The “3 Weeks” have now become the “9 Days” and life has just gotten far more difficult. No laundries, no showers, no swimming and no pastrami sandwiches, at least for Ashkenazim. Seems like the big expression around here is simply; “Just Say NO!”
Therefore, please allow me to change things up a bit. I have always trained myself to think differently so here is a list which you won’t read anywhere else. It is a list of things which you can actually say “YES” to during these 9 days. I call it my “9 ideas for the 9 days”.
Say “YES” to living a meaningful 9 days. Don’t be bitter, mad and depressed. Don’t focus on the negative and how many hot dogs you could have consumed. These are very special days and you need to focus on the positive. These 9 days connect Am Yisrael together because – all over the world – Jews are pressing the pause button in their busy and modern lives. Instead of the fun summer barbeques and beach parties (don’t worry, you will have plenty of time for these things) we connect to our roots and our history. We remember Hashem’s house and what it means to live as Jews without it. We connect to those who gave their lives “Al Kiddush Hashem” and to those who fought battles so we could be strong and proud Jews today. During these 9 days you need to think about these great heroes and identify with their struggles. When you do that, your 9 days will be quite special and meaningful.
Say “YES” to getting to know everything about Machon Ha’Mikdash – The Temple Institute. For 35 years this amazing organization founded and led by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel has educated our nation about the Mikdash. Just walk into any Judaica store and see how many books, pictures, puzzles and games there are which explain the beauty and significance of the Bet Ha’Mikdash. All of those items – every single one – are a result of the groundbreaking work done by the Temple Institute. They have published in depth scholarly seforim on the Mikdash and recently a 400 page sefer on the menorah! They have published Mishnas (such as Midos and Pesachim) and various Gemaras (such as Yoma) which explain the Bet Ha’Mikdash as never before. They have published Machzorim and Siddurim which focus on the holidays and the prayers in the Mikdash and their Pesach Haggadah is incredible. They have children’s story books and coloring books and games and software which makes teaching about the Bet Ha’Mikdash fun and educational. Finally, they have an amazing website which is constantly updated with videos, shiurim and fascinating information: TempleInstitute.org. Therefore, during these 9 days, put down Facebook and Instagram and spend quality time on the website of Machon Ha’Mikdash. You will not regret it.
Say “YES” to your family. These days are perfect for quality family time and you don’t need a vacation to do it! Since you can’t go to the pool or the movies or even the mall for a fun shopping spree, why not sit at home and get to know your own family?? Talk to your spouse and your kids. I realize that this sounds silly but when was the last time you actually did that? With all the crazy distractions we have and all the things pulling us in different directions, these 9 days are perfect for family and you don’t even need to fire up the barbeque! A simple spaghetti dinner is perfect to chat with your kids about camp. Sit down at night with your spouse over a nice cup of coffee and since you can’t watch some stupid movie, look at each other and talk about the kids and how much nachas they bring you. This may actually bring you great enjoyment and pleasure but guess what? Its 100% permitted during the 9 days… so do it!!!
Say “YES” to learning from an older person. We don’t realize the treasure we have in the older generation. Every one of the older men and women in your shul or community can write a 500 page book on their life experiences. They are walking and talking museums and have priceless stories. During these 9 days, go over to an older man after the morning minyan and ask him to tell you about his life. Ask him to share some of his experiences with you. I promise that you will amazed by their reaction and by their stories. They will share incredible things with you which will brighten both your day as well as theirs. I remember doing this recently with an older man in my shul in Herziliya. He comes to shul every Shabbat and is all alone. I never saw him with a wife nor with children so I became his friend and asked him about his life. What this man told me was amazing. He was a partisan fighter during the Holocaust, came to Israel after the war, married and had 2 kids and worked as a spy for the Mossad!! You read that right… the guy was a spy!! How cool is THAT?? A few years ago his wife passed away and his kids live outside of Herziliya so he is alone in an assisted living center. I took my daughter to talk to him as well and over the years we have become close. The man is a hero but until I spoke to him, he was just some old guy in shul. Please, get to know these men and women and have them share their lessons in life with you. The problem is that you will need much more than 9 days to do this!
Say “YES” to learning Torat Eretz Yisrael. I am not talking against any kind of learning you presently do – all Torah is holy – but focus these 9 days on the Torah of the Land of Israel. This is the period of time where we were thrown out of the Land so this is a perfect time to study about what makes Israel so special. There are many books today in English by the great Rav Kook including online shiurim which explain his holy words. Listen to these shiurim during the 9 days. Learn the sefer “Em Ha’banim Se’meycha” (available in English) written by Harav Teichtal shortly before he was murdered in the Holocaust. Visit the website of Rav Nachman Kahana – who wrote the ground breaking commentary to Tosfos called “Mey Menuchos”. His website is replete with Torat Eretz Yisrael and can be found at NachmanKahana.com Use these 9 days to open your eyes to the world of Torah that explains and describes the beauty and holiness of our special Land.
Say “YES” to inreach. This is a word you may not be familiar with but it is important. We all know what “outreach” is and how vital it is to bring Torah close to those outside our world but “inreach” is just as important. This word means to reach out to those IN our community who might have fallen a bit to the side or who find little or no excitement in a Torah was of life. Inreach can be performed with kids still IN Yeshivos, not just the ones who ran away. We tend to rush and invite those kids who are already off the derech – and that is a wonderful thing to do – but what about those who are still on the derech but making several wrong turns? By doing proper inreach, we can prevent the need for outreach at a later date! Therefore, during these days when you have time, look around for people in your community (and not just kids) who seem bored with Judaism. These 9 days can be real trouble for them because all they see are depressed people complaining about dirty clothes, no swimming and all the baked ziti they are eating. You need to counter those complaints with positive energy and how special our nation is to have the ability to connect to events from thousands of years ago. What other religion does that? Who else in today’s modern world thinks about yesterday… let alone 2,000 years ago? How special does that make us that we identify and salute the great men and women from long ago? What an honor to be part of this nation!! Tell that to these bored and miserable people who are simply crying over their lack of steak. Reach out INSIDE our community and light these people up with enthusiasm and energy to Torah and tradition.
Say “YES” to calling and meeting with Nefesh b’Nefesh. What a better time than the 9 days to open your Aliyah file? All the great Kabbalists say that our job is to do a “tikun” – to rectify and repair the mistakes of old. Well, 2,000 years ago our grandfathers and grandmothers made some serious errors and were driven from the Land. So… now if the time to repair those mistakes and return to the Land. We all know that “sinas chinam” is what destroyed the Bet Ha’Mikdash and all the Rabbis say that it will take the opposite – “ahavas chinam” to rebuild it but I say that this is not enough. Yes, we must do teshuva and love every Jew but we must also move back to Eretz Yisrael! You really think you can just love all Yidden and then stay the next 120 years in Queens, New Jersey or South Africa? Seriously? Call Nefesh b’Nefesh today. Call on Tisha B’av if you have to… right in the middle of the kinos!! This is our #1 job and something that requires a big and happy “YES”!
Say “YES” to living a life of Kedusha (holiness) and not just Halacha. I know that you realize that the two go together – and they definitely should – but they often do not. I have seen people keep halacha with all the stringencies but, sadly, kedusha is far removed. This article is already too long so I will not go into this concept is detail but allow me to write this one thought: Be honest. You know exactly what I mean when I say Kedusha. The Nesivos Shalom speaks a lot about this. He states, many times in his wonderful sefer, that the concept of holiness is foreign to all nations except the Jews. All other religions have holy men or holy women but they never have the notion of the entire nation being holy. In our Torah, over and over again it says; “Kedoshim te’he’yoo” which commands every Jewish man, woman and child to be holy. What a special opportunity we have which has not been given to anybody else! Therefore, use this time – these very special 9 days – to do more than follow the Halacha. Connect your soul to Hashem and infuse Kedusha into your home and life.
This last “YES” suggestion is the greatest and best one of all. I call it; Say “YES” to being part of history. With the help of Hashem this will be the last time we keep the 9 days in this way. By next year, these will be great and happy days with lots of meat… the meat of the Korbanos in the Bet Ha’Mikdash! Wine will be flowing and happy songs will be sung by the Leviim. We will dance during these 9 days and celebrate with our children and grandchildren. Therefore, make these 9 days memorable because they will be the last ones with all the restrictions. You will be able to tell your future generations that you fasted on the last Tisha B’av! Never again will we go 9 days without eating ribs and veal chops! Never again will we miss our morning coffee and have migraine headaches during all those fast days which mourn the Bet Ha’Mikdash! Never again will we wear dirty clothes! From now on its serving the King in His palace and teaching the world about Hashem. What great days are in store for us!
Therefore, use these suggestions to have a meaningful, holy and very special 9 days and remember to take notes and lots of pictures because we will never do this again!
Shmuel Sackett is the Founder and Director of the Am Yisrael Chai Fund, which supports agricultural, educational and building projects across Eretz Yisrael.