Shabbat Hazon: Making Room to Mourn, Because the World is Broken

Those who mourn with Jerusalem will be privileged to celebrate with her – Ta’anit 30b

The Roman Arch of Titus clearly shows the soldiers returning from the sack of Jerusalem carrying the gold utensils of the Temple as spoils

This Shabbat is Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av. Because it falls on Shabbat, we will observe Tisha B’Av on Sunday 10 Av, rather than tomorrow which is the 9th of the month (and Tisha B’Av means nothing more than “the 9th of Av”), because Shabbat takes precedence over all other observances.

Tisha B’Av is a fast day very different in character from Yom Kippur, when we fast to act out our desire to rise above the human impulses that make us easy prey for our yetzer Hara’, our evil impulse. The fast of Tisha b’Av is a fast of grief, and for all that is lost.

Our mourning as a people is observed for all those who died because they are part of our people: from the destruction of our ancestral home in Jerusalem by the Babylonian Empire in 586 BCE and again by the Roman Empire in 70 CE, to those who lost their homes and their lives in the Crusades, the Expulsion from Spain, the Kishinev Pogrom and so horribly many more….

In all our powerless years we could only mourn. There are those who suggest that since the re-establishment of the Jewish homeland, we no longer need Tisha B’Av. But like all the rest of our holy days, it is still possible to see that it has a place in our hearts. First, in order to continue to commemorate and mourn all those lives lost to us, and second, to make room for our own mourning over the true reason for the day, and why it has never, alas, lost its relevance.

The enduring lesson of Tisha b’Av is that, despite our wonderful capacity for love and joy, we human beings too often bring about our own destruction. As a people, the Rabbis of the Talmud taught, we begin to destroy ourselves when we allow the feelings of others to be less important than our own. They call it sin’at hinam“baseless hatred.” 

Tisha B’Av, the Ninth of Av, allows us to feel the sorrow of our collective human callousness toward each other and what it has wrought. Judaism sees the destruction of Jerusalem as a symbol of the prophet Jeremiah’s ancient warning, which still rings too true in all of the cities and towns where we dwell:

בִּכְנָפַ֙יִךְ֙ נִמְצְא֔וּ דַּ֛ם נַפְשׁ֥וֹת אֶבְיוֹנִ֖ים נְקִיִּ֑ים

on your garments is found the lifeblood of the innocent poor (Jeremiah 2.34)

שׁוֹטְט֞וּ בְּחוּצ֣וֹת יְרוּשָׁלַ֗͏ִם וּרְאוּ־נָ֤א וּדְעוּ֙ וּבַקְשׁ֣וּ בִרְחוֹבוֹתֶ֔יהָ אִם־תִּמְצְא֣וּ אִ֔ישׁ אִם־יֵ֛שׁ עֹשֶׂ֥ה מִשְׁפָּ֖ט מְבַקֵּ֣שׁ אֱמוּנָ֑ה

Roam the streets of Jerusalem, search its squares, look about and take note: You will not find a single person who acts justly, who seeks integrity (Jeremiah 5.1)

We’re only human, and when we’re overwhelmed with the enormity of the world’s suffering, in which we participate, we must find room and time to mourn. We Jews and those who travel with us undertake this mourning that we need in community ritual, and thus support each other through it. 

It’s a necessary balancing act. If we cannot see that there is cause to mourn, we will not be able to experience it, and thus to move through it, and, then, we hope, with eyes newly opened, to seek the blessing that we might wrest from it.

There’s an old saying that those who mourn with Jerusalem will be blessed to celebrate with her as well. Whether it is the earthly Jerusalem so in need of healing on both sides of the West Bank separation wall, or the mythical Jerusalem that stands for all our hearts yearn for, may we who have so many reasons to mourn live to see the time of celebration hashta b’agla uvizman kariv, speedily and in our days, amen.

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