Stop and Think
by Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – The Observant Jew
My mother a”h would tell us how until she was 27, when someone asked her how old she was, she would reply, “I’m 19.” It wasn’t that she was trying to hide her age, but since she’d gotten married at 19 and then had three children in the first three years, she was too busy with babies and bottles and diapers to stop and think about her age.
A friend related to me how there had been a fight between two workers in his store and he’d jumped into the middle of it to break it up. As one of them was brandishing a knife, this put him in a dangerous position. His children asked him, “Tatty, what were you thinking when you got in the middle?!” He said, “To tell you the truth, I wasn’t thinking. It was an automatic response. If I’d thought about it I probably would’ve stayed out of it and let the Police handle it.”
I, myself, know that my wife will ask me what I want to do for Shabbos and I’ll say, “It’s Tuesday, and I have so much to do I can’t even think about Wednesday right now!” What we really need sometimes is the chance to stop and think.
When someone passes away, Rachmona Litzlan, the family has Shiva. For a week, HaShem says to them, “It’s time to stop and think.” It’s a time to think about the person they’ve lost; about the lessons they learned, and it’s a time to think about life and how we live it.
During the Nine Days from Rosh Chodesh until Tisha B’Av we have another period where we’re supposed to stop and think. “When Av comes in, we lessen our joy,” says the Mishna. Shlomo HaMelech said it this way, (Koheles 7:2) “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting (where weddings take place) for this is the end of all people, and the living shall take it to heart.” In other words, it is essential to stop and think and now is the time.
However, we’re all always so busy. How do we find the time to stop and think?
One way I realized this year is the fact that we prohibit so many things for those 9 days (unless you’re a Sefardi and then it’s only the week in which Tisha B’Av falls.) For example, we don’t eat meat. If you’re hungry, you can’t just go to the refrigerator and pick up whatever you find. It makes you stop a moment. Hopefully, besides for thinking, “What should I eat?” you’ll take a moment to ask, “Why can’t I eat meat?” I can’t tell you how many times I had to stop myself from tasting some chicken or meat on Friday afternoon. I’m sure that at least once I thought about thinking about why I couldn’t have it.
Maybe you’ll answer that we’re in mourning. Maybe you’ll take it a step further and think about the fact that we don’t have korbanos anymore, the meat of the Mizbe’ach. Perhaps you’ll even go so far as to recall that at the time of the Churban there was no food, and merciful women were reduced to eating the flesh of their children Rachmona Litzlan. That’s a great start.
We don’t bathe for pleasure or wash clothing. Maybe we stop and think about the fact that we no longer have the special Bigdei Kehuna, the clothing of the Kohanim which atoned for Klal Yisrael and adorned the servants of HaShem with glory. Maybe we stop and think that we have no Bais HaMikdash to wash away our sins. Maybe we’re starting to get the message.
There was song and music in the Bais HaMikdash. Those instruments have long been silenced and yet we still haven’t found a way to rebuild the Bais HaMikdash despite not listening to music, washing or eating meat.
With all the things we stop during the Nine Days, it’s amazing we haven’t stopped doing the things that destroyed it in the first place.
The First Bais HaMikdash was destroyed because of immorality, murder, and idolatry. We may not be going that far these days, but certainly we have a ways to go in improving the things we look at, our interpersonal relations, and how much we trust in ourselves versus trusting in HaShem.
The Second Bais HaMikdash was destroyed because of Sinas Chinam. My favorite explanation is that people disliked others for silly reasons that should easily have been outweighed by love for each other. Aren’t we still doing that too? Does it matter where you stand politically or whether you disagree with my opinions? It definitely shouldn’t.
This year, we should take the time to stop and think, but then, after we think, I think we should stop – doing the things that displeased HaShem enough that He brought the Churban. Perhaps if we do we won’t have to stop our simcha anymore.
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