Tisha b’Av Special Edition: The Sweet Pain of Lamentations

The saddest day on the Hebrew calendar yields a surprise.

When we read Lamentations, we have an opportunity to connect with both grief and joy.

Table for Five: Tisha b’Av Special Edition

Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

O how has the city that was once so populous remained lonely! She has become like a widow! She that was great among the nations, a princess among the provinces, has become tributary.

-Lamentations 1:1

David Sacks, Torah Podcaster LivingwithGod.org

The Kotzker Rebbe says, if a person can’t cry over the destruction of the Holy Temple… they should cry over the fact… that they can’t cry.

If I’m going to be honest, I’m not even sure what the Holy Temple is, other than a building from a long time ago. And if I’m going to cry over any Jewish event, it should be the Holocaust. Why don’t we fast over that?

The answer is, Tisha B’Av is the fast day for the Holocaust and every tragedy we experience. Not because we lump all the sad times together and check them off on Tisha B’Av. Rather because all sadness is rooted in the destruction of the Holy Temple.

That’s because the Holy Temple wasn’t just a beautiful building… It’s the connection between heaven and earth. Without it, brokenness fills the world. With it, we can fly to the highest heights.

The Holy Temple is a vessel created to hold the highest light from heaven. But the vessel isn’t the building itself. The vessel is the love Jewish people have for each other. When that love went away, because we were hating each other for no reason, the Holy Temple went away with it.

How do we get it back? By rebuilding the love in our hearts. That will create the vessel that will hold the highest light once again. And we can begin right now, with our very next encounter.

Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn, BCC – B’nai David-Judea Congregation

When our streets were empty and we were on lockdown, we saw a city dwelling alone and lonely. Loneliness has proven to be a psychological and spiritual threat that we continue to process. And yet that same loneliness is a thread that connects us all.

The world, once populous and vibrant, stood still– our streets yearning in the absence, like a widow. Rashi famously teaches on our verse that God does not leave us truly as a widow. Rather, the city is like a person whose spouse has gone away with the intention to return.

Few generations know what it is to viscerally move from isolation to reunion in the way we do. The result is that our prayers for return– to each other and to God– have a messianic poignancy, rawness, and potency to them. Tisha B’Av is a day when we sit in the ashes and encounter the sorrow, pain, illness, and loneliness that still exist. And it’s a day when we are honest about our sins and responsibility along the way.

This Tisha B’Av, let’s remind ourselves and God that our Beloved left only momentarily, with the intention to return. Realizing that promise requires that we respond to the loneliness in each other, such that our cities, hearts, and minds begin to feel whole and held. This moment has the power to be redemptive because we understand the pain of our verse more than ever before. May we merit to step up to the task.

Rabbi David Stein, Director of Judaic Studies, Shalhevet High School

I often hear from people who tell me that they have trouble connecting with Tish’a B’av. “How can I mourn for an event that happened so long ago?,” they ask. “Why should I be sad for Jerusalem – I’ve visited, and it’s a thriving, bustling city!” They report that the heroism of Chanukah, the freedom of Passover, and even the introspection of Yom Kippur each carry much more meaning than the difficult and depressing rituals of Tish’a B’av.

To be honest, I understand the challenge. What are we even commemorating on this day – other than an ancient tragedy that feels far less immediate than the Holocaust and increasingly anachronistic to those who recognize the miraculous triumphs of the State of Israel? In a word, though, I would argue that on this day – more than any other – we connect to Jewish peoplehood.

On Tish’a B’av, I’m often drawn to what Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik once wrote about being part of the Jewish people: “A Jew who believes in the Jewish people is the Jew who lives as part of it…feels its pain, rejoices in its triumphs, fights its battles, mourns its defeats, and celebrates its victories.” In other words, connecting with Jewish peoplehood requires feeling the ups and downs of our shared history – the “princely” highs and the lonely and “widowed” lows alluded to in our verse. Ultimately, then, Tish’a B’av demands that we translate our past into a commitment to face the challenges and partake in the triumphs of our present.

Tova Leibovic-Douglas

I remember the first time I experienced Tisha B’Av. I was nine years old and attending Camp Ramah when our counselor told us to wear black and bring a flashlight. I sat on the grass next to my confused bunkmates and listened to the most gorgeous and tragic trope for Eicha (Lamentations). At that point in my life, Judaism was the opposite of this experience; it was beautiful, hopeful, and joyful. That night, there was a solitude present, an undercurrent of loss that left me in tears.

This year seems to be calling us to honor Tisha B’av in a way that we may not have in prior years. It is the day to mourn what once was and what will never be again; a day to understand our loneliness and pain, to hold our grief and our tears. This year, we need to hear the chant of Eicha and channel the sadness of our ancestors, as we too exist in our personal trauma.

We mourn the loss of our Temple, both the one that was destroyed and our metaphorical Temple: our sense of self, body, and spirit. In this year of tremendous loss, as we re-enter a world that is the same and different, the wisdom of our Hebrew calendar invites us to ritualize and embody our feelings. We begin with O, and we let out our sighs and wails as our ancestors did and we are part of the rhythm of our heart and soul, perhaps ready to heal.

Ilana Wilner, Judaic Studies Teacher & Director of Student Activities

There’s nothing that makes me feel more present and connected to Tisha b’Av than hearing the haunting first verse sung in the sad yet stunning tune.

אֵיכָ֣ה  יָשְׁבָ֣ה בָדָ֗ד

How could a city once booming with life and happiness now be in mourning and alone? The Rabbis in Eicha Rabbah note that the opening word of Eicha, “how could it be” comes up three times in the Bible. The rabbis suggest that in order to understand the experience of Tisha b’Av you need to understand the eicha that precedes the Eicha of our megillah.

The word first appears in Exodus when Moshe uses the word eicha to ask how he can carry the people by himself. The second is when Isaiah foresees the sins of the Jewish people leading to the destruction of the Holy Temple. The last, from Lamentations describing the despair over the destruction. Each of these represents a phase in the process of destruction. From peace and unity to Isaiah seeing the seeds of the Jewish people starting to fall to the final lamentation.

To fully understand this we must also ask what precedes this process. This word from Genesis, ayeka, where are you? gives us some insight. After Adam and Eve sinned with the Tree of Knowledge God asked, “ayeka?, where are you?” God asking Adam this question shows a strain in the relationship. This word is spelled with the exact same letters as our word eicha and reminds us that our destruction and sins stemmed from the foundational question of ayeka? Where are you? Why aren’t you here? When we hear Eicha and think of the mourning of the destruction of the temple, we should also be thinking about the destruction of Ayeka, the destruction of the relationship with God.

With thanks to David Sacks, Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn, Rabbi David Stein, Tova Leibovic-Douglas, and Ilana Wilner

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