Once again, I am sitting at my computer, contemplating the upcoming day and subsequent fast of Tisha b’Av, the 9th of Av. Every year it is accompanied by the same feelings of frustration and exasperation. Why are we doing this again? Why is this year, like so many years before it, a day and a time of sorrow and fasting and not a day of jubilation? Why are we, once again, going to sit on the floor and mourn the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem?
Why can’t we finally get it right?
Any generation which doesn’t merit seeing the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem it is as if it was destroyed in their days.(Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Yuma 1:1)
See, this is the thing: we don’t really need this time of the year to happen. It doesn’t have to come. The real problem is that we are not making the effort to overcome the problems that caused the destruction of the Temples. The real problem is – dare I say – that we are kind of comfortable with the world the way it is today. We have our Shabbos; we have our festivals; and… we have our days of mourning. Look! It’s right here on my daily planner! Pesach, Lag b’Omer, Shavuot, Tisha b’Av! So, right after Tisha b’Av let’s do this…
We are, indeed, very comfortable with the way things are. However, we really, really shouldn’t be.
The day of Tisha b’Av is a strange one. It’s not just that the intensity of the fast changes, suddenly, at midday. Whereas until then, from nightfall the previous day we sat on the floor and mourned, we are now allowed to sit on chairs again. Whereas in the morning prayers we didn’t wear tefillin, in the afternoon, we do. There are even people who have the custom of cleaning the house and painting the walls in the afternoon of Tisha b’Av. Why is this? Because, if we use the day correctly, it has the potential to help us to overcome the problems that made this day into a fast day, and to transform it into a day of redemption. There is a lessening, a weakening of the mourning because we are meant to use the day powerfully and change it into the time of our redemption.
This is what is supposed to happen if we let the three weeks go by undisturbed and arrive at the day of Tisha b’Av.
But why did we wait?
We all knew – as of the 17th of Tammuz – that the three weeks were beginning. We all knew that they culminate in the nine days and ultimately with Tisha b’Av, so why didn’t we prepare then? We could have fixed all of our problems, rebuilt the Temple before the nine days even began, taken out the meat and wine and changed the nature of the month into one of feasting instead of fasting. So, why didn’t we do that? Is it that we like not shaving and getting our hair cut? Do we like minimizing our bathing? Do we enjoy watching the laundry pile up around the house? Is that it? I would think that, no, it’s not.
So, why didn’t we start preparing then?
My guess is because we are just running our lives on the daily routine, going through the daily motions until … the nine days came. We then said to ourselves “Shoot! OK, we still have the nine days left.” Only to discover that no. It passed quickly, as well. And here we are again, on the Eve of the Ninth of Av.
We are preparing to fast. We are trying to get into a mindset of the day. We are trying… to figure out what to do so that the fast passes by painlessly, so that we can “get on with our lives.”
That’s us, folks! As I always tell my students, paraphrasing the prophets in the time of Judges (Shoftim), that we, the Jewish people, have never missed an opportunity… to miss an opportunity.
As I have mentioned in previous years (see links above) many people feel a disassociation with the day. “After all,” they say, “how can I mourn for something that happened so long ago?” (Which I would like to paraphrase here as “How can I mourn something that I know nothing about?”) The answer – go and learn! If you feel disassociated from something, that is usually an indicator that you know nothing about it in general, and even less specifically. I’m not talking about going to learn about the measurements of the Temple (no, don’t go take out Tractate Middos or the book of Zecharia, both of which enumerate the measurements of the Temple). Don’t go and learn the Laws of Sacrifices of the Rambam, to learn about the details of how one offers a sacrifice. These things won’t help you so much on the day of the Ninth. What you need to ask yourself is what did the Temple do/mean for me? What did it do for/mean to the Jewish people? What did it mean to the world?
What was the world like when we had a Temple, and what became of it afterward?
These are things that we need to ponder very deeply on the Ninth of Av because it is only by recognizing this, that we can start to comprehend what we are mourning about, and why its loss is a disaster.
I hope that this gives you some reason and/or direction to focus on this Tisha b’Av. If HaShem allows, be”H, I will try and post some more with more information on Tisha b’Av (it’s late Friday afternoon, and Shabbos is coming!)