“Eulogize the pious and proper ones who sank in the treacherous waters. At the memory of this, my soul is grieved.” (Kinnah 22, Tisha B’Av)
“My eye shall be filled with copious tears and I shall go to the weepers’ field. I shall arouse the bitter of heart … to weep with me over the … tender lads wrapped in their scrolls…. Their appearance was ruddier than rubies, [more dazzling] than sapphires and gems….” (Kinnah 25)
I never met Yisrael Amichai Avrahami z”l, but I am privileged to know his wife’s parents, Neese and Carole Azose, who live in Seattle, Washington. Neese, by the way, was the person who first encouraged me to write regular weekly articles, decades ago!
My wife and I have spoken often in Seattle under the auspices of Rabbi Avraham David Shlita”h, legendary Rosh Kollel of the Seattle Kollel. Once, returning from a program in Vancouver, British Columbia, we drove into Seattle at 2 a.m. We were staying at the Azose’s home. We expected to let ourselves in quietly so as not to disturb the family. As we pulled up to the house, a man was standing on the street – not wearing a bathrobe, but – in full daytime clothing, welcoming us with open arms … at 2 a. m.!
These words describe Neese Azose: “open arms.”
Neese is filled with chessed like an overflowing Havdalla cup. There is nothing he will not do for you. Nothing! Do you think he had the next day off from work? Well, he does have a job, and I am sure he showed up full of energy, but, at 2 a.m., he was in the street welcoming his guests.
On this same trip my back was hurting. We had a lunchtime speaking engagement at a law office in midtown Seattle. I had a carton of books to shlep through Seattle but I could hardly shlep myself. Where was Neese Azose that day? Was he at his “daytime job?” No, he insisted on shlepping cartons of books for us through downtown Seattle.
Here is a man whose neshoma is on fire with love for his brethren. His young son-in-law was Yisrael Amichai Avrahami z”l, and, as I write, the funeral for this beautiful young man is taking place, and they are getting ready to take him to the Holy Land for burial.
“Wail, O Zion, and her cities, like a woman suffering from birth travail and like a maiden girded in sackcloth [lamenting] for the husband of her youth … for young children of her king, the sons of Dovid, her royal sovereigns, and for their beauty, which was darkened when her crowns were taken from her….” (Kinnah 45)
We are at the eve of Tisha B’Av, and we must deal in reality. I am discovering how powerful the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) is, but especially in one thing: Torah learning. I see there is tremendous resistance in me when I try to do a mitzvah. For example, if I try to say a blessing with kavana, every thought in the world will intervene. For example, I am trying to concentrate on every word of the blessing “Asher Yatzar,” and of course I have an itch at precisely that moment, or I remember something that I “must” buy that day. This is not a joke. If I tell you that it happens every time I want to say a blessing, I am not exaggerating. When it comes to Shemoneh Esreh …. Oy!
But the most grievous is learning Torah! There is no place where the Evil Inclination’s full force rears its fangs more ferociously than when I try to learn Torah, especially with a chavrusa. There is a huge, impenetrable wall in front of me. Any excuse to get out of learning! Schmoozing is my particular talent. I can schmooze about anything for any amount of time. Woe to me if I have a chavrusa who refuses to schmooze! I feel like a prisoner being thrown into the dungeon! Let me out! I can’t breathe!
I know when I’m doing something important by how violently the Evil Inclination attacks me. Learning is the ultimate. As we say every day, “Talmud Torah keneged kulam … Talmud Torah is equivalent to all….” (Shabbos 127a) And that must be why Chazal tell us, “My son, I have created the Evil Inclination and I have created Torah tavlin, as its antidote.” (Kiddushin 30b)
But I want to say that, just because it seems impossible to overcome the Evil Inclination – or perhaps precisely because it seems impossible! – that means we can do it. We can do it because Hashem, Who is Above All, is going to help us if we plead with Him! “Blessed are You, Hashem, Who teaches Torah to His people Israel!”
Do you think it came easy to Moshe Rabbeinu? I am sure that no one ever labored more intensely than he to acquire Torah, and that is why he became our eternal “Rabbeinu.”
My friends, Tisha B’Av is here. It is time to overcome. It is time to fight. It is time to scream to Hashem from the depths of our neshomas to save us! It is time for Torah to prevail. It is time to transform the Evil Inclination from our greatest enemy to our most powerful servant! It is time to overcome death and embrace Life!
In the merit of the holy Jews who walk this planet, in the merit of the holy life of Yisrael Amichai Avrahami z”l, may we all do teshuva and merit to see Yerushalayim rebuilt in our days!
“Let him put his mouth to the dust. There may yet be hope.” (Eichah 3:29)