I have this issue with talking to strangers on the phone. I’m not sure why – maybe it has to do with the anonymity of a phone call, that faceless voice murmuring in the static darkness of a phone line. If I meet you on the street, no problem. Doesn’t matter if you’re the Deputy Chief of Police of Malta, the Ambassador of Nepal to Israel, or an Arab in Beit Tzafafa; I’ve met and spoken comfortably with all types of people. But, when it comes to speaking on the phone, I lose the confidence that I bring with me into face-to-face conversations. Things as mundane as ordering food by phone from a restaurant do not afford me the simplicity that others experience when engaging in the basic act. Work-related activities, like phone interviews for a newspaper are not easy. I try to avoid these situations as much as I can.
That’s why, as Tisha B’Av neared its end, I decided to change. On my way to maariv, I listened to the fiery words of Rav Ephraim Wachsman illustrate that within every moment of falling and pain is an opportunity for spiritual growth. For this reason, he explained, the sefarim hakodeshim teach that Tisha B’Av is an opportune time to take kabalot upon oneself, to make resolutions of personal and spiritual growth. And I decided that speaking to others on the phone was my undertaking to achieve a closer relationship with G-d. Because this ability and willingness to speak to strangers on the phone isn’t just a practical skill to acquire. It is a matter of overcoming a character flaw that G-d created within me and ultimately a means to spiritual growth.
The moment after I made the kabalah, I lifted up my head. A falcon flailed and flapped its wings, unable to take off from my neighbor’s driveway. It looked like it was gasping for air. Within the pain that the bird was going through, I recognized the handiwork of G-d. I had, but seconds earlier, pledged to myself that I would speak up on the phone when necessary. The bird breathed what may have been some of its final breaths – I had to take action! – but whom to call?
Of course, G-d had designed this situation for me. At that instance, a lady pulled up next door. After explaining the situation, she looked up the number for the local police. I waited, half hoping that she would handle it herself, yet realizing that Hashem wanted me to make the phone call. She told me the number, went into her house and left me with a decision to make: leave the scene and avoid the phone call with no one ever knowing or seize the growth opportunity that G-d had presented. The choice was clear. As the Mesillat Yesharim writes:
When the time for a positive deed arrives, or when a positive deed presents itself, or when the idea to perform a positive deed enters one’s mind, one should quickly spring into action and perform it.
I phoned the police who gave me the number to Animal Control who said they would send someone over to have a look at the bird, which now lied flat on its stomach breathing heavily.
Animal Control told me I could leave the scene before they arrived and I did, because for me this incident wasn’t about if the bird had survived or not. As far as I was concerned, the bird had fulfilled its purpose. The bird was planted there, by G-d, in order to give me an opportunity to fulfill my kabalah as soon as I had taken it upon myself. Sure, one could look at the moment as if everything was happenstance. I conveniently chose to walk out of my house at the right time, took the correct path out of the three routes to shul, had been listening to the perfect shiur, and noticed a bird that happened to land at a particular house in the area. Or, the occurrence could be interpreted as a meaningful and purposeful avenue to Divine connection; G-d intervened with both the bird’s and my own life in order to grant me a chance to fulfill my kabalah at the soonest possible moment. If the bird survived, great. And if it did not live on, also great; it died the loftiest of deaths. The bird, from my perspective, fulfilled its purpose by serving as the catalyst for a Jew to connect to G-d.
This is one aspect of Tisha B’Av. The Beit HaMikdash was the spiritual epicenter for the physical world. It was the quintessential physical entity for Divine connection in this universe. The loss of the Beit HaMikdash has certainly altered the spiritual wellsprings from which our people were once able to draw. However, if we are keen, we can take advantage of the remaining physical world which constantly provides opportunities to tap into a relationship with the Almighty.
In the merit of Tisha B’Av we should all take kabalot to seek G-d out in the physical world and to attribute every moment to His intimate design of our personal lives. Through our kabalot, may Hashem cause the physical world to lift us to spiritual heights with the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash, and may the birds continue to help us soar to the spiritual ideal by bringing us back to the House of G-d on their wings, speedily in our days.