Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Simple pleasures are the best."

Yom revi'i, 10 Av 5771.

For most people I know, the last three weeks have been more hellish than usual.

By "usual," I mean that during the Three Weeks, Jews all over the world immerse deeper and deeper into the sense of loss that has existed since the Churban, the destruction of our Holy Temple.  We did not merely lose a building.  Due to our participation in its destruction, we lost something much more dear:  our close connection with the Creator of the Universe was stretched to near-breaking.  We were at this point in history as far from our Beloved Father in Heaven as He will allow us to stray, for He will never entirely allow the connection to be broken.  In spite of our "best efforts."

We are enjoined to be b'simcha -- filled with happiness and gratitude -- during most of the year.  But during this time, we are commanded to remember that Destruction and, as with every other major commemoration in the Jewish calendar, to feel it as if it were happening to us now.

That has been very easy to do with the Three Weeks this year.

The news has been beyond awful.

Every other day, a new name is added to our overstocked Tehillim lists, as we are asked to pray for more and more and more people affected by dread diseases.

The Arab world is awash in the blood of not only combatants but ordinary men, women and children.

Many brave and heroic American fighters have lost their lives, more tragically than usual, if only in the level of their heroism, and the density of the national loss.

As the chaotic stock markets tumble in Asia and Europe and the US, the UK is in flames.  An example:  a furniture store that has survived in a London neighborhood for a hundred years -- that survived two world wars -- was burned to the ground by rioters, as looters trashed the shops nearby.  Five days of this.  And even if the police get it under control, where will the fissures of the "Arab spring" erupt next?

We religious Jews have suffered humiliating tragedies at the hands of our own, even as the heartbreak that used to grab national headlines continues on unabated.  As I thought I could not bring up any more tears over the loss of the Beit HaMikdash, I read the story of a three-year-old girl forgotten in a van in Netanya...  You know how the story ends.  It ends with the driver -- a normal fellow, just like you and me -- screaming to the Heavens:  "How could I have forgotten her???"  As her parents mourn with shock their only child...

It is the morning of the Tenth of Av.  In the impossible-to-comprehend sense of Jewish time, the Temple is still burning from yesterday's destruction.  In fact, today the flames actually may be at their worst, according to our Sages.

But those same Sages had rachmanut (compassion) for the Jewish people; so we only are asked to live in the pain of the Destruction for one day, and for a bit of the next, albeit less intensely.

Practically, this means that we can begin to climb out of the abyss created by the Destruction and its consequent spiritual nadir.

We can enjoy again.  We can feel overwhelming gratitude again.

I've been "off caffeine" for a couple of weeks, in preparation for the 26-hour fast of Tisha b'Av.  (If I didn't wean myself off of coffee, I would have a headache that can only be described as "bodacious.")  So you can imagine how special is that first sip of coffee.

I once said to The Dearly Beloved that coffee should have its own special bracha (blessing).  He taught me something very beautiful.

As you know, we say blessings over the food we eat, to show our gratitude to Hashem.  Over beverages other than wine (which does rate its own bracha), we say "Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, by Whose word all things came to be."

When you say that bracha, taught my Dearly Beloved, you can have in mind all of the things you might encounter throughout the day for which you can't make a blessing.

Amazing, special things that swell the heart, that we might think ought to have a bracha.

Like a beautiful flower.

captured in New Zealand by my friend Sparrow


Like the first cool fog on a summer morning.


Like the smile on the face of a child.




Photo courtesy of KFProductions





Photo courtesy of KF Productions


After that bracha-enhanced cup of coffee, I say the after-blessing:  "Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who creates the many forms of life and their needs..."  One can infer from those last few words that Hashem has left a few needs for us to fill.  May we have the merit and the wisdom to take the gifts that He has given us, and use them to repair and complete the world, and to help to bring the time of the Third Beit HaMikdash, a time when there will be no more suffering, and only revealed good.
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