According to the Hebrew Calendar, we are now in the middle of a period called “The Nine Days,” a time of mini-mourning, leading up to the holiday of Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish Calendar. Tisha B’Av commemorates the day when the Roman army set siege and burned the Bais Hamikdash (Holy Temple).
According to the deeper spiritual meaning behind Tisha B’Av, the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed because the Jewish people had reached a level of “sinas chinum”, hatred amongst themselves that was disappointing and unacceptable in G-d’s eyes. Circumstances were thereby created which punished the Jewish people. Their holiest place and safe haven was destroyed by the enemy, causing them to disperse into exile and spend generations working toward reaching higher spiritual levels in the hopes of one day witnessing the coming of the Moshiach (messiah) and the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash.
The nine days are known to be a very inauspicious time for the Jewish people; everyone is encouraged to play it as safe as possible, as bad things are more likely to happen during this time. Swimming is prohibited, flying is discouraged and people are encouraged to drive more carefully and responsibly. Speech should be guarded more closely and kindness should not be measured.
So, Monday was Rosh Chodesh Av, the first day of the month of Av and the beginning of the Nine Days. Wouldn’t you know it? There was a record-breaking storm right outside my window! Yup, Toronto was flooded, and in a major way. Power was out for hours in most parts of the city, residents were stranded on the highway, their cars floating in chest-deep water. Commuters had to be rescued from the Go-Train in row boats, and houses all over the city were flooded. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.
Rescue teams ran to save everyone and volunteers dispersed around the city, bringing water bottles, snacks and warm blankets to those in need. Residents with power offered shelter and food to those who needed, and Facebook was filled with concerned posts and abundant offers. It’s beautiful to see everyone reaching out to each other in times of need, but it kind of makes me wonder, why does it take a disaster to make us all behave this way?
For those of you who are familiar with Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi, (you can find her shiur here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGfGeQwwL9U), she says in her slightly broken English,
“Why do we give and why do we love so much only when disaster comes? Why don’t we remember to love each other without bad things happening?……. NEVER MEASURE CHESED.”
So, I got to thinking. Nine days, sinas chinam, chesed (giving)… What stops us from doing chesed? What creates sinas chinam? I believe, that in this generation, a big part of our problem stems from judgment. Why are we always judging each other when at the end of the day, we are all brethren? When we let things like the types of clothes our neighbours wear get in the way of our feelings towards each other, then YES, it is hard to be responsible for one another.
Since I am just an average person who is affected by my environment, I will share with you a couple of recent, personal stories where my own judgments got the better of me. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised by the outcomes which taught me some important lessons.
The week before Pesach (Passover) I was shopping in our local supermarket when I spotted a very chareidi (ultra-orthodox), Israeli woman in her fifties, waiting by the fruit with her grocery cart. How do I know she was Israeli? Trust me, I know the look. She donned an outfit of all black, no make-up, a very simple dark shaitel (wig) and very comfortable, black lace-up shoes. My mind instantly jumped to the first judgmental thought, “Poor woman. She looks tired. She probably has no money. She probably has a million kids. Her husband is probably never home. She probably hardly knows him anyways….” Suddenly, I see the woman perk up, a huge smile slowly spreading across her face. “Who is she smiling at?” I wondered to myself, and turned to follow her gaze. Walking towards her, I spot an extremely tall, slim, Chareidi Israeli man with a long black coat, a long, grey scraggly beard and payos (side curls) flailing past his shoulders. He wore a large black kippah and a sweet, friendly smile. Right. It was her husband, and she was happy to see him. As the two met in the middle of the supermarket, they began chattering in Hebrew and laughing, completely engaged in their own conversation as they shopped for groceries. Clearly, a very happy couple who just happened to be wearing very black clothes.
A couple of weeks after Pesach I was back in the same supermarket and I kept passing a certain man over and over again in the aisles. He was a casually-dressed man in his fifties, I thought he looked Jewish but did not wear a kippah and had a very friendly air about him. When I finished my shopping, I found the shortest line at the check-out and waited for my turn. Glancing behind me, I noticed that the same man had grabbed the spot behind me in line. His grocery cart was so full it was literally overflowing, practically bursting from the seams. As I looked closer, I noticed that all of the groceries were kosher and many of them were child-friendly snack foods- mini-yogurts, fruit roll-ups, cookies and crackers. My curiosity got the better of me. “You must have a lot of kids.” I said. He smiled and responded in a kind voice, “Fifty. I’m a daycare chef at Gan Yeladim.” “Wow.” I smiled back. “That’s a lot of kids to cook for.”
For those of you who reside in Toronto, I sincerely hope that you, your loved ones and your homes are all ok. To my Jewish readers, I wish you all an easy and meaningful fast. May our efforts to truly love one another and refrain from judgment allow us to merit the coming of the Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash speedily in our days.