Understanding Tisha B’Av

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Sitting in shul tonight during the reading of Eicha (Lamentations) I was trying to think about the meaning of Tisha b’av.

Growing up I had always been under the impression that the whole day was about mourning the destruction of the two temples in Jerusalem, and also the deaths of all the people connected to those horrible moments in Jewish history. I never related to that sentiment however. I never understood the significance of the temples, and definitely didn’t understand why it would still be such a big deal today. In fact I remember a long period during high school where I avoided any emotional or spiritual connection to the Kotel because I felt it was like idolatry.

What do we need this temple for? The slaughter of sacrifices and the pagentry of temple service was relevant 2000 years ago, but not anymore!

So I never really connected to this holiday, but I always tried. Maybe I could think about the holocaust and all of the other tragedies that have befallen upon the Jewish people. I would expand it to any atrocity and horrible thing that happened to any people throughout history. It sort of became a social justice holiday for me. But it still didn’t make much sense.

This is a holiday that revolves around the destruction of one people by another, but the Jewish texts go to lengths to clarify that the punishment was from god, and that the Jewish people had deserved this. It wasn’t a Darfur-like human initiated genocide; we are to believe that this was a divine punishment.

Only this year ( thanks to rabbi jj Schacter) did I begin to look at this day a little differently.

He pointed out that the actual destruction of the temple began on he afternoon of the ninth of Av, the same time as the current restrictions of the holiday begin to relax. It’s very odd that we become more comfortable as the burning of the temple begins. He explained that when the Jews saw the temple burning they began to rejoice! They realized that instead of being destroyed themselves, they were being spared by god and only the temple would be destroyed.

The idea was to appreciate what might have happened but didn’t. To reflect on what we have in light of what was destroyed and what was spared. It becomes a holiday of relativity: “it could have been worse”.

Adina and I are in he middle of watching Defiance starring James Bond. You think about the holocaust and how people fled into the woods for a hope at living another day, and you begin to appreciate what we have today.

Do we look at the holocaust as the period in time where millions of Jews were killed, or as the moment in time whee despite havin been killed by the millions, the Jewish people survived and thrived. The answer is both, but on Tisha B’Av we do the latter. We reflect on the horrific, and marvel at the miracles.

This is my new understanding of Tisha B’Av.

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