Thursday, August 11, 2005

The First Time I Ever Cried on Tisha B'Av

Tisha B’Av is right around the corner and the days and weeks leading up to it are structured halachically to evoke a certain sense of pain, sorrow, and yearning for better times. This is a difficult task for most of us. In 21st century America, it’s hard to “get in the mood” for Tisha B’Av. We live, more or less, in comfort. Some of us live in great luxury.

I imagine it was easier to be mournful in Nazi Germany, or in Stalanist Russia, or during the time of pogroms, or the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition. Yes, then Jews could sit on the floor and cry out to G-d to redeem us and bring us to a better place and time.

But today? You must be joking.

It is difficult to legislate emotion. Therefore, the halachic strategy (as a good friend of mine terms it) legislates behavior, which, through proper analysis and understanding elicits (one hopes) the requisite emotion.

Many of us have gone without shaving and bathing these past nine days. We have shut off our radios and i-pods. We have curtailed certain joyous activities. But while these behaviors may make us uncomfortable, we are still far from grief-stricken. I doubt that many of us feel truly despondent over the lack of a Temple in our midst. We go through the motions of mourning, but the emotional component—which is the point of it all—remains elusive.

One Tisha B’Av, I was sitting on the floor in shul, the lights dimmed, and I thought, Why am I here? Why are any of us here? Because a building was destroyed? What does that have to do with me? How does that affect me?

I acknowledge its tragic place in Jewish history. I am willing to go through the routine of recognizing the catastrophe. Yes, I want to feel badly about it, but try as I might I can’t conjure up any real sense of pain, loss and longing.

I decided to focus instead on something sad that had recently occurred in my own life. That year I had discovered that a friend of the family had married a non-Jew. I was devastated. How could this have happened? Here was someone who had a Jewish education, a strong connection to Judaism—strong enough to question why other Jewish friends had forsaken Torah—yet, who ran off and did the same thing.

It dawned on me that this was the great tragedy of Tisha B’Av. I wasn’t mourning the destruction of the Temple; I was mourning the result of the destruction of the Temple. The real destruction continues to this day—the fallout of that terrible day, the consequences of our people being uprooted. Our people were exiled. They moved from place to place. Life became increasingly difficult. Jews dropped off. Without the Temple, the Jewish people became unmoored, lost in a harsh and hateful gentile world.

My friend was destroyed by these aftershocks. This betrayal would not have happened in a properly functioning Jewish society. The temptations of the outside world would have been muted rather than amplified. The greatness of Torah and the Jewish Nation would be blatant. But instead my friend struggled, and ultimately rejected this lifestyle. My friend's departure from Torah marked the end of a long series of events that began not at birth or at high school graduation, but centuries earlier, when our ancestors were forced to leave their homeland, when G-d estranged Himself from His people.

And then I cried.

First I cried for those Jews who were no longer sitting on the floor on Tisha B’Av, those Jews who got up, dusted themselves off, and abandoned their faith for the pleasures and freedoms of this world. Next, I cried for those Jews who never knew to sit on the floor, whose grandparents threw their tefillin overboard on their way to Ellis Island, whose connection to Judaism is so tenuous it would take the Messiah to bring them back.

Then I cried for those of us who remain—the frum Jews. Are we really living the way G-d intended us to? Are we lost in the triumphalism of our own success? What of those we’ve left behind? I cried for those of us who have the talent and resources to do something to stop the outflow of young Jews from their heritage, and promote the inflow of baalei teshuvah back to their heritage.

Finally, I cried for myself. What if I had grown up down the street from the Temple in Holy Jerusalem, living in a Torah society framed and legislated by the Word of G-d, instead of in a foreign land, where temptation “crouches at the door”? Would I not be a holier person? Would I not be a more complete person? Would I not indeed be a happier person?

This Tisha B’Av while you are sitting on the floor in shul or at home, think of all the people who are not there to join you—your neighbors, your colleagues at work. Ask yourself where their Yiddishkeit has gone. It no doubt went up in the same flames that burned the stones of the Bais Hamikdash.

Is your Yiddishkeit not far behind?

I wish everyone a mournful and meaningful Tisha B’Av.

17 Comments:

Blogger parcequilfaut said...

That was a beautiful meditation.

My own community mourns, not at a set time, for the lost lives and knowledge since "the burning times". Had we a tisha b'av of our own, perhaps we would be healthier the rest of the year.

But I must say that all of the gentile world is harsh and hateful. At least, I'm not, or try not to be.)

Be well in your time of sorrow...

Thu Aug 11, 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

Humbling.

Thu Aug 11, 08:05:00 PM  
Blogger Margaritagirrl said...

"I was mourning the result of the destruction of the Temple. The real destruction continues to this day—the fallout of that terrible day, the consequences of our people being uprooted. Our people were exiled. They moved from place to place. Life became increasingly difficult. Jews dropped off. Without the Temple, the Jewish people became unmoored, lost in a harsh and hateful gentile world."

COULD NOT HAVE SAID IT BETTER MYSELF. THESE ARE MY THOUGHTS TOO, BUT YOU MANAGED TO PUT IT DOWN SO PERFECTLY! I WILL BE THINKING ABOUT THIS ON TISHA B'AV.
THANK YOU.

Thu Aug 11, 08:14:00 PM  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Very beautiful words, as usual.

It is a tragedy when a Jew leaves his/her religion and goes elsewhere.

To me, it is also a tragedy when Jews are left to judge other Jews and exclude them because their level of observance is not the same. They are made to feel like footnotes, or non-existent, expelled by their own people.
These types of actions by my own people make me cry, and feel wounded as well.

Thu Aug 11, 11:29:00 PM  
Blogger Lvnsm27 said...

Excellent message. I have tears in my eyes.

Thu Aug 11, 11:56:00 PM  
Blogger Jew Speak said...

Nice post. You hit the nail on the head once again. I saw an excellent article on
cross-currents
that attempted to bring Tisha B’Av closer to home by relating the destruction of the two temples to the twin towers. The only way we can relate to our history is to think about it. If we can make it real for ourselves then we will be setting an example for our kids. Hopefully when they grow up it won't be so difficult to relate to the tragedies of Tisha B’Av.

Fri Aug 12, 12:31:00 AM  
Blogger MC Aryeh said...

Thank you for a way in to Tisha B'Av. Perhaps this year it will bring real tears...there is certainly enough to cry over in the world to relate back to the loss of the beis hamikdash.

Fri Aug 12, 02:36:00 AM  
Blogger Mirty said...

How could any girl turn down George Clooney? (If it was me, I'm really sorry.)

As always, your words are beautifully crafted and resonant.

Fri Aug 12, 09:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent and timely. Yasher Koach.

Fri Aug 12, 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger Elster said...

While not on point, a thought:

Of all the blogs I read, only LD manages to be both eloquent and meaningful in every post. That is a major accomplishment in of itself.

Sorry for the tangent, just thought it need to be said.

Fri Aug 12, 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger fsgsf said...

Very touching! Have an easy and meaningful fast!

Peace!
NJ from NJ

Fri Aug 12, 12:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out the article in this week's Hamodia from The Bobover Rav, Z'l, where he makes a similar point about Tisha Bov.

Sun Aug 14, 02:52:00 PM  
Blogger Shopaholic said...

GP. Put my thoughts into perspecitve and helped me focus on what today is all about.

Thanks

Sun Aug 14, 05:46:00 PM  
Blogger Manny said...

Thank you for making me cry for the first time on my tisha b'av

Sun Aug 14, 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger brianna said...

I cry for those who are being forcably removed from their homes this tisha b'av. Yes, it has begun. And fellow Jews are doing this.

Sun Aug 14, 08:51:00 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

On Tisha B'Av night I was sitting on the floor with a small group, while a larger group was nearby but oblivious. After everything I said a word, acknowledging people's awareness to be in the right place.

A few years ago someone wrote an article about taking her very bright (what then?) son out of Yeshiva and putting him in public school. I thought about it. and I realized I don't thank my parents enough for the great gift they gave me of a Jewish education.

Wed Aug 17, 09:29:00 PM  
Blogger Y.Y. said...

your blog is awesome

Fri Aug 19, 11:16:00 AM  

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