The Tisch: Where's the meat?

Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Friedman of Sadigora (1819-1883) questioned the customs of Tisha Be'av.

challah with raisins 521 (photo credit: Dan Lev)
challah with raisins 521
(photo credit: Dan Lev)
Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Friedman of Sadigora (1819-1883), who stood at the helm of the Sadigora Hassidim from the regal house of Ruzhin for 32 years, was once offered an explanation for the custom of beginning the Shabbat evening service earlier than normal on the week before the fast of Tisha Be’av. The person who offered the explanation suggested that people are hungry to eat meat after not having not having done so for a number of days since the beginning of the Hebrew month of Av, as per the Ashkenazi custom.
Hungry for meat, we begin the service earlier than normal in order to get home and eat.
The Old Sadigora Rebbe did not accept this explanation. How can someone suggest that customs of the Jewish people are driven by an ignoble lust for meat?! He therefore offered an alternative explanation.
When one travels through the thick darkness of the night, steps are taken gingerly, taking care not to go astray. When a light appears in the distance the traveler’s steps hasten in order to get to the source of the light as quickly as possible.
Unpacking the parable, the Old Sadigora Rebbe explained: Throughout the year we journey cautiously so as not to go astray. The Shabbat before Tisha Be’av is known as Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat of the vision – because we read Isaiah’s vision (hazon) that opens with a description of the low spiritual level of the Jewish people during the First Temple period.
According to Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev (1740-1809), on this Shabbat there are those that merit to see a vision of all the bountiful good that awaits those who serve the Almighty with love. As Shabbat Hazon approaches and the light of the End of Days can almost be perceived, it is no wonder that we quicken our steps and hasten to usher in the Shabbat! YEARS LATER, the grandson of the Old Sadigora Rebbe, Rabbi Aharon Friedman of Sadigora (Kedushat Aharon, 1876-1912), expanded on this idea. In the summer of 1908 the Kedushat Aharon was walking in the forest when someone recounted the explanation of his grandfather. The Kedushat Aharon added: The weeks leading up to Tisha Be’av are called the Bein Hametzarim, the days “between the straits.” In contrast, Shabbat is called Nahala Bli Metzarim, a heritage that has no limits. The Jewish people long to leave the straits of distress and enter a spiritual realm that is not bound by temporal limits. Thus we hurry from the Bein Hametzarim, the straits of distress, to the Nahala Bli Metzarim, the reality that is limitless.
The Kedushat Aharon recounted another memory from his grandfather to explain why Shabbat Hazon was ushered in earlier than any other Shabbat. When Tisha Be’av falls on a Sunday or on a Shabbat – as is the case this year – the fast begins immediately after the conclusion of Shabbat.
On a normal Shabbat, we are permitted to extend the holy day even after nightfall, beyond the official conclusion of the day. Not so if the fast of Tisha Be’av begins immediately after Shabbat. The Kedushat Aharon recounted in the name of the Old Sadigora Rebbe that since under these circumstances we are unable to extend Shabbat beyond its conclusion, we try to extend Shabbat at the other end by commencing the holy day earlier. The method is different, but the goal is identical: to add Shabbat holiness.
A further explanation was offered by the Kedushat Aharon on Shabbat Hazon itself. The three Shabbatot preceding Tisha Be’av each have a special designated portion that we read from the prophets. These portions begin with three different expressions: divrei (the words of), shimu (listen) and hazon (vision) – hinting at the need for us to repair our faults in speech, in hearing and in sight. The portion from the prophets that is read after Tisha Be’av talks of comforting the Jewish people after the destruction, and includes the words “and all basar will see” (Isaiah 40:5).
“Basar” in this context means “humans,” but term literally means “flesh” or “meat.”
The Kedushat Aharon explained: Indeed, there is a lust for meat on Shabbat Hazon – not for physical meat, but for the fulfillment of the verse: “And the glory of God shall be revealed, and all flesh [basar] will see together, for the mouth of God has spoken it” (Isaiah 40:5).

The writer is on the faculty of Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and is a rabbi in Tzur Hadassah.