America takes sports quite seriously. Baseball is our national pastime, and basketball and hockey are not too shabby.
The Super Bowl is the most viewed annual event of the year, with millions of people tuning in the world over.
But soccer has never really made it in the United States. For that reason, I was never too familiar with the World Cup.
In camp this summer, I have two Brazilian campers in my division who joined us for their midwinter break (!). In addition, there are numerous counselors and staff members from England. For the last two weeks, all they seem to want to talk about is soccer (“fooootbul” as they call it) and the World Cup. The English counselors have the whole camp dining room singing the English chant from the World Cup.
One of the Brazilian campers was teary-eyed when he found out that Brazil lost to Belgium 2-1 last Friday.
On Shabbos, I was speaking to him and he explained to me that the World Cup is an event that only takes place once every four years. It also involves countries from the entire world. The pride factor is unparalleled in any other sport or forum.
My Brazilian campers can’t stand baseball. They imitate the game by falling asleep with a bat in hand. Soccer, by contrast, is played with two 45-minute halves of non-stop action. Even American hockey and basketball are not that intense.
How does Tish’ah B’Av and its meaning endure when we have little understanding of what we are missing?
As of this writing, England lost a heartbreaker to Croatia, denying them the chance to face France for the world championship. (It’s a shame; it would have been a repeat of many of the medieval wars between France and England.) The English counselors are crestfallen.
The Taz notes that most of the laws and restrictions that we observe during the three weeks of mourning, leading up to Tish’ah B’Av, do not have their source in the Gemara, but were adopted by halachic authorities in later generations. In the time of the Gemara, the loss of the Beis HaMikdash was still relatively fresh. It wasn’t hard for the Jewish people to feel the tragedy of exile, with memories of the glory days of Yerushalayim not too far in the distant past. The challenge is that, with the passage of time, emotions always fade. With each passing generation, it becomes harder to realize the extent of our loss and to recognize how bereft we are in exile.
Pesach is the most widely observed holiday in the Jewish world today. One of the main reasons for that is because of the plethora of laws, rituals, and customs that are endemic to the beloved holiday. In contrast, Shavuos is virtually nonexistent outside the Orthodox community because there are no special laws associated with the holiday (eating dairy, staying awake learning all night, and decorating the shul with flowers are all beloved customs, but are not at all obligatory). The holiday that celebrates the most seminal event and the most important component of Creation – the Torah – must transcend symbolism and representation. But the cost is that the holiday has been mostly forgotten outside of Orthodoxy.
How does Tish’ah B’Av and its meaning endure when we have little understanding of what we are missing? It’s because of the laws of mourning that we observe. The rituals and restrictions ensure that we will never forget what it stands for, despite the fact that we lack a proper appreciation of our loss.
The restrictive laws of this time period are uncomfortable and perhaps even annoying. The world around us is enjoying swimming and music in the hot sun, while we are desisting from those pleasures. But therein lies their significance and importance. Every time we feel uncomfortable because we are keeping the laws of mourning, we are ensuring that what it stands for will never be forgotten.
We don’t like being uncomfortable, and choosing to be just that, in order to honor the memory of the past (and future) glory of our nation, is honoring G-d in a unique manner. No doubt we enjoy honoring Hashem in our sukkah, eating matzah, dancing with the Torah, lighting Chanukah candles, and hearing the Megillah on Purim far more than limiting showers, not listening to music or taking haircuts, and sitting on the floor while reciting unfamiliar lamentations on Tish’ah B’Av. But perhaps for that very reason it’s so crucial to observe the laws, and not be constantly seeking leniencies and ways around them (even if justifiable).
Everyone can be a fan when a team is winning every game and is cruising along. But only a real fan keeps cheering and hoping when his team is down in the dumps.
In a certain sense, Tish’ah B’Av and the preceding weeks demonstrate who the real adherents and loyalists are.
As the navi promises, those who observe the laws of mourning will truly feel the joy of its ultimate consolation. May it be this year!
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a rebbe and guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor, and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He can be reached at email@example.com. Looking for “instant inspiration” on the parshah in under minutes? Follow him on Torahanytime.com.