Matot-Masei: Avoiding Litigation During the Month of Av

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Scales and Gavel
12 Jul 2007

The Shulchan Arukh states that since the beginning of Av is a time of bad fortune for the Jews, it is best to put off litigation with non-Jews until after the ninth of Av, at the very least (Orach Chaim 551:1). We can easily see why days of ill fortune are a bad time to travel or engage in some other dangerous activity, as we explained last week. But regarding a court case, shouldn’t the bad luck balance out? Why does our bad fortune translate into good fortune for the non-Jewish litigant? Conversely, since Adar is a month of good fortune, it is a good time to adjudicate with a Gentile (Mishna Berura 686:8), hinting that our good fortune is correlated with our opponent’s bad fortune.

We can find the source for this “see-saw” idea in the Torah. When Rivka suffers from her pregnancy, she learns through prophecy that each of her twins will found a great nation, and “nation will contend with nation” (Bereshit 25:23). Rashi (based on Megilla 6a) explains that “they will never be equal in greatness; when one rises up the other falls”.

Yet there is another source that suggests the opposite. The Torah says that HaShem is solicitous of the land of Israel, that He seeks out its good (Devarim 11:12). Rashi (based on Sifri) explains that when blessing the world, God blesses first the Land of Israel, and via the land of Israel He blesses the rest of the world. The Sifri goes on to mention that when the Psalm says that HaShem watches over the people of Israel (Tehillim 121:4), it means He first watches over us, but for our sake He watches all of mankind. Not only does our good fortune not contradict the fortune of the nations – it is the basis for it!

We can resolve this paradox by distinguishing between greatness and blessing. Any number of nations can each be blessed or protected, but only one can have greatness or leadership. Each individual, and each nation, has a special contribution – artistic, scientific, political, etc. – to make to humanity. These contributions are very important, but they can not give meaning to life on the level of mankind as a whole.

When Israel is exalted – when the greatness, the direction in which humanity is going, is defined by spirituality – then all of these faculties are blessed through the blessing of Israel, and humanity ascends spiritually and materially. But when mankind is drawn to worship something else, worshiping power, or wealth, or beauty, then spirituality will necessarily be in decline. A person can serve God and wield power, but he can not serve God and serve power.

Av, the month when the power-hungry Babylonians and later Romans destroyed our Temple, symbolizes for us the ascendancy of material concerns over spiritual ones. This is a time for avoiding confrontation, which then takes on the character of petty rivalry.

Adar, the month when the faith and integrity of Esther and Mordekhai and the Jewish people who united to pray for them overcame the evil designs of the gluttonous Persians, symbolizes the ascendancy of spirit over matter.

Then we are confident that even our petty legal matters are subservient to a higher spiritual purpose.

Rabbi Asher Meir is the author of the book Meaning in Mitzvot, distributed by Feldheim. The book provides insights into the inner meaning of our daily practices, following the order of the 221 chapters of the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.