Wednesday, June 27, 2007

YIOP July Bulletin -- Three Weeks Halachah Guide

Different places and times have unique and specific attributes – both good and bad. The Land of Israel has a greater holiness than other places in the world. The high holidays are a time of holiness and closeness to God. But Jewish tradition considers certain times of the year inauspicious as well. The month of Av has historically been a difficult period in for the Jewish people. Whether we remember the mistakes and sins of our people in the desert (think golden calf), the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, or even the war in Lebanon last year, these three weeks in July bring with them worry and concern.

For this reason, we maintain practices of mourning and sadness during these weeks to heighten our own personal awareness of the calamities that befell the Jewish people and encourage us to evaluate ourselves personally and spiritually as well.

Below is a short primer on the basic halachot of the Three Weeks and Nine Days. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact me by phone (248-967-3652) or email ( at any time.

The Three Weeks (17th of Tammuz – Rosh Chodesh Av, July 3rd – 24th)

In their attack on Jerusalem, the Romans breached the walls of the city on the 17th of Tammuz. As that breach marked the beginning of the end of the Jewish kindom, the rabbis instituted a public fast on that day. While the true period of mourning begins in the month of Av, Jews have accepted the custom to begin mourning on the 17th of Tammuz. We refrain from making weddings, parties and other joyous celebrations. In addition, we refrain from taking haircuts, listening to music or attending shows for the entire three week period.

The Nine Days (1st of Av – 9th of Av, July 16th – July 24th)

These nine days mark the classical mourning period for the destruction of the Temples. In the words of the גמרא, “when Av enters, we reduce our joy.” We refrain from purchasing significant new items such as expensive clothes or anything that would require making a שהחיינו, (like a Subzero freezer), conducting home improvement projects such as painting or remodeling, and even engaging in avoidable litigation. It’s just not a good time to start new projects.

Tisha B’av

Monday July 23rd – Tuesday, July 24th

Fast begins


Ma’ariv and Eichah


Shacharis and Kinos


Chatzos (midday)


Minchah I


Tisha B’av Films


Minchah II


Fast Ends


We also don’t wear freshly laundered or pressed clothing during the Nine Days (so wear your clean clothes at least one time beforehand – underwear not included). We don’t bathe for pleasure, so we don’t go swimming in a pool or lake. When we bathe and shower, to ensure that we’re only showering to get clean, we only take quick, lukewarm or cold showers. It’s not about being dirty; it’s about refraining from activities that make us feel good. Therefore, we also don’t eat meat or drink wine on weekdays (we don’t mourn on Shabbos) during the Nine Days.

Erev Tisha B’av (July 23rd)

In order to prepare for the long fast, it’s a good idea to drink plenty of water throughout the day. We call the final meal before Tisha B’av the סעודה המפסקת – concluding meal. Because this meal takes on many elements of mourning, before this final meal, we eat a full, normal meal to prepare ourselves for the fast, finishing a short time before the onset of Tisha B’av. (It’s a good idea to eat a meal rich in starch.) Following that meal, we wash again, and eat bread and hard-boiled eggs, both dipped in ashes, while sitting on the ground. We eat this meal as individuals, and not together as a family, so we don’t bentch together.

Tisha B’av (July 23rd – Tuesday, July 24th)

Chazal designated Tisha B’av as the Jewish day to remember all the calamities that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history. We mark the day by reading Megillat Eichah, Kinos (Lamentations), and focusing on tragedies that have devastated us for so many years, from the destruction of the Temples, to the Crusades and massacres of the Middle Ages, up to and including the Holocaust of European Jewry and Arab terrorism in the Middle East. On Tisha B’av we refrain a number of different behaviors:

  1. Eating and drinking, from sunset on Erev Tisha B’av until nightfall of Tisha B’av
  2. Washing and bathing, except for hand-washing in the morning and cleaning soiled hands
  3. Wearing leather shoes (canvas sneakers are fine)
  4. Marital relations
  5. Study of Torah (other than the calamitous and sad aspects that we learn on Tisha B’av)
  6. Anointing oneself (Actually, I’ve never seen anyone pour oil over himself, but they used to do it during the times of the Talmud, and apparently, it feels good. So don’t do it. Please DO use deodorant.)
  7. If you can take the day off and focus on the sad nature of the day, do it. It’s a very good thing to do, and will better sensitize you to the meaning of the day. If you can’t, it’s best not to go into work until chatzos (midday – see the chart above)
  8. We also sit on the ground (or on low chairs) for the first half of the day, until chatzos.

One of the most difficult aspects of Tisha B’av is the challenge of making it meaningful. Somehow, after shul in the morning we find ourselves engaged in our normal daily activities. How do we make the day meaningful in the mournful spirit that we know Tisha B’av is supposed to be?

It’s not a day for shopping or pleasure trips. If you can, read a book or watch a film about the Holocaust. Write letters to victims of terrorism in Israel. Make the day meaningful in a constructive manner. Have your children make cards for the Israeli soldiers still held in captivity. Don’t give them candy or ice cream; tell them that it’s a sad day, a fast day, and that they should feel that sadness as well. Have them draw pictures of Moshe breaking the לוחות הברית – the two tablets. Teach your children through your demeanor and the day’s activities that this is not a normal day – it’s a day of sadness and lamentations to allow us to feel the pain of our fellow Jews.

The Gemara tells us that כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה – “anyone who mourns for the destruction of Jerusalem will merit seeing it in its glory.” We make these three weeks, the Nine Days, and Tisha B’av meaningful, in the prayer that God transforms our sincere sadness into joy, gladness and celebration.

Table Talk -- Balak 5767

Unfortunately, forecasters for this summer – not weather – but geopolitical, are predicting storms. With Hizbullah creeping ever-closer to Israel’s northern border, and Hamastan consolidating its power in the south, conditions seem ripe for another regional flare-up. What’s most amazing is that while Hizbullah -- the Shiite-based proxy-army of Iran, and Hamas – the Sunni-based terrorist organization/political movement – have publicly supported their respective attacks on Israel, both groups actually hate each-other. Dr. David Luchins even suggested during his visit to YIOP this year that the kidnapping of two soldiers in Lebanon that precipitated last summer’s war was Hizbullah’s warped way of showing up Hamas.

Still, as much as they hate each-other, they can easily agree on one issue: they both hate Israel more. And, as we see from our parshah, things today have not changed much from the times of the Chumash.

When the Torah introduces Balak as the king of Moav at the outset of our parshah, the Midrash tells us that in reality, Balak was originally a Midyanite prince. Moreover, the nations of Moav and Midyan often waged war, as the two countries hated one-another. If so, why do the people of Moav accept a prince from their mortal enemy as their ruler? The Ohr Hachayim explains that when Moav sees the Jewish nation approaching, fear of the Jews forces the two nations to make peace, hoping that their combined strength would repel the onslaught of the Jews.

So, when mortal enemies make peace to fight the Jews, we really should not be that surprised. It’s happened before, so why shouldn’t it happen again?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Table Talk -- Chukas 5767

חקת תשס"ז – Moshe the Marketing Maven

We all think of Moshe a as talented in many different areas. We consider him a good leader; a great motivator, teacher, rabbi, and educator. But did you know that he also dabbled in marketing?

You see, every product needs a good slogan – a catchy title, a great tagline, or a eye-catching logo. After all, without proper presentation, people wouldn’t purchase the product. While we might think that we can exempt religion from this rule, Moshe understands that even religious items (and institutions) must market themselves to the public.

A case in point is the copper serpent we find in our parshah. When the people complain (once again) about being forced to take the long route to Israel, instead of fighting their way through Edom, God sends snakes to attack the camp. The people relent and beg Moshe to pray for their forgiveness. When he does, God instructs Moshe to construct a serpent, stick it up on a pole, so that should a person be bitten by a serpent, he need only gaze at the snake and he would be healed.

Following God’s instructions, Moshe constructs a copper serpent, places it on the pole, and once again saves the day. Rashi notes that nowhere does God tell Moshe what material to use to construct the snake. Why then does Moshe use copper instead of another metal?

Rashi explains that had he used silver or gold, it just wouldn’t sound right. Sound it out yourself: נחש כסף (nachash kesef) and נחש זהב (nachash zahav). They don’t really flow off the tongue. Now sound out the Hebrew for copper snake: נחש נחשת (nachash nechoshet). In this words of Rashi, לשון נופל על לשון – it’s complementary language. It’s sounds nice. Feel right.

And it’s also great marketing.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Table Talk -- Korach 5767

At the Yeshiva University Yarchei Kallah I had the privilege to attend this week in Chicago, we heard from an executive coach about organizational change. She noted the two possible factors that motivate change: the carrot and the stick. At times, while we like what we have, we desire change because we see the possibility of something better. That, she said, almost never happens. On the other hand, we usually seek change because the current situation has become untenable. In other words, the most powerful motivation to seek change is pain.

While she wasn’t quoting from our parshah, she could have been. Parshas Korach relates the rebellion of a few individuals against the leadership of Moshe and Aharon. What motivates Korach’s insubordination? The Midrash tells us of Korach’s anger at being passed over for the leadership position given to his cousin Eltzafan. It’s all about his personal power.

But that begs the question: Korach lost his leadership bid long beforehand. Why does wait until now? Ramban explains that before this point, the opportunity had never presented itself. The Jewish people had enjoyed the blessings of God in the desert; life was good. They did not experience enough pain to motivate change. According to Ramban, “Had anyone rebelled against Moshe at that time, the people would have stoned him.” Yet, after the deaths over the meat and especially the terrible decree of forty years of wandering following the sin of the spies, Korach sensed his opportunity. The people were in pain. They were ready for change. He failed to realize that instead of being the solution, he was part of the problem.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Table Talk -- Shelach 5767

Dr. Howard Klausner told me recently about a recent survey published in the Economist magazine of violent countries throughout the world. Of the 122 countries in the civilized (and not-so-civilized) world, which are the most violent? Number one, of course, is Iraq with its sectarian violence, terrorism and murder, followed by Sudan, world-renown for the massacres, violence and pillage of Darfur. What’s number three – the third most violent country in the world? Is it Iran, committed to supporting and funding world-wide terrorism and building a nuclear military arsenal? How about Syria, a nation currently massing troops on the Israeli border that has been only too happy to transport arms to Hizbullah in Lebanon? What about Lebanon, a hotbed for Islamic fanaticism, and current home to Hizbullah, other jihadist groups and a military skirmish that no one cares about? Nope, nope and nope. The third-most-violent country in the world, according to the Global Peace Index (you can look it up yourself at is none other than, you guessed it…Israel.
That’s right – Israel. Now, we can give all the justifications and explanations, but it really wouldn’t matter. The bottom line, especially with surveys, is that you can arrive at any answer you want, as long as you ask the right questions.
Just ask the מרגלים – the spies that Moshe sends to scout out the Land of Israel. To them, the Land is lush and beautiful and bountiful and wonderful – but it’s still worth nothing, because they already know the answer. They just have to ask the proper questions to arrive at their answer.