Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Yom ha’Kippurim 5783: Musings on Erev Yom ha’Kippurim Anxiety

This week's Torah learning has been sponsored by Joey and Estee, whom I'd like to thank for being such an important part of my life.

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Artwork: Day of Judgment, by Anato Finnstark



Yom ha'Kippurim 5783: Musings on Erev Yom ha'Kippurim Anxiety

This morning I woke up, realized it was Erev Yom ha’Kippurim, and was filled with existential anxiety. I didn’t utilize these past eight days of the Aseres Ymei Teshuvah (Ten Days of Repentance) as much as I could have. I haven’t done my best to maximize my potential throughout the year. I have so many flaws and fall short in my avodas Hashem in so many ways. But then I had a very simple epiphany: the din (judgment) of Yom ha’Kippurim and the kaparah (atonement) of Yom ha’Kippurim are two separate phenomena, and one is not necessarily dependent on the other

By “the din of Yom ha’Kippurim” I am referring to the judgment on humanity which occurs on Rosh ha’Shanah and is finalized on Yom ha’Kippurim. This din pertains to “health and sickness, and death and life, and [other] human circumstances” (Rambam, Commentary on Rosh ha’Shanah Chapter 1 Mishnah 4). Rambam explains how this din works in Hilchos Teshuvah Chapter 3:

Each and every human being has zechuyos (merits) and avonos (iniquities). Someone whose zechuyos are more than their avonos is a tzadik (righteous in terms of this judgment). Someone whose avonos are more than their zechuyos is a rasha (wicked in terms of this judgment). Half and half is a beinoni (one who is in the middle) …

Just as the avonos of a person are weighed against his zechuyos at the time of his death, so too each and every year the avonos of each and every person are weighed against his zechuyos on the Yom Tov of Rosh ha’Shanah. One who is found to be a tzadik is sealed for life; and one who is found to be a rasha is sealed for death. But the beinoni hangs in the balance until Yom ha’Kippurim. If he did teshuvah – he is sealed for life; but if not – he is sealed for death.

Although it is natural to feel anxiety about how our din will turn out, I realized this morning that such anxiety is inevitable, since “this weighing can only take place in the mind of the God of Minds, and He is the [only] One Who knows how to weigh the zechuyos against the avonos” (ibid.). In other words, there is a fantasy at work here beneath the surface. The anxiety makes us feel “if only I had prepared adequately, then I would enter Yom ha’Kippurim with the assurance that I’ll receive a good din!” In truth, such security is impossible. To the contrary – the more perfected a person is, the more uncertain they will be about their din, since they’ll have a more accurate grasp of what perfection entails and how far they are from that ideal. While this state of mind can be productive insofar as it spurs a person to do more teshuvah and mitzvos, it is sheer folly to think that there’s a way to avoid feeling anxious about one’s din. At the end of the day, none of us knows how our din will turn out.

In contrast, the kaparah of Yom ha’Kippurim is available to the entire Jewish people irrespective of their din. The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 1:3) writes:

At a time when we do not have a Beis ha'Mikdash nor a Mizbach Kaparah (Altar of Atonement), all we have is teshuvah. Teshuvah brings kaparah for all transgressions ... And the day of Yom ha'Kippurim, itself, brings kaparah for shavim (i.e. those who engaged in teshuvah), as it is stated, “for on this day he shall atone for you” (Vayikra 16:30).

The Torah does not say, “for on this day he shall atone for tzadikim” or “for those who were sealed for life” but rather “for you” – that is, for all of Klal Yisrael, provided they utilized the Aseres Ymei Teshuvah to be involved in teshuvah, as the Rambam clearly stated: “If [the beinoni] did teshuvah – he is sealed for life; but if not – he is sealed for death.” [1] The kaparah of Yom ha’Kippurim is not tied to the outcome of our din. Unlike our din, which is fraught with uncertainty, kaparah is guaranteed to those who engage in teshuvah. It is for this reason that we can declare as a praise – not as a request – in each of our tefilos: “Blessed are You, Hashem, the King Who pardons and forgives our iniquities and the iniquities of His people, the family of Israel, and removes our sins every single year, King over all the world, Who sanctifies Israel and Yom ha’Kippurim.” Kaparah is within our grasp.

[1] Contrary to what it may seem, the Rambam does not mean that Yom ha’Kippurim only provides kaparah for the specific sins you did teshuvah on; see my article entitled Yom ha’Kippurim 5780: Kaparah as a Means to an End for elaboration.
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If you would like to sponsor a day's or a week's worth of content, or if you are interested in enlisting my services as a teacher or tutor, you can reach me at rabbischneeweiss at gmail.com. Thank you to my listeners for listening, thank you to my readers for reading, and thank you to my supporters for supporting my efforts to make Torah ideas available and accessible to everyone.

Be sure to check out my YouTube channel and my podcasts: "The Mishlei Podcast""The Stoic Jew" Podcast"Rambam Bekius" Podcast"Machshavah Lab" Podcast"The Tefilah Podcast"  Email me if you'd like to be added to my WhatsApp group where I share all of my content and public shiur info. 

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Yom ha'Kippurim Round-up: 5775 - 5783

Artwork: Mountain, by Andreas Rocha

Yom ha'Kippurim Round-up: 5775 - 5783

Last Updated: 10/2/22 at 10:18am

The following is a list of the various shiurim, articles, and podcast episodes I have produced which are relevant to Yom ha'Kippurim, either directly or indirectly.

Shiurim in Video and Audio Form

Yom ha'Kippurim 5783: Ne'ilah - It's Not What You Think It Is (link to the audio version): This is a shiur I gave this past Friday (9/30). I can PRETTY much guarantee that if I ask you, "What is Neilah?" the answer you give will be incorrect. There are some basic facts about Neilah of which most people are unaware. In today's shiur we examined Neilah in light of those facts, and in so doing, arrived at a new - and more accurate - understanding of Ne'ilah and its place within the halachic system.

Yom ha'Kippurim 5782: Vidui Yom ha'Kippurim and the Inner Bears of Our Nature (link to the audio version): This is a shiur I gave this past Friday (9/10) in which I presented my current approach to understanding the Vidui of Yom ha'Kippurim. It begins with the same questions as my 5778 article, but takes them in a different direction, based on an encounter I had with a bear in Southern Washington this past summer. 

Yom ha'Kippurim 5781: Ralbag on the [13] Middos [ha'Rachamim] (link to the audio version): This is the Sunday shiur I gave on Erev Yom ha'Kippurim last year (9/27) on the Ralbag's approach to understanding what we refer to as the Yud Gimmel Middos ha'Rachamim, which the Rav held was the essence of the Yom ha'Kippurim davening. This is the most important Torah shiur I gave last year. If you listen to it before Yom ha'Kippurim, be sure to print out the "cheat sheet" I made as a machzor insert.

Vidui Yom ha'Kippurim: This is the "shiur version" of the 5778 article which I gave at Lomdeha last year. I recommend the article over the video, but the essential content is the same.

Yom ha'Din vs. Yom Teruah (link to the audio version): Although this shiur is primarily about Rosh ha'Shanah, the focus on yom ha'din is relevant to Yom ha'Kippurim, insofar as that's when our din is sealed.

Articles About Yom ha'Kippurim (NOT currently in audio form)

Yom ha'Kippurim 5780: Kaparah as a Means to an End: If you've ever felt hopeless going into Yom ha'Kippurim, then perhaps the approach here (which is not FULLY worked out) will be a game-changer for you as it was for me.

Yom ha'Kippurim 5778: Vidui Yom ha'Kippurim: This is my approach to understanding the unique vidui of Yom ha'Kippurim which is the centerpiece of each of our tefilos. This one was also a game changer for me.

Yom ha'Kippurim 5777: On Being Human: Most of the content in this article was not written by me. It's largely an excerpt from Richard Mitchell's "The Gift of Fire," which I read every Erev Yom ha'Kippurim to get into the proper mindset. It pairs well with the 5780 article, and with my 5782 shiur.

Yom ha'Kippurim 5776: Fasting as "Literal" Self-sacrifice: To my knowledge this is the only thing I've written about fasting on Yom ha'Kippurim. It focuses on a perspective stated by the Abravanel, which is not exactly a "standard" interpretation, but insightful nonetheless.

Yom ha'Kippurim 5775: What is Kaparah?: This is my unfinished theory of what we mean by kaparah (which differs from the approach I wrote about in the 5780 article). I still think these ideas are valuable, even if I haven't fully succeeded in fleshing them out.

Yom ha'Din vs. Yom Teruah: I'm including this Rosh ha'Shanah article here for the reasons mentioned above.

The Stoic Jew Podcast Episodes

Vidui Yom ha'Kippurim and Memento Mori: In this episode I explain how, according to my understanding, Chazal intended the viduy of Yom ha'Kippurim to serve as a vehicle of memento mori (remembering death) in order to spur us to do teshuvah with a greater sense of urgency.

TSJ Interlude: Removing the Evil of the Decree: Here are some semi-scattered thoughts I had about the line in Unesaneh Tokef: "u'teshuvah u'tefilah u'tzedakah maavirin es roa ha'gezeirah." 

Rosh ha'Shanah 5782: Yom ha'Din in Light of Stoicism (Aurelius - Meditations 4:45): Technically speaking, this is about Rosh ha'Shanah, but since it's about the yom ha'din aspect of Rosh ha'Shanah, and that din is sealed on Yom ha'Kippurim, then I consider it to be "on theme" enough to include here. 

Seneca - Letter #18: On Festivals and Fasting (Part 2): In this episode I discuss the haftarah we read on Yom ha'Kippurim, in which Yeshayahu ha'Navi exhorts us about how we should and shouldn't relate to our fasting on the day. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Rav Hirsch on Bad Biographies

The Torah content for this week has been sponsored by Courtney K.

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Artwork: horrific AI attempt to produce a portrait of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

Rav Hirsch on Bad Biographies

I recently started reading a book by Hillel Goldberg called, Between Berlin and Slobodka: Jewish Transition Figures From Eastern Europe (1989), featuring biographies of six towering intellects: R’ Israel Salanter, Harry A. Wolfson, R’ Isaac Hutner, R’ Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Abraham J. Heschel, and Rabbi Joseph Z. Lipovitz. I bought it because Amazon was selling it for only $6 (!) and I figured that it would be beneficial to learn about the impact these six influential men had on Jewry.

I enjoyed reading the book from the get-go. The author is a gifted writer with an engaging style. The blurb on cover testifies that he “spent two decades in research on this biography” – a claim bolstered by the extensive endnotes and bibliography, which fill a whopping 102 pages. I read through the biographies of the first three figures, about whom I had little prior knowledge, and felt like I was learning something … until my reading was brought to a screeching halt by a critical review.

Lawrence J. Kaplan is Professor of Rabbinics and Jewish Philosophy in the Department of Jewish Studies at McGill University. He has written extensively on a wide range of topics and is regarded as one of the foremost experts on the thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, whose Ish ha-Halakhah (Halakhic Man) he translated into English. When I posted an excerpt from Goldberg’s book on my Facebook wall, Professor Kaplan suggested that I read his critical review essay, published in Daat: A Journal of Jewish Philosophy and Kabbalah (no.35, pp. V-XXXIV, summer 1995).

Any attempt on my part to summarize Kaplan’s review would fail to do it justice. Its power comes from its thoroughness in exposing the gaps and prejudices in Goldberg’s treatment of his subjects. Instead, I will cite his closing paragraphs:

Two general points emerge from my lengthy examination and critique of Goldberg's treatment of his four central transition figures; the first is negative, the second, positive. First, to return to my starting point, while Goldberg claims to evaluate these figures in terms of their success at integrating the various clashing worlds within them, I believe I have shown that his evaluations cannot be sustained and that what he is really offering us is a purely theological judgment in a scholarly garb. Second, my own alternative analysis of the thought of these figures, while necessarily sketchy and incomplete, leads to the tentative conclusion that they, to use Goldberg's ostensible criterion, were, despite tensions and even contradictions, considerably more successful in integrating these worlds than Goldberg would have us think.

Have I been too harsh on Between Berlin and Slobodka? Did I not state earlier that it deals with a large and important subject and did I not concede to it many considerable strengths? Why then the sharpness of my tone?

If I have taken the book to task in so uncompromising and critical a fashion, it is precisely because I, like my old friend Hillel Goldberg, am simultaneously committed to the values of Jewish Orthodoxy and intellectual responsibility, and because I believe that Goldberg has, in writing this work, allowed, however unwittingly, the former value to override the latter. I am sure I need not remind Goldberg that the rabbinic tradition itself affirms, "Truth is the seal of the Holy one, blessed be He," and, that Rav Kook, whose strict Orthodoxy Goldberg would certainly not wish to deny, adds, "The truth is more beloved than everything, and precisely in it will the Exalted One, blessed be He, be praised.”

Anyone wishing to study the phenomenon of Jewish transition figures from Eastern Europe in the twentieth century will find much valuable data and many stimulating and incisive observations and insights in Between Berlin and Slobodka. The book as a whole, however, falls far short of its stated goals.

Kaplan’s review shook me on two levels. First, it reminded me of how dependent we are on experts in fields outside of our own expertise, and how easy it is to misplace our trust without realizing it. I had never heard of Hillel Goldberg, but I trusted him because he published a book which appeared to be based on copious amounts of research. I then shifted my trust to Kaplan based on the substance of his critique, strengthened by my small measure of firsthand familiarity with his scholarly prowess. But what would happen if another expert I trusted penned an essay defending Goldberg’s analysis? I would be left with compelling cases on both sides, and I would feel helpless to draw my own conclusions. The obvious “solution” of “go forth, study the collective works of Rav Hutner in light of all biographical data, and form your own conclusions” is not practical. This dilemma is not unique to intellectual biographies, and that’s what scares me. I realize this isn’t a new or profound insight. Just a rude reminder of an unavoidable limitation on the human intellect.

Second, Kaplan’s critique reminded me of how much subjectivity is involved in any attempt to capture the essence of a human life in writing. This, in turn, prompted me to recall Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s critique of Heinreich Graetz’s seminal work, History of the Jews. For those who are unfamiliar, here is an informational blurb excerpted from Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch: Volume V (1988, Feldheim):

The historian Dr. Heinrich Graetz (1817-1891) was a professor at the Judisch-Theologische Seminar in Breslau where he published his eleven-volume History of the Jews (1853-1870). He reflected the ideological tendencies of his academic institution by accepting Biblical criticism and by believing in the historical evolution, rather than the Divine origin, of the Oral Law … Although Graetz was personally traditional in practice (and a student of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch while the latter was Rabbi in Oldenburg), his work was used by those who wished to reform Orthodox Judaism. Recognizing its danger to Torah Judaism, Hirsch reacted strongly with a “critical examination” of Graetz’s fourth volume. In a series of twelve articles in his journal Jeschurun, Hirsch quoted the pertinent passages from Graetz’s History and then disproved his theses regarding the Oral Law.

Here is Rav Hirsch’s scathing critique of Graetz’s work, which I will present here in full. (Parenthetically, I hope you’ll be able to see why this ranks among my favorite written reviews of anything, ever.)

I once had a young friend who was a deaf-mute. He was a rather popular artist in one of the German provincial capitals. All his portraits looked very much alike, yet they were not truly alike. He had a habit – we called it a peculiarity – of painting all his pictures in colossal dimensions. All his paintings were much larger than life and therefore had a strange, spectral look. One could readily surmise that the subject had sat for the portrait, but one could not state with certainty that this was indeed the one. Recognition was not the result of a visual impression, but of reflection. The portrait hinted at the identity of the subject, but it was clear that the artist had not painted his subject in terms of objective reality. He had only captured the subjective impression made upon him by the personality of his subject.

When it comes to a human subject, the artist’s eye is not his only medium of perception; the portraitist is influenced also by his emotions. Any contemplation of a human subject entails the conception of an intellectual personality. The subjective image of a subject, which is largely influenced by personal likes and dislikes, will unconsciously guide the brush in the artist’s hand. Such an image may often be entirely inaccurate. In addition, it may be further influenced by accidental poses of the subject, or even by the subject’s – or the artist’s – momentary state of health or ill-health.

This should explain the many portraits which, though they cannot be dismissed out of hand as “bad,” show features so unlike the subject and are so much at variance with his true character, that those better acquainted with him – especially his closest friends and relations – will categorically reject the portrait. The artist has captured in his work a trait that is transient or accidental (and colored by the artist’s own subjective impressions) as if it were a permanent aspect of his subject’s personality. In fact, the portrait flagrantly contradicts the character of the person they know. Regarding our deaf-mute friend, it might be worthwhile to make a psychological study to establish whether deaf-mute artists see their human subjects in a light so basically different from normal portraitists that there must always be something unusual about any portrait painted by a deaf-mute. 

Now imagine an artist whose natural angle of vision causes him to see his subjects not larger, but smaller than life. Imagine further that, over many years, this artist created portraits for which his subjects never sat. He based his work on some isolated trait in his subjects that may have come to his attention by accident and that, in addition, may have been distorted by the artist’s hasty judgment or misinterpretation. This artist then brings his creative imagination into play, using this one trait as a basis for interpreting the personality of the subject as a whole. He portrays his subjects as he saw them once, in unguarded moods, positions or activities: the one in a playful mood, the other in a pensive state; the one laughing, the other weeping; the one angry, the other joking. Some of his subjects are made to appear indignant, arrogant or impudent, while others look depressed, anxious, humble or embarrassed. But in thus portraying a person, the artist has seized upon only one note in that person’s whole range of emotions, a note which, in fact, may have been played only once in the person’s lifetime, but which the artist has perpetuated as the keynote, the dominant character. 

Now let us imagine that, years later, this artist presents to us these sketches as true-to-life portraits, committing the error of explaining the transient moods in which he painted his subjects as typical of their character. “Look,” he says, “this one was always laughing; that one had an evil temper; this one was forever playing games; that one was always deep in thought.” Even worse, he passes off these products of his imagination not only as authentic character sketches of his subjects but as prototypes of all their contemporaries; thus, “during this period, people were laughing all the time; during this other period, they tended to be depressed; this era was one of arrogance; that era was an age of anxiety and timidity.”

Now let us say that, in reply to our look of disbelief, the artist cites ancient chronicles in support of his presentation: “During that year the cherries were sour; as a result, everyone alive at the time had a sour look on his face,” or, “During this year the future looked bright; as a result, everyone was in an unusually friendly mood.” Say, further, that this artist clings to his fancies as if they were absolute truth, so much so that wherever he needs a historical reference to authenticate his portrait he feels free to invent a reference to suit the portrait. Consider all these caprices of artistic fancy, and you have the History of the Jews by Dr. H. Graetz. 

These lines were written to a friend who wanted to hear my opinion of this History soon after its publication. They reflect the impressions which the book made upon me after I read it through only once, without subjecting the author’s views and descriptions to detailed tests in the light of the data and the sources he cites in their support. Even a superficial glance at this so-called “History of the Jews” should be sufficient for anyone with even a slight knowledge of the literature cited by the author as his source material to see that this work presents more fiction than fact.

Since then, I have examined this work in detail and checked it against the cited sources. Leaving aside the religious philosophy for which it is intended as an ideological basis and which its conclusions are meant to support, I have found it to be, even from a purely scientific point of view, a product of the most outrageous, irresponsible superficiality. I therefore consider it my sacred duty to present the results of my investigation to the public.

The main point of Rav Hirsch’s analogy is that, at the end of the day, a biography is a subjective portrait. The force of his analogy lies in its depiction of just how much the author’s subjectivity can skew the accuracy of the biography. According to Kaplan, Goldberg was a tragic victim of his own subjectivity. I say “victim” because his distortion was not intentional, and I say “tragic” because of how much he misrepresents the ideas of these individuals in his account of their contributions. Kaplan goes so far as to write: “In the case of Harry Wolfson and, perhaps also, Abraham Joshua Heschel what Goldberg presents us with are not so much portraits as caricatures.”

On a personal level, I am left with one question: Do I finish reading Goldberg’s book? One the one hand, my newfound awareness of its flaws will help me to take everything I read with a heaping tablespoon of salt. Additionally, Kaplan acknowledged at the end of his review that readers will still “find much valuable data and many stimulating and incisive observations and insights.” He even encouraged me on Facebook to continue reading and to share my thoughts when I’m finished. At the same time, I’m wary about knowingly allowing inaccuracies to enter my mind and take root. Reading the chapter on Rabbi Soloveitchik might not be so bad, since I already have a wealth of diverse biographical snapshots and enough firsthand knowledge of his Torah to form my own views. But do I really want my introduction to Abraham J. Heschel to be a biography that is so slanted by the author’s value judgments that it borders on caricature? 

Although I haven’t made my decision yet, I am inclined to finish the book. Considering what I wrote above about the unavoidable perils of relying on experts and the inherent hazards in every biography, I might as well lean into the process, exposing myself to as many different takes as possible. Theoretically, I will build up a healthy skepticism from the diversity of views while accumulating a core composite image where the differing accounts overlap. Errors will be unavoidable, but that’s par for the course of being a human being with a limited intellect.
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If you've gained from what you've learned here, please consider contributing to my Patreon at www.patreon.com/rabbischneeweiss. Alternatively, if you would like to make a direct contribution to the "Rabbi Schneeweiss Torah Content Fund," my Venmo is @Matt-Schneeweiss, and my Zelle and PayPal are mattschneeweiss at gmail.com. Even a small contribution goes a long way to covering the costs of my podcasts, and will provide me with the financial freedom to produce even more Torah content for you.

If you would like to sponsor a day's or a week's worth of content, or if you are interested in enlisting my services as a teacher or tutor, you can reach me at rabbischneeweiss at gmail.com. Thank you to my listeners for listening, thank you to my readers for reading, and thank you to my supporters for supporting my efforts to make Torah ideas available and accessible to everyone.

Be sure to check out my YouTube channel and my podcasts: "The Mishlei Podcast""The Stoic Jew" Podcast"Rambam Bekius" Podcast"Machshavah Lab" Podcast"The Tefilah Podcast"  Email me if you'd like to be added to my WhatsApp group where I share all of my content and public shiur info. 

Friday, August 12, 2022

Tishah b'Av 5782: Kinnah #28 - Eich Enacheim? (How Can I Be Consoled?)

The Torah content for these two weeks has been sponsored by Ariel Rachmanov, a friend and Mishlei talmid of mine. Ariel works for Keller Williams Real Estate and has generously offered to donate to the Rabbi Schneeweiss Torah Content Fund a percentage of any business that comes his way as a result of this sponsorship, resulting in a Mishleic "win, win, win" scenario for all parties involved. Ariel is based in New York but will be happy to help you meet your real estate needs in all 50 states.

Click here for a printer-friendly version of this article; as of now, there is no audio version, but here is the YouTube version and the podcast version of the live shiur I gave, for which this is a write-up.

Artwork: Rise of Extus, by Wylie Beckert



Tishah b'Av 5782: Kinnah #28 - Eich Enacheim? (How Can I Be Consoled?)

Preface: I'm posting this on Tu b'Av, which is Erev Shabbos Nachamu. Some readers might be "Tishah b'Aved out" by this time, or think to themselves, "I'll save this for Tishah b'Av next year." In my opinion, this would be a mistake. This article is as much about Shabbas Nachamu as it is about Tishah b'Av itself. Read it, and you'll see why.

Kinnah #28 and the Major Questions

The following is an English rendition of Kinnah #28: Eich Enacheim? (How Can I Be Consoled?), based primarily on the Koren and Artscroll translations with a few minor tweaks of my own:

“How can you console me with nothingness” (Iyov 21:34) 
when my harp has turned to grief?
In the land of my heritage, an oppressive yoke weighs heavy upon me.  
How can I be consoled?

On this day, every year, time changes for me [for the worst].
Behold! I am anguished and abandoned for more than a thousand years.  
How can I be consoled?

Fury has triumphed, the Ark has been interred,
disaster has struck twice because of those who defiantly rebelled.  
How can I be consoled?

My dwelling is in ruins and my flock is captured,
and the once populous Oholivah (Jerusalem) now sits alone.  
How can I be consoled?

The lion [Nevuchadnetzar] arose from his dense brush upon Ariel [the Temple] to strangle it,
and banished from His Tabernacle His meal-offering and His libation.  
How can I be consoled?

He killed multitudes of those anointed with oil,
young blossoming kohanim, eighty thousand.  
How can I be consoled?

He attacked them from behind like a snake causing [their blood] 
to flow in the courtyard of the Temple,
Arioch (i.e. Nevuzaradan) and the lion (Nevuchadnetzar) 
[stood] over the blood of the kohen and prophet (Zechariah).  
How can I be consoled?

He plowed into a wasteland that city, once filled with multitudes,
with houses for scribes and scholars [numbering] more than four hundred.  
How can I be consoled?

Media (Persia) flew swiftly to destroy my dear ones;
she dominated my precious [Temple] as I tore my garments.  
How can I be consoled?

She took counsel [with Haman] to strangle the prancing lion cub,
with one bite to tear asunder elder, aged, infant, and nursing babe.  
How can I be consoled?

The third [kingdom, Greece,] weighed heavily upon His sacred firstborn,
like a deafening tempest, to devastate it.  
How can I be consoled?

[Greece] pressed hard to divide the sons of the smooth-skinned one [Jacob] 
from the Apportioner, [saying] “You have no share in the fiery living God.”  
How can I be consoled?

Edom [the fourth kingdom] rebelled, she of the red lentils,
and defiantly rushed to destroy throne and footstool.  
How can I be consoled?

Allied with Edom were Moav and Ammon,
to eradicate the Torah and demolish the palace.  
How can I be consoled?

He trampled all my heroes and all the flocks of my comrades;
All my warriors were vanquished in full view of all who passed me by.  
How can I be consoled?

My spirit is exhausted by all the killers, by the number of murder victims
crying lovingly like a deer and slaughtered for Your sake.  
How can I be consoled?

They were horrified on the day of battle, in the east and in the west,
[when] the [flowing] blood of congregation and great nation intermingled.  
How can I be consoled?

Calamities upon calamities, each one more tragic than the other,
great and mighty, of long and not short duration.  
How can I be consoled?

They fastened their shields, girded their spears,
gathered their troops, and made long furrows.  
How can I be consoled?

My groans are many, and my laments are mighty,
my moanings are abundant, and You, Hashem, how long?  
How can I be consoled?

You heard their insults, how they defamed me with their lips;
sitting or standing, I was the butt of their gibes.  
How can I be consoled?

[They said:] “Where is your hope? What are you doing here?
His fury has been aroused [against you], and there is no more cure.”  
How can I be consoled?

“Your responses remain a betrayal!” (Iyov 21:34) the worshipers of Baal taunt me.
“Until He looks down and takes notice” (Eichah 3:50) from above,
“He lowers to the grave and raises up” (I Shmuel 2:6).         
And then I will be consoled.

Unlike the kinnos which focus on specific eras and episodes in Jewish history, Kinnah #28 spans the duration of all four exiles – from Churban Bayis Rishon and Galus Bavel through Churban Bayis Sheini into the Galus Edom of today. At first glance, the refrain of “eich enacheim?” (“How can I be consoled?”) seems to be a response to the litany of calamities that transpired over the course of Jewish history. But as we shall see, there is more to this kinnah than meets the eye.

The theme of Kinnah #28 is clear: our inability to receive nechamah (consolation). There are two major questions: (1) Why does the speaker believe that nechamah is impossible? (2) What accounts for the change at the very end: “and then I will be consoled”? In other words, if the severity of these tzaros (catastrophes) was such that nechamah seemed impossible, how did the speaker ultimately become convinced that it is possible? And since we ultimately see that nechamah is possible, what was the cause of the initial mistaken belief that nechamah was not possible?

Iyov Chapter 21 as Context

Our first clue emerges from the Scriptural foundation of the entire kinnah. The first stanza opens with a phrase from a pasuk in Iyov: “How can you console me with nothingness?” (Iyov 21:34). The last stanza begins with the second half of that same pasuk: “Your responses remain a betrayal!” (ibid.). The author of the kinnah took this pasuk from Iyov, broke it in half, and used each half to bookend his lamentation. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the nechamah in the refrain of “eich enacheim?” is a reference to the type of nechamah that was given to Iyov, which he found wanting. In order to understand the kinnah, we need to understand Iyov’s statement in context.

Here is a translation of Iyov Chapter 21, which concludes with our pasuk:

Then Job spoke up and said: Listen carefully to my word, and let this be your consolation [for me]. Bear with me and I will speak; after I have spoken, you may mock. Is my complaint directed to a man? So why should I not be impatient? Turn your attention to me and be astonished; set [your] hand on [your] mouth. When I recall this matter] I am confounded, trembling grips my flesh:

Why do the wicked live, become powerful and even amass fortunes? Their offspring are well-established before them, with them, and their descendants are before their eyes. Their homes are peaceful, [safe] from fear; the rod of God is not against them. His bull impregnates without fail; his cow gives birth and does not miscarry. They send out their young ones as sheep; their children prance about. They raise [their voices] like a drum and a harp; they rejoice at the sound of the flute. They spend their days with good fortune, and they descend to the grave in a moment. They said to God, "Go away from us! We have no desire to know Your ways! What is the Almighty that we should serve Him? What will we gain if we pray to Him?"

Behold! Is not their good fortune in their hand? Yet the counsel of the wicked was far from me. How often does the candle of the wicked flicker out? And their downfall come upon them? And [God] apportion their due in His anger? And they be like straw before the wind and like chaff snatched by a tempest? Should God store away his affliction for his children? Let Him pay it to him himself, that he should know this punishment! Let his own eyes see his ruination, and let him drink of the Almighty's wrath! For what is his interest in his household after he [dies], when the number of his months has been cut off?

Can one teach knowledge to God, He Who judges the lofty? One person dies in unimpaired perfection, completely peaceful and serene, his breasts full of milk and the marrow of his bones moist; while someone else dies with a bitter soul, not having tasted good fortune. Together they will lie in the dirt, and maggots will cover them.

Behold! I know your thoughts, the schemes that you wrongfully plot! For you say, "Where is the house of this generous one, and where is the tent of wicked people's dwellings? Did you not inquire of wayfarers? Do not ignore their testimonies! For evil is withheld until the day of calamity, until the day when [sinners] are brought to [face God's] fury. Who is it who can be told to his face about [God's] ways, [about all] He has done, [about] the One Who will requite his deeds? He is brought to the grave, and lies forever upon a mound. The clumps of dirt in the valley become sweet to him; all men are drawn after him, and before him, without number. How can you console me with nothingness? Your responses remain a betrayal!

Iyov is responding to the argument of Tzofar, his “friend,” who attempted to answer the question of “rasha v’tov lo” (“Why do good things happen to bad people?”) by saying that the wicked will eventually get what they deserve. They will die, their wealth will be lost, and their children will suffer. Iyov objects, saying, “Yeah right! Sure, individual evildoers may suffer, but are you really going to tell me that this happens in all cases? There are plenty of wicked people who live long and prosper, then die in peace and tranquility! What do you have to say about them?” It is Tzofar’s dishonest and superficial answer which Iyov rejects when he says, “How can you console me with nothingness? Your responses remain a betrayal!” The response is a “betrayal” in the sense that it purports to provide nechamah, but is built on lies.

How does this knowledge of the pasuk’s context change our reading of Kinnah #28? By adding another dimension to the lamentation therein. This kinnah doesn’t just express the pain of the tzaros we suffered; it expresses a feeling of injustice. For example, the stanza: “The lion [Nevuchadnetzar] arose from his dense brush upon Ariel [the Temple] to strangle it, and banished from His Tabernacle His meal-offering and His libation” is not just bemoaning the destruction of the Beis ha’Mikdash. It is also giving voice to a theodical challenge: “How could Nevuchadnetzar – the evil, murderous, idolator – get away with ransacking Hashem’s Sanctuary and terminating the avodah?” When we say: “My spirit is exhausted by all the killers, by the number of murder victims crying lovingly like a deer and slaughtered for Your sake,” we aren’t just grieving the loss of Jewish life al kiddush ha’shem. We are questioning God’s justice: “How can You allow these evildoers to succeed in slaughtering Your pious servants?” The kinnah doesn’t explicitly talk about evildoers enjoying prosperity, since the focus is our own suffering. The pasuk in Iyov merely provides a theodical undercurrent for the kinnah.

Perhaps this explains why the speaker in the kinnah believes that nechamah is impossible. Time may very well heal all wounds, but it will not mend a betrayal in a relationship. For example, let’s say you discover that your business partner inadvertently caused you to lose a large sum of money. As devastating of a loss as that may be, you’ll probably get over it in time. But if you discovered that your partner had been stealing money from you, that betrayal might very well permanently tarnish the relationship. The same is true here: if we “just” suffered these losses as a people, it would be bad enough, but if we regard these tzaros as injustices on God’s part, then we may feel that nechamah is impossible.

Defining Nechamah

In order to answer both of major our questions on this kinnah, we will need to answer a more basic one: What is nechamah? The root N.CH.M as used in Tanach has three distinct meanings:

(1) “comfort/consolation,” as in: “All his sons and daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be consoled” (Bereishis 37:35) and “Be comforted, be comforted, My people” (Yeshayahu 40:1)  
(2) “regret/remorse” as in: “Hashem said, ‘I will erase mankind whom I have created from upon the face of the earth … for I regret having made them” (Bereishis 6:7) and “no man feels remorse over his evil” (Yirmiyahu 8:6)
(3) “to change one’s mind” as in: “Hashem changed His mind regarding the harm He said He would do to His people” (Shemos 32:14) and “Behold! Eisav, your brother, has changed his mind towards you, to kill you” (Bereishis 27:42)

Rav Hirsch (Bereishis 5:29) acknowledges all three meanings and identifies the third as primary:

This root נ.ח.מ. has a unique meaning. נחם in the pi’el means “to comfort.” הנחם in the nif’al means “to be comforted”; another meaning: to alter one’s decision regarding some future action; a third meaning: to have remorse for something one has done … The primary meaning is “to change one’s mind”; by extension, we get the meanings of “remorse” and “change in decision.” “Consolation,” too, changes the way one feels about something that happened. 

To spell this out, “regret/remorse” stems from a change of mind: at first the person thought that this was a good decision, but now their view has changed, and they see their past decision as bad. Similarly, when tragedy strikes, the loss can seem unbearable; “comfort/consolation” occurs when the individual is able to change their perspective on what happened in a manner which diminishes or removes the feelings of sadness. 

Generally speaking, there are two ways these changes of mind can come about: either through a change in one’s knowledge or a change in one’s emotions. For example, if you make an investment thinking you’re going to double your money and then learn (i.e. acquire knowledge) that it’s a pyramid scheme, you’ll experience regret as a result of this new knowledge. Likewise, if you miss an opportunity for an investment and feel like you lost out on a huge profit but subsequently learn (i.e. acquire knowledge) that all the investors lost their money, then you’ll experience consolation. 

Nechamah often comes about purely through a shift in one’s emotions without any increase in knowledge. This is the primary mechanism behind the phenomenon of time healing most wounds: in the immediate wake of the loss, one’s perspective is clouded by the storm of powerful emotions, making it hard to assess things objectively; eventually, the strength of the emotions wane, their cloud dissipates, and when the mind sees things clearly, one experiences consolation.

When Consolation is Impossible

In light of this definition, we are now in a position to answer our first question (“Why does the speaker believe that nechamah is impossible?”). If nechamah is a change of mind, then “eich enacheim?” can only be felt by someone who believes that their mind can never change. Contrast this with the way the kinnah ends: “az enacheim” does not mean “now I am consoled,” but “then I will be consoled.” The speaker goes from a mentality in which consolation is impossible to one in which they see it as possible, even though they have not yet experienced that consolation. 

“Eich enacheim?” is a double mistake. It is a mistake about the tzarah itself, deeming the loss to be so terrible and so permanent that there is no road to recovery. But on a more fundamental level, it is a mistake about the self: a belief that “I cannot change.” “eich enacheim?” means “the way I currently see, think, and feel is reality: there is no chance that my viewpoint is being clouded by my emotions, and no knowledge I gain can possibly change my perspective.” 

This mentality is, itself, the greatest tzarah. “eich enacheim?” is an anti-growth mindset which is antithetical to teshuvah. The Rambam diagnoses this problem in the opening halachos of Hilchos Taaniyos:

1:1 – It is a positive mitzvah of the Torah to cry out [to Hashem] and to sound the trumpets on every tzarah that befalls the community, as it is stated, “[When you go to wage war in your Land] against an enemy who oppresses you, you shall sound short blasts of the trumpets, [and you shall be remembered before Hashem, your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies]" (Bamidbar 10:9), meaning to say: anything that afflicts you – such as drought, epidemic, locusts, and the like – cry out [to Hashem] over them and sound [the trumpets]. 

1:2 – This principle is one of the darchei teshuvah (paths of repentance), that at a time of the onset of a tzarah, when they cry out and sound the trumpets, everyone will know that it was because of their evil conduct that this bad occurrence befell them, as it is written, “Your iniquities have inclined these things [towards you]” (Yirmiyahu 5:25), and this will cause them to remove the affliction from upon themselves. 

1:3 – But if they do not cry out and do not sound the trumpets, but instead say, “This is minhago shel olam (a natural event) which befell us, and this tzarah is a mikreh (chance occurrence)” – behold, this is a derech achzarius (path of indifference) and will cause them to cling to their evil conduct, and [this] affliction and others will increase. This is what is written in the Torah, “[And if, with this, you do not listen to Me,] and you walk with me with chance, then I will walk with you in the fury of chance, [and I will also chastise you, seven times for your sins]” (Vayikra 26:26-28), meaning to say, when I bring an affliction upon you to cause you to do teshuvah, if you say that it is chance, then I will increase upon you the fury of that “chance.”

According to the Rambam, every tzarah is a crossroads: either we can take the darchei teshuvah, changing our dire circumstances by looking inwardly and changing ourselves, or we can take the derech achzarius and remain obstinate in our refusal to change, ascribing our suffering to external natural patterns or chance occurrences. “Eich enacheim?” is a derech achzarius insofar as it keeps the individual locked in a state which is resistant to teshuvah.

From “Eich Enacheim?” to “Az Enacheim”

Based on everything we’ve said so far, one might expect the transition from “eich enacheim?” to “az enacheim” to occur as a result of an internal change. On the surface, however, the kinnah seems to say the opposite:

[They said:] “Where is your hope? What are you doing here?
His fury has been aroused [against you], and there is no more cure.”
How can I be consoled?

“Your responses remain a betrayal!” (Iyov 21:34) the worshipers of Baal taunt me.
“Until He looks down and takes notice” (Eichah 3:50) from above,
“He lowers to the grave and raises up” (I Shmuel 2:6).         
And then I will be consoled.

The kinnah makes it sound like the “eich enacheim?” will persist until Hashem takes action against our enemies and shows us that there is hope for consolation through our salvation and redemption. How do we make sense of this? 

The answer lies in the pasuk quoted from Chanah’s tefilah in Sefer Shmuel. Here it is in context:

I Shmuel 2:1-10
And Chanah prayed and she said: “My heart rejoiced through Hashem, my horn is raised high through Hashem. My mouth is wide to bolt down my foes; for I was gladdened by Your deliverance. There is no one holy like Hashem, for there’s no one beside You, and there is no bastion like our God. Do not go on talking high and mighty – arrogance slips from your mouth – for a God all-knowing is Hashem, and His is the measure of actions. The warriors’ bow is shattered and stumblers gird up strength. The sated are hired for bread and the hungry cease evermore. The barren woman bears seven and the many-sonned woman is bleak. Hashem deals death and grants life, brings down to the grave and lifts up. Hashem impoverishes and bestows wealth, plunges down and also exalts. He raises the poor from the dust, from the dungheaps the wretched He lifts, to seat among princes, a throne of honor He bequeaths them. For Hashem’s are the pillars of earth, upon them He founded the world. The steps of His faithful he watches, and the wicked in darkness turns dumb, for not by might will a man prevail. Hashem shatters His adversaries, against them in the heavens He thunders. Hashem judges the ends of the earth: may He grant strength to His king and raise high His anointed’s horn.

The theme of this tefilah is that Hashem is the Cause of all successes, failures, and reversals of fortune. This does not mean to imply that He is the sole Cause, which would constitute a denial of human free will, nor does it mean that He is always the direct Cause through hashgachah pratis (individual divine providence), which would constitute a denial of hashgachah klalis (general divine providence, or the laws of nature). Rather, it means that everything that happens can only happen by virtue of His will (see the Rambam in Shemoneh Perakim Chapter 8 for his discourse on this topic). 

Based on the context of tefilas Chanah, I disagree with Artscroll’s rendering of the line in our kinnah as: “[And this will last] until He looks down and takes notice from above, [until] He lowers [our enemies] to the grave, and raises [us out of exile].” Artscroll’s translator thinks that Hashem “lowering to the grave” refers to our enemies. Chana’s tefilah was not expressing a wish for a personal enemy of hers to die. It was about all instances of being brought low and raised up on high. 

Accordingly, I would like to suggest that the correct understanding of this line is: “[And this will last] until He looks down and takes notice from above, [until we recognize that] He [is the One Who] lowers [us] to the grave, and [that He is the One Who will] raise [us out of exile].” In other words, as long as we view the defeat of our nation and the victory of our enemies as minhago shel olam (natural patterns) or mikreh (a chance occurrence), divorced from God’s hashgachah, then we will continue to be paralyzed by the overwhelming mindset of “eich enacheim?” But once we see our suffering at the hands of our enemies as an expression of hashgachas Hashem, in accordance with divine justice and the system of sachar v'onesh (reward and punishment), then we will perceive that the derech ha’teshuvah is the path to our salvation and our eventual nechamah

Once we have this insight, we can go back and reframe all the calamities in the kinnah. Nevuchadnetzar did not destroy the Beis ha’Mikdash because he was the most powerful king; he destroyed it as an agent of Hashem, carrying out the punishment that we, as a nation, deserved, as a means of getting us to do teshuvah. Rome did not succeed in driving us out of our land into a two thousand year exile because that’s just how history played out; the reason we were exiled and remain in exile is because we haven’t engaged in the national teshuvah that would make us worthy of redemption. 

Thus, the transition from “eich enacheim?” to “az enacheim” does come about through an internal change on our part, even though the author of the kinnah expresses it as an act on Hashem’s part. This is quite common in the language of tefilah. For example, when we ask Hashem to “remember” us, what we really mean is that we must change to make ourselves worthy of being “recalled” by Him. When we ask Hashem to find favor in us, what we really mean is that we must change ourselves to be favorable in His eyes. 

The Path to Nechamah

Let’s take a step back and summarize what we’ve learned thus far. There are three stages of nechamah:

(1) “eich enacheim?”: in which nechamah has not been attained and is regarded as unattainable; this mentality is antithetical to growth (a.k.a. derech achzarius) because it is built on the premise that “my perception of reality is accurate, and nothing can or should change it.”
(2) “az enacheim”: in which nechamah has still not been attained, but is now viewed as a possibility and an imperative; this shift in mentality occurs when we reframe our view of the tzarah as the result of hashgachas Hashem (NOT minhago shel olam or mikreh) which is designed to prompt a national teshuvah-response on our part.
(3) nechamah: the actual attainment of nechamah (i.e. a change of mind which leads to consolation) occurs on two levels:
a. internal: we will experience nechamah on one level when we do teshuvah from our iniquities and seek knowledge of Hashem as “the Rock Whose work is flawless, for all His ways are just” (Devarim 32:4)
b. external: in response to our change, Hashem will respond by bringing about our salvation and redemption.

We all want nechamah. The problem is that we, as a people, are not willing to go through Steps #1 and #2 to obtain it. Specifically, we are not willing to examine our own unwillingness to change and to question the interpretations we have of our tzaros which deflect the blame from ourselves, nor are we willing to through the long and painful process of actually bringing about that change through national teshuvah. We just want the tzaros to end so that we feel whole again. 

It is for this reason, I believe, that Chazal designated a far longer period of nechamah than the period of aveilus (mourning) on the tzaros. I am referring to the institution of telasa de’puranusa v’sheva de’nechamta. For three weeks we read haftaros of retribution, designed to induce national trauma and prompt national teshuvah. Then we switch to seven haftaros of consolation. On the surface, this ratio may seem rather odd: Why do we need seven whole weeks from Tishah b’Av through Yom ha’Kippurim to focus on nechamah? According to what we’ve said here, the answer lies in the fact that nechama is a developmental process. The three haftaros of retribution (bolstered by the halachos and minhagim of the Three Weeks, the Nine Days, and Tishah b’Av) are only a prompt to get the national teshuvah started. The real growth as a nation – the actual “changing of minds” – takes a much longer time than the realization of the need for change. It’s no accident that the seven weeks devoted to national teshuvah culminates in the Aseres Ymei Teshuvah and, ultimately, in the “Day of Forgiveness” of Yom ha’Kippurim. 

This Shabbos is called “Shabbos Nachamu,” and is the first of the seven haftaros of consolation. To treat this Shabbos as a passive experience of nechamah – or worse, as an ordinary week – would be to miss the entire point. The practical implications of our mourning on Tishah b’Av do not end on the 10th of Av. In a sense, that is when they begin. The only way we can hope to merit actual nechamah is by taking the lessons from the Three Weeks, the Nine Days, and Tishah b’Av, and engaging in the difficult transitionary phase from “az enacheim” to nechamah itself. May we be worthy of receiving true nechamah from Hashem, and a swift redemption in our days.
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If you've gained from what you've learned here, please consider contributing to my Patreon at www.patreon.com/rabbischneeweiss. Alternatively, if you would like to make a direct contribution to the "Rabbi Schneeweiss Torah Content Fund," my Venmo is @Matt-Schneeweiss, and my Zelle and PayPal are mattschneeweiss at gmail.com. Even a small contribution goes a long way to covering the costs of my podcasts, and will provide me with the financial freedom to produce even more Torah content for you.

If you would like to sponsor a day's or a week's worth of content, or if you are interested in enlisting my services as a teacher or tutor, you can reach me at rabbischneeweiss at gmail.com. Thank you to my listeners for listening, thank you to my readers for reading, and thank you to my supporters for supporting my efforts to make Torah ideas available and accessible to everyone.

Be sure to check out my YouTube channel and my podcasts: "The Mishlei Podcast""The Stoic Jew" Podcast"Rambam Bekius" Podcast"Machshavah Lab" Podcast"The Tefilah Podcast"  Email me if you'd like to be added to my WhatsApp group where I share all of my content and public shiur info. 

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Is it Permissible to Enjoy Learning on Tishah b'Av?

The Torah content for these two weeks has been sponsored by Ariel Rachmanov, a friend and Mishlei talmid of mine. Ariel works for Keller Williams Real Estate and has generously offered to donate to the Rabbi Schneeweiss Torah Content Fund a percentage of any business that comes his way as a result of this sponsorship, resulting in a Mishleic "win, win, win" scenario for all parties involved. Ariel is based in New York but will be happy to help you meet your real estate needs in all 50 states.

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Is it Permissible to Enjoy Learning on Tishah b'Av?

When my rebbi Rabbi Morton Moskowitz zt”l passed away a few months ago, I wrote an article entitled Rabbi Moskowitz Memory #05: Tishah b’Av – the Most Enjoyable Day of the Year, which I began with the following paragraph:

If I had to associate Rabbi Moskowitz with a particular day of the year, that day would be Tishah b'Av: the most enjoyable day of every summer. No, I'm not being facetious. For me, and for those of us who were in Seattle at that time of year, Tishah b'Av was the day we looked forward to the most each summer because we knew we were in for some of the most enjoyable learning of the entire year.

I’m sure some people read this article and wondered, “Isn’t it assur to enjoy learning on Tishah b’Av?” On the surface, it would seem that the answer is a resounding: “Yes!” The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 554:1-3) writes:

On Tishah b’Av … it is prohibited to read Tanach, to learn Mishnah, midrash, Gemara, halachos, and aggados, because it is stated: “The ordinances of Hashem are upright, bringing joy to the heart” (Tehilim 19:9); school children shouldn't learn [on Tishah b'Av], but one may read Iyov and the bad parts of Yirmiyah, and if there are verses of consolation, he must skip them. It is permitted to learn Midrash Eichah and the chapter Eilu Megalchin, and it is likewise permitted to learn the commentaries on Eichah and Iyov. There are those who prohibit learning via thinking (i.e. even without speaking).

The Magen Avraham (ibid. 5) explains the rationale behind that last stringency: “Even though thinking is not equivalent to speaking … this is different, since the essential reason [for this prohibition] is because of joy, and in thinking [about Torah] there is joy.” He goes on to explain that for this same reason, it is prohibited to learn anything in depth: “It seems to me that for this reason, it is prohibited to learn any explanation or question or answer even about the ‘bad things’ because this brings a person joy.” Suffice it to say, the Magen Avraham would not approve of the hours of enjoyable in-depth learning and thinking that characterized my Tishah b’Av experiences with Rabbi Moskowitz. 

Thankfully, my posek follows a different view: that of his rebbi, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (a.k.a. the Rav). In a lengthier analysis than I can summarize in a 1-page article (see Sefer Shiurei ha’Rav al Inyanei Aveilus v’Tishah b’Av, by R’ Eliakim Koenigsberg, pp.44-46), the Rav demonstrated that the prohibition is NOT to experience joy through learning. Rather, Torah study has the legal status of “a joyous activity,” due to its very nature, and it is prohibited to involve oneself in that activity on Tishah b’Av, even if one’s personal learning experience doesn’t bring them any joy whatsoever.

What about the areas of Torah which we are permitted to learn on Tishah b’Av? Why don’t they fall under this prohibition? The Rav answered that even though each of these texts constitutes an entity of Torah and learning it would be a fulfillment of the mitzvah of Torah study, nevertheless, these subjects relate to the essential theme of Tishah b’Av. As such, not only is it permissible to learn them, but learning them constitutes an essential involvement in the aveilus ha’yom (mourning of the day). For this reason, they were never included in the prohibition against Torah study on Tishah b’Av in the first place

Based on this theory, the Rav – unlike the Magen Avraham – permitted in-depth study and analysis of these texts, since this constitutes an even greater involvement in the aveilus ha’yom. The Rav’s grandfather, R’ Chaim Soloveitchik, cited as a proof of this the fact that it is permissible to study the commentaries on Eichah and Iyov, even though such learning would, by definition, constitute an in-depth study.

According to the Rav’s explanation and halachic position, there is no halachic violation involved in deriving enjoyment from one’s learning of the permissible texts on Tishah b’Av. But is it philosophically appropriate to experience such joy on a day of mourning? And even if it is, does that mean we should avoid it or suppress it? The answer to that question will have to wait for another time. But as always, if you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them!
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If you've gained from what you've learned here, please consider contributing to my Patreon at www.patreon.com/rabbischneeweiss. Alternatively, if you would like to make a direct contribution to the "Rabbi Schneeweiss Torah Content Fund," my Venmo is @Matt-Schneeweiss, and my Zelle and PayPal are mattschneeweiss at gmail.com. Even a small contribution goes a long way to covering the costs of my podcasts, and will provide me with the financial freedom to produce even more Torah content for you.

If you would like to sponsor a day's or a week's worth of content, or if you are interested in enlisting my services as a teacher or tutor, you can reach me at rabbischneeweiss at gmail.com. Thank you to my listeners for listening, thank you to my readers for reading, and thank you to my supporters for supporting my efforts to make Torah ideas available and accessible to everyone.

Be sure to check out my YouTube channel and my podcasts: "The Mishlei Podcast""The Stoic Jew" Podcast"Rambam Bekius" Podcast"Machshavah Lab" Podcast"The Tefilah Podcast"  Email me if you'd like to be added to my WhatsApp group where I share all of my content and public shiur info.