Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Slip-Sliding Away


Operation Inspiration

Have you ever had the sensation that you were moving when you weren’t? Or perhaps that you were moving faster than you really were? It’s happened to me, for example, when I was sitting on a train and the train across the tracks began to move. I thought we’d started moving but was then puzzled when the buildings on the street behind that train didn’t seem to be moving. I couldn’t imagine that they were moving with us, and that’s when I realized that though I felt like we were moving (the train was on and rumbling and my brain got the signals of movement) we hadn’t actually left the station.

Sometimes I’ll be pulling into a parking space, and when I put my foot on the brake, the car speeds up so I have to really stomp down hard to make sure I stop and don’t hit something. Of course, it wasn’t that my car actually sped up. What really happened was that the person in the spot next to me began to pull out as I pulled in. The relative motion is misleading and the brain makes you feel like you’re moving faster.

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Now, on that note, I’d like to suggest that we be aware of this and be thoughtful. If someone is pulling into a spot, let them finish parking before you move so you don’t spook them. If they’re waiting to make a left turn, (or a right one if you’re reading this in England), don’t pull up on the right (or left) and make a turn as it might obscure their vision and prevent them from accomplishing their goal. If we think about others as much as we think of ourselves, we’d be moving the world in the right direction.

So why am I writing about relative motion, now, in the Three Weeks/Nine Days when we should be thinking about the Churban Bais HaMikdash? Because it’s extremely relevant, as I hope you will soon see.

Chazal say, “Kol hamisabel al Yerushalayim, zoche v’ro’eh b’simchaso, whoever mourns for Jerusalem will merit and “see” in its happiness.” It would appear there is a causative relationship between mourning for the loss of the Bais HaMikdash and its rebuilding. That is to say, one who properly mourns it, merits its rebuilding. Not only that, but one will be able to see his impact in its rebuilding and resultant happiness.

Conversely, one who doesn’t mourn the Bais HaMikdash, will not see the joy of its rebuilding. Either he will see it but not experience any joy, or he will not live to see it because one cannot see the rebuilding of the Bais HaMikdash and not be joyous.

The question we need to ask ourselves, then, is whether we are truly moving towards the goal, that of rebuilding the Bais HaMikdash and Yerushalayim by focusing on what we’re lacking and what Hashem, so to speak, is lacking, i.e., the avoda and service of the Jewish People. Sometimes we might feel we are heading that way, and doing what we can to rebuild it, when in actuality, we’re standing still, mired in the behaviors we can’t pull ourselves away from.

Let me give you an example. I read a meaningful piece about what to serve during the Nine Days. The woman who wrote it compared the elaborate dishes and recipes that circulate in the magazines at this time of the year to the meals brought to a Bais Avel, lo aleinu. Lavish dairy recipes may have a place on Shavuos, when eating milchigs is a time-honored custom, but perhaps not during the Nine Days where the focus isn’t on eating dairy, but avoiding meat.

In truth, the focus isn’t even on avoiding meat. Rather, the focus is that we’ve lost something precious and who can think of food at a time like that? Sure, you need sustenance, but the food we eat now should take a backseat to our primary goal, that of mourning the Churban and trying to find ways to reverse it.

A person who did not eat meat throughout the Nine Days, instead “subsisting” on such delicacies as “Pistachio-encrusted Sea Bass with truffle reduction” or some similarly elegant and exquisite fare, might feel they were moving closer to Hashem by having fulfilled the custom of not eating meat. However, their focus on enjoying fine dairy foods might actually be moving them in the other direction, and they wouldn’t realize it.

If we gauge our growth in relation to others, and say, “I learn Torah much more than he does,” or, “I daven with much more kavana than my friend,” we are using the wrong frame of reference, and feeling the effects of relative motion. Sailors would travel based on the sun or the stars which have fixed paths. If they mistook some distant ship for a star, they’d end up far off course. Similarly, we should set our sights on Hashem as our frame of reference, so we can really tell if we’re moving closer or further from Him.

If we do that, and mourn the fact that we’re currently distanced from Him, but at the same time do what we can to close the gap, then when the time comes, and we arrive at that destination, we will be happy and proud to say that we did it under our own steam.


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