Tzitzit-string. Why do we put blue on our Tzitzit? The explanation given is that Tzitzit are supposed to remind us of our Father in Heaven. How do they do this? The blue of the Tzitzit-strings reminds us of the sea. The blue of the sea reminds us of the blue sky (think Mediterranean). beach panoramaThe blue of the sky reminds us of the blue Heaven. This in turn reminds us the blue Heavenly ‘throne’ that G-d sits on, which in turn reminds us of G-d – if you haven’t already lost track of what’s going on.

Wait a minute, what IS going on? The Tzitzit-string is dyed blue. G-d’s ‘throne’ is blue. Why all the stages in between to lose us, why can’t the blue thread remind us directly of G-d Himself? The answer is simple, yet deep at the same time. What the Tzitzit are teaching us, is that we are constantly in G-d’s presence, as He is everywhere, always. The idea of wearing Tzitzit is the idea that we know and understand that G-d is constantly with us. This however, does not mean the same thing for everyone. How we understand that G-d is always with us, and how we run our lives according to that can be very different. However, one thing is clear, if G-d is there with us the whole time, we are constantly striving towards getting closer and understanding Him more. It’s like marriage, one is constantly working on understanding their spouse more and more, but at the end of the day, men and women are wired so differently, that one can never understand the opposite gender entirely. So too, with understanding what G-d wants from us, there are so many levels that we can attain in understanding and appreciating His constant presence with us. This is why we are not so worried about losing people on this roundabout way, from the Tzitzit to G-d, as we are worried of people thinking, “since I can’t see how Tzitzit should remind me about G-d, Judaism is not relevant to me.”

blue tzitzitHence, the colour blue is teaching us a very important and relevant message. Blue in Judaism means “take your time”. You are not expected to look at the blue Tzitzit-string and immediately think, “Oh, G-d’s watching over me.” Rather, by looking at the blue, you think that on whatever level you are, there is something that you can do to get closer to G-d. By doing that thing on your level, you are achieving your own level of perfection and greatness, which is what G-d wants. So, if when you look at the Tzitzit, you think of the beach, it is ok. You are not expected to see further, at the moment. However, when you have progressed, and you already know more, then you may be expected to already see the sky too, eventually reaching the highest level, where you get all the way to thinking of G-d, living one’s life with a constant understanding that G-d is there with you all day long.

So, what is the meaning of blue in Judaism? I’d suggest it is the most important colour. It means take your time, work at what you can work. This means something different for each and every one of us. It is no wonder therefore that the Luchot, the Tablets with the Ten Commandments, were made of blue sapphire. How is one expected to keep the Ten Commandments, which are effectively a table of contents for the entire Torah? In stages. Look at where you are now, work on what you can now, and only then can you move on to something bigger, something greater. We may never get a chance to achieve the ultimate level, however, we are not all expected to achieve the same lofty levels, rather each of us is in this world on his level, to achieve the best that he can achieve.

(Maybe that’s why blue is currently the colour-scheme of my blog, as this is something I truly believe in and stand for, individualism.)