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Nachamu - Meat and Greet

V'etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11 )

by Rabbi Jared Viders

One of the most anticipated moments in the Jewish year is the mid-day mark after Tisha b'Av when the prohibitions of the Nine Days are lifted. We collectively breathe a sigh of relief -- cue up the music, fire up the grill, launch the washer and dryer marathon and cannon-ball into the pool with a burger in one hand and a glass of cabernet in the other. I exaggerate (slightly) only to showcase the fact that one of the limitations of Tisha b'Av that has come and gone seems to leave little imprint, and that is the law: "One refrains from extending a greeting to his fellow on Tisha b'Av." (Shulchan Aruch 554:20).

I find that not greeting others sets the tone for the "internality" of Tisha b'Av - no less than sitting on the floor, removing the aron's paroches or the noted absence of Torah learning. And yet, once Tisha b'Av reached its conclusion, we ate and drank with relish, but did anyone say "I can't wait to give the next Jew I see a whole-hearted, I'm-so-happy-to-see-you kind of greeting"? It's been a whole 24 hours since we gave a proper 'shalom aleichem,' high-five or thumbs-up. Is anyone just itching to do so again?

* * *

Some 70 years ago, the Rosh HaYeshiva of Etz Chaim, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt'l heard his grandchildren hastily approaching his study. "Zeidy, zeidy, the Chazon Ish is coming down the block. The Chazon Ish is coming! I think he is here to see you!" The Chazon Ish was Rav Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, the leading Torah sage of his time and venerable leader of the Jewish People.

The rare opportunity to greet the rabbinic leader of the generation who was visiting Jerusalem from his home in B'nei Brak sent the house into a tizzy. Rav Isser Zalman quickly donned his best Shabbos clothes and the dining room table was adorned with a display of fruits, drinks and décor. When a faint knock on the door was heard, the Meltzer family knew the awaited-moment was imminent and prepared themselves to greet greatness.

Lo and behold, a gentleman vaguely resembling the Chazon Ish politely asked to speak with Rav Isser Zalman. Apparently, this forlorn individual was in dire financial straits and had no recourse other than to seek donations from others. To this end, he reckoned that a letter of recommendation or some sort of formal endorsement from the pen of Rav Isser Zalman would bolster his fund-raising efforts and lend some much-needed credibility with would-be donors.

Rav Isser Zalman graciously welcomed his visitor into the "grand" dining room. Regaled him with food, drink and patiently listened to his plight before inking a ringing endorsement of this gentleman's cause before sending him on his way amidst blessings and well-wishes.

When the pauper left, one of the grandchildren hesitantly inquired, "Uh, Zaidy. You do know that wasn't the Chazon Ish, right?"

"Of course, my child … but doesn't every Jew deserve such a welcome!"

* * *

Ever experienced that awkward sensation when you've begun to convey your enthusiasm in seeing someone only to realize that, upon second thought, you don't actually have the foggiest notion who that person actually is? You thought it was an old acquaintance from your youth but, actually, it's just another fellow with a white shirt and dark pants. Oh well.

As the pendulum swings from the somberness and introspection of Tisha b'Av to the relief and expansiveness of Shabbas Nachamu, the Shabbat after Tisha b'Av, perhaps we should be mindful of how we greet one another. I'm not saying a bear hug is necessary. Just a mindfulness that I truly share something deeply in common with the Jew passing me in the corridor or on the street.

Forget about the façade of alienation that regrettably accompanies such superficial "identifications" such as what type of yarmulke (if any) a person wears, the length of his coat, the color of his shirt or the pronunciation of his vowels and consonants. We have so much in common with every Jew! He's your brother, she's your sister.

Tisha b'Av has come and gone. This Shabbos ushers in a new vista in the Jewish calendar - a time for Nechama, comfort. Let's make it a time for camaraderie and let Tisha b'Av give way to a broader sense of identity - one with enough emotional band-width to love Jews of all stripes and to communicate that message of togetherness.

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