Friday, July 20, 2018

PARSHAS DEVORIM 5778


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Devorim
Shabbas Chazon – Tisha B’av
8 Av 5778/July 20, 2018

There are certain phrases, motions, and actions, which instantly become catch phrases. They may have been non-existent one day, and then the next day everyone seems to be caught in the craze.
Not too long ago, flossing was something your dentist told you to do. When I arrived in camp I found out that it’s become a ubiquitous and strange dance move. I also found out why so many kids flip their water and soda bottles, trying to get them to land upright. That’s part of living in the age of social media. The funny thing is that in the not-so-distant future these too will go the way of the ice bucket challenge, the mannequin challenge, fidget spinners, and the Yannai and Laurel debate, and when Fortnite will soon be passé. (When you work in chinuch your students educate you about all of these bizarre societal nonsenses.)
One of those phrases which you can’t say these days without garnering a reaction is “let it go”. If you say those words to a group, if they don’t all start singing together, you’ll at least hear some humming of the famous Disney song swirling around.
The truth is that there is a great deal of wisdom in being able to let things go. Many people live their lives with resentments and acrimonious feelings towards others, because they cannot get past real or perceived injustices committed against them years or decades earlier.
Letting things go is generally a virtue, at least in regard to releasing acrimonious feelings towards others. However, when it comes to personal struggles and overcoming negative character traits or following through with a life-long dream and aspiration, letting it go in the face of adversity is not a virtue at all. It takes courage and conviction to follow through on personal goals and to not ‘let it go’.
On Tisha B’av each year we engage in national mourning, lamenting all the tragedies we have suffered throughout the millennia of exile. We recount in vivid detail the suffering of our ancestors and the egregious actions of our numerous tormentors. It all begs the question - why don’t we just let it go? Why continue to read about the travails year after year? Isn’t it time to move on and celebrate our accomplishments, and stop mourning the losses and tragedies of the past?
When I was a Social Work student in Fordham University, my first internship was with the HEARTS (Holocaust Education And Relief Team) department of Bikur Cholim of Rockland. I met weekly with a number of aging Holocaust survivors, to speak with them and to offer companionship and whatever emotional support I could. It was a very special and unique experience, especially because all the “clients” I met with have since died.
One of those great men that I was privileged to meet with weekly was “Moshe”. Moshe and his brother were saved from the German inferno by being sent on the kinder-transport that brought over 10,000 children to England, saving them from the clutches of the Nazis. Most of those children never saw their parents again.
When I met Moshe he was elderly and frail, and plagued with severe Parkinson’s. He could hardly talk, and generally needed to point to a printout of the letters of the alphabet in front of him to convey what he wanted to say. It was painstaking to watch his severely shaking fingers point letter by letter, composing just a few words ever so slowly.
Moshe had never married, and he and his brother lived in the same home. At that point, his older brother was taking care of him.
Moshe also lived with severe guilt, blaming himself for not saving his father during the war. It was an absolutely absurd thought and everyone who interacted with Moshe knew it. How could he bear any level of culpability for not saving his father, when he himself was a child and a refugee? My supervisor warned me that it was futile to try to reason with him about that point. The best approach was to accept his reality and to try to empathize with him.
A few months later I was reading a psychology article about Holocaust survivors. The article noted that at times survivors maintain irrational feelings of guilt over the loss of a loved one. Subconsciously, that guilt creates an inextricable connection, if even negative, between survivor and loved one. That guilt ensures that the loved one remains at the fore of the survivor’s mind. As long as he cannot forgive himself for the tragedy that occurred, he cannot forget about the person he feels responsible for. That’s why no logic or reasoning will be able to convince him of the fallacy of his guilt. The guilt maintains the connection!
It was clear that Moshe was carrying the irrational guilt for that very reason. That guilt connected him with his father and so even subconsciously he would never let it go.
The famous idiom is that one should let bygones be bygones is only true if it is indeed a bygone. Our mourning on Tisha B’av, our refusal to forget and to move on, demonstrates that our tragic losses are not bygones. Our mourning for the past connects us with it, thereby guaranteeing our hope and belief in the glory of the future.
The fact that we still mourn for those tragedies is the greatest testament that we are still connected to that world and to those victims. That’s why we cannot, and must not, forgive and forget. We remember because the enemies of our ancestors are still our enemies today. Our ancestors who suffered are part of us, and they live on within us. That is the source of our consolation- it’s the very fact that we continue to mourn.
May we merit the ultimate consolation this Tisha B’av.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
A meaningful and inspiring Tisha B’av,
             R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

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