Why Can’t We Be Friendly on Tishah B’Av?

Ein she’eilas shalom b’Tishah B’Av (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 584:20)

Parashas Devarim is normally read on the Shabbos before Tishah B’Av, which commemorates the tragic destruction of both Batei Mikdash. Because Tishah B’Av is a day on which we are supposed to remain focused on mourning the unparalleled national suffering that transpired, the Shulchan Aruch rules that if a person encounters a friend or acquaintance, he should not greet him, and if the other person is unaware of this law and ignorantly extends greetings, one should answer quietly and with difficulty.

Harav Mordechai Druk points out that this ruling seems quite counterintuitive. The Gemara in Yoma (9b) teaches that the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash, which resulted in the exile in which we still find ourselves today, was caused by the sin of sinas chinam (baseless hatred), and our Sages teach (Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1) that the key to ending this exile and rebuilding the Temple is to rectify the sins that led to its destruction.

If so, Tishah B’Av would seem to be a day when we should specifically be commanded to work on increasing feelings of peace and unity by warmly greeting everyone we encounter. Why on the day that we mourn the catastrophic consequences of divisiveness are we told to ignore everyone we meet?

To appreciate Rav Druk’s answer, Harav Yisroel Reisman notes that quite frequently, when a computer freezes or malfunctions, the simple solution is to turn it off and turn it back on. Very often, a simple reboot enables the system to correct itself, and it will immediately begin working properly again.

Similarly, there is a documented treatment protocol for certain speech impediments which involves remaining completely silent for a period of time, at which point a speech therapist begins to reteach the correct way to speak and pronounce various letters and sounds. The logic behind this approach is that when we act out of habit, we often do things incorrectly. Therefore, just as with the computer, the appropriate remedy is to completely shut down the system and enable it to reset, at which point it can be consciously “rebooted” and taught to work properly.

Applying this concept to Tishah B’Av, Rav Druk explains that quite often, when we encounter and greet people, we don’t truly mean what we say. He cites the verse in Yirmiyahu (9:7) which is read as part of the Haftarah on Tishah B’Av, in which he criticizes his contemporaries for speaking peace to his friend with his mouth, while inside of him, he lays a trap and plots an ambush against the very person he is treating as his friend.

Sadly, greetings today have become hollow, and the perfunctory, “How are you doing” has become meaningless. If a naïve person begins to actually respond to the query, the questioner will quickly find a reason to excuse himself. Hashem despises such hypocrisy, and therefore on Tishah B’Av we engage in a reset process in which we intentionally do not greet others. This is intended to enable us to reflect upon the meaning of true empathy and concern for others, which will enable us to “reboot” and consciously begin anew the following day, with a newfound appreciation of the importance of sincerely and genuinely greeting another Jew.

Q: Rashi writes (1:1) that Moshe mentioned the words Di Zahav — abundance of gold — to hint to the sin of the golden calf, which was produced because of the large amount of gold that they had. Rashi writes (Shemos 32:31) that Moshe argued that Hashem indirectly caused the sin by giving them so much gold when they left Egypt that they had nothing to do with it but sin.

How can this be reconciled with Rashi’s comment (Bereishis 3:12) that in blaming Hashem for giving him Chava, who caused him to eat from the forbidden fruit, Adam was guilty of a lack of gratitude to Hashem for all of the good that He had bestowed upon him?

A: Harav Aharon Leib Shteinman, zt”l, suggests that the two situations are not comparable. Adam was considered to be displaying an improper lack of appreciation because he defended himself by blaming his sin on a kindness which Hashem had personally done for him. Moshe’s argument, on the other hand, pertained to a blessing that Hashem had given not to him, but to others, and was therefore appropriate. He adds that even so, only somebody on the level of Moshe could speak to Hashem in such a manner.

Q: Rashi writes (1:17) that if a judge has a case involving a small amount of money in front of him and another case comes up involving a larger amount of money, he may not give precedence to the latter case, but must rule on the cases in the order in which they were presented.

Is it forbidden to cut in a line, and if so, what is the source of the prohibition?

A: The Chazon Ish was asked what prohibition is transgressed by somebody who cuts in line, and he responded that such a person is violating the accepted way of the world, which utilizes universally agreed-upon rules such as the concept of a line for the purpose of establishing order.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.