An Important Message Regarding Today’s Fast and the Heat Wave
About an hour ago, I had a flashback to a Shiva Asar B'Tamuz of what seems like a lifetime ago, when I served as Head Counselor in Camp Arugath Habosem (commonly known as The Tzelemer Camp) in the mid 1980's. Similar to what is transpiring in many parts of the USA this year, we were in the midst of a heat wave, which took its toll on the children and adults alike -- despite the fact that we were in the relatively cooler Catskill Mountains.
During the Krias haTorah (reading of the Torah) of the late afternoon Mincha Tefilah, I was called over to have a look at a 13-year-old camper who was complaining of feeling light-headed. A short moment later, his eyes rolled up in his head and he collapsed and fainted. That set off what would have seemed like a comedy routine if it wasn't such a serious matter. A Hatzalah member ran to his car to get his emergency kit and he fainted promptly upon reentering the shul. Then in short order, two or three more people fainted or lay down on benches to recover from light-headedness.
As soon as the Hatzalah member passed out, I asked several counselors to bring cups and drinks from the kitchen (only partly tongue-in-cheek, they were instructed to walk and not run) and immediately went to the Tzehlemer Rov shlit'a to ask for his P'sak Din (halachic ruling). The Rov personally announced that all campers and unmarried staff members must immediately drink liquids and that anyone who felt weak in any way must go to the dining room and break his fast. And although I was feeling well at the time, with the P'sak and encouragement of the Rov shlit'a, I made a Bracha and took a drink while standing next to him, to signal to my staff members and campers alike that this is what the Torah required of us.
This email is being sent at this time to encourage parents, and especially those who have many children in their care in bungalow colonies and summer camps, to confer with their Poskim in order to determine the appropriate course of action to protect the safety and well-being of our children, many of whom may already be in early stages of dehydration after sleeping in steaming bunkhouses for days now. It is also important to note that lacking clear direction from the adults in their lives, peer pressure is such that pre-teens and especially teenagers will often be reticent to break their fast as it may be seen as a sign of weakness. With that in mind, it is all the more important that the Halacha be clearly stated to them.
Dehydration is no simple matter, and those of us in the Mirrer Yeshiva, Yerushalayim, in 1979 got a horrible lesson in its danger when a talmid of the Yeshiva died after not properly hydrating himself during an excursion. And I write these lines, just having broken my own fast today due to light-headedness, despite being in an air conditioned home and having consumed as much water as possible at 2 a.m. this morning.
Finally, this is also a "teachable moment" for us to be Mechanech our children in our Torah's admonition of "V'chai B'ahem" (Vayikrah 18:5) -- that we conduct ourselves in a manner that protects the gift of life given to us by Hashem.
Best wishes for a meaningful and easy Ta'anis,
P.S. As a side note, in the aftermath of the fainting spell during Mincha, Rabbi Berel Strasser shlit'a, who served as the 8th grade rebbi in Tzehlimer camp, and was a close talmid of the great tzaddik, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Greenwald zt'l, the previous Tzehlimer Rov, noted that during a brutally hot Shiva Asar B'Tamuz, the Rov zt'l told the counselors to take all their campers wading in the shallow water of the pool so they could cool off.
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