Yochanan Gordon

By Yochanan Gordon

We are already more than a full week into the month of Tammuz, which means the summer is in full swing. There probably isn’t a more paradoxical time period than the summer. On the one hand, the summer is a season that many long for during the cold and dark winter months. It affords us a few months of warmth, extended sunlight, and opportunities to travel and spend time with family in a comfortable atmosphere. For boys and girls of all ages who spend a month or two in summer camp, whether local or abroad, it is a time when they are able to bond with friends and grow as individuals beyond the well-intentioned but still stifling watchfulness of their parents.

However, just as we are getting acclimated to the bright and joyous season, we are hit with the arrival of the month of Tammuz and the realization that we will have to fast on the 17th of the month and then again on the 9th of Av. This is accompanied by a proscription of music and other uplifting exercises and pleasures as we draw closer to Tishah B’Av.

Have you ever thought about the irony baked into the summer days and why the happiness and healthy carefreeness has to always be mired within the melancholic period of the Three Weeks, Nine Days, and the Ninth of Av?

The sum total of the days within a three-week period is 21 days. These 21 days of sadness correspond to the 21 days of yomim tovim that we celebrate throughout the year. With the arrival of Mashiach, may he be revealed speedily, these 21 days will be transformed into holidays even more joyous than the holidays that make up the corresponding 21 days we currently observe. Therefore, alongside the physical enjoyment of summer that we yearn for, the soul also yearns for the time when this three-week period will be transformed into days of celebration. However, until that time, there is an inherent paradox within the months of Tammuz and Av because we realize that they are days that are meant to be cherished and celebrated, but there is a veil that is covering the soul of the days of these months which we need to remove in order for it to be fully manifest.

Every month has a corresponding tribe and bodily function, as is cited in the Sefer Yetzirah. The month of Tammuz corresponds to the tribe of Reuven, in accordance with the positioning of the flags as the tribes were encamped in the desert. The body function, according to the Arizal, that the month of Tammuz and Av epitomize, is the right eye and the left eye, respectively. In fact, this is the reason for the redundancy in the verse “Eini, eini yardah mayim ki rachok mimeni menachem,” since the eyes are spread out over the two months.

One of the interesting traditions that has developed over time and that has intensified in certain circles in later years is the declaration of the word “k’eileh” while the ba’al korei reads them during the maftir on yom tov. Now, I characterize this as an interesting tradition because, although I am unaware of its origin, it is more of a vice than a virtue since there is an obligation to hear every word read by the ba’al korei, and often the voice of the one reading the Torah gets drowned out by the crescendo of the mass declaration of k’eileh, causing some of the people to lose out on kriah b’tzibbur on a yom tov, no less.

I mention this here because although these are not yom tov days, we often read about the yomim tovim in the weekly parshios at a time distant from our observance of them. And since these days are essentially days of celebration, I thought I’d mention that the same verse from Lamentations can be slightly amended to read: “Al k’eileh ani bochiyah—for the reason of k’eileh I cry.” As if to say that the tradition that has led people to lose out on krias haTorah is itself a reason to cry.

But that is just a joke. However, the sadness that we have to continue to deal with during the summer months due to the destruction of the Batei Mikdash and the scores of tragedies that have plagued our people for millennia during this time period is not a joke at all. While we try during this period to feel the loss of the Beis HaMikdash and the tragedy of what Shechinta b’galusa means, the Beis Hamikdash has been gone so long, and we have never experienced what that structure means to us on an individual and national level, making it extremely difficult to appreciate what we once had and of which we are currently bereft.

As sad a reality as that is, it is somewhat comforting, and I will tell you why. It is comforting because the Beis HaMikdash is infinitely greater than a piece of steak and the most exquisite symphony. If the proscription of certain worldly pleasures would be severe enough to fully reflect the extent of our loss, then I feel like it would only work to limit the experience of what we are missing and seeking to reclaim.

It seems like Chazal were purposefully mum on the topic of Mashiach. Our sages write, “Liba l’puma lo galya.” The heart does not allow the mouth to disclose when Mashiach will come. In an impassioned sichah, the Rebbe once added, “Afilu l’puma shel Hakadosh Baruch Hu.”

There is a notion that the coming of Mashiach has to be preceded by a period of chaos, anarchy, and unrest, which is the main reason why many Jews who don’t know better try not to lend too much thought to the topic. There are enough sources that give hope and optimism for a favorable redemption. The Zohar famously writes, “In the merit of your composition we will be extracted from exile with mercy.” In Shemoneh Esrei, we pray thrice daily: “Let our eyes see the return to Zion with mercy, He Who returns his glory to Zion.” But while we certainly don’t know the manner in which these events will unfold, what I do know is that it doesn’t say anywhere that we have to make it difficult for ourselves.

It’s seldom that this space is used for politics. I don’t understand the science of it, and despite the fact that I keep myself apprised of all the goings-on, I never really cared much for it. But we recently had a primary for the governor’s seat which will be decided in November in a race between Kathy Hochul, who assumed the position after the resignation of the disgraced former Governor Andrew Cuomo, against her Republican challenger, Lee Zeldin.

The political arena in this country has become increasingly polarized. It just feels as if what used to be two political parties, both of which functioned more or less within the framework of the Constitution, has turned into a system of one party seeking to uphold the Constitution while the Democrat party, hijacked by a radically liberal movement, seeks to turn America into Venezuela. It’s for this reason that I could not wrap my brain around the notion that frum Jews could support the Biden-Harris ticket in the last election.

Since the election of Biden and Harris almost two years ago, despite the fact that the radical left publicly claims that President Biden is doing a wonderful job, they are inwardly running for cover, bracing themselves for probably the biggest midterm shellacking in the history of American politics.

But it isn’t just that. It is the progressive breakdown in morality, in the sacred institution of marriage, and the embracing of alternative lifestyles and partial birth abortions (before the SCOTUS overturned Roe v. Wade, which, as I understand it, won’t end up making much of a difference in many of the states which choose to legalize it). It is on these grounds that it is unconscionable that frum institutions—our influential yeshivas and major chassidic sects—with tremendous voting blocs are supporting the candidacy of Ms. Hochul, who has clearly followed in lockstep with the philosophies of the anti-American left.

Isn’t it ironic that practically the only thing that the two Satmar Rebbes can agree on is their support of Kathy Hochul for NY State governor? Lee Zeldin is a Jew whose values in governance are much more aligned with ours. There isn’t a question that he will protect the Constitution and be an advocate for religious freedoms which the previous state governing bodies have clearly not promoted. The Democrat party is on life support because they sold out to a band of anti-American, anti-Semitic bullies, and they are extremely vulnerable entering this next election. We have an opportunity for the first time in a long time to change the electorate on the state level and to elect a responsible Republican candidate in the next presidential election, but instead we continue to put forth a narrow perspective rather than make a concerted effort to do what would truly be in our best interest as a community.

In the 1700s there was a famous divide amongst the students of the Maggid of Mezeritch in the showdown between Napoleon and the Czar. Where practically all the students of Rav Dovber from Mezeritch sided with Napoleon, who was going to be materially favorable for the Jews of Russia, the Alter Rebbe supported the Czar who would be materially challenging but spiritually liberating.

Thankfully, we don’t have to make that choice. Lee Zeldin is a candidate for governor who checks off all the important boxes for flourishing frum communities throughout this blessed state. Interrupting the ba’al korei during krias haTorah is certainly a practice that should stop, but rallying behind a political party that will not bode well for Jewish life in New York State in the short-term and certainly over the long haul is certainly worth crying over. 

Yochanan Gordon can be reached at ygordon5t@gmail.com. Read more of Yochanan’s articles at 5TJT.com.

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