A Reflection for Tisha b'Av

Translated as “the ninth day of the month of Av,” Tisha B’Av marks the destruction of the two great Temples that once stood in Jerusalem, and over time it has come to mourn many of the tragedies which have befallen the Jewish people. Tisha B’Av embodies our collective history and struggles, and it is one of the most challenging days on the Jewish calendar. Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning.

On the eve of Tisha B’Av, we read the book of Eicha (Lamentations). It begins, “how lonely sits the city once full of people,” bearing witness to the destruction of the Temple and the exile from Jerusalem.  But remembering alone is not enough. Jewish tradition tells us to observe Tisha B’Av by removing the amenities that provide us comfort and make up our daily lives and instructs us to fast, sit on the floor (a traditional sign of mourning), and to refrain from bathing, beautifying or applying cosmetics. These practices express collective mourning and remind us, once again, of what was and still is greater than ourselves.

It is unusual for a faith of hope and optimism to suspend these longing. But by immersing ourselves in the collective experience of persecution, we gain the foundation for redemption. Tisha B’Av gives us the space to confront the grief caused by destruction and oppression and to realize that there is no place in the world for religious intolerance, hatred or violence. Hopefully we move forward in our lives re-inspired to eradicate these evils.

In the words of Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, a contemporary Jewish scholar and author of The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays

“By experiencing the tragedy afresh each year, Jews can never become reconciled neither to the destruction of the Temple nor to the Exile. Through Reenactment, every year it is as if the tragedy has “just occurred” and the shock is still fresh. So Jews taste the dregs of defeat and suffering even when they experience success and peace in their daily lives. Thus, they become more sensitive to those who still suffer and those who need help. This is the messianic spirit, the faith that builds on the sands of despair, the faith that knows death and fights it. This people, overthrown many times, has rebuilt the ruins and lived on. Today, the hope that Jews can avoid being drunk with the power of sovereignty and evolving into unfeeling conquerors lies in the retention of the memory of being victims and losers in the past. The key to that accomplishment is the continuing power of reliving the past.”

Our work too goes on to celebrate life, to cherish the divine image within people throughout the world and to realize their human rights. On this day of intense grief and sorrow, let us reflect and emerge ready to move forward with an even greater capacity for love and compassion.

Sam Porter is the Experiential Education Intern at American Jewish World Service.