The Importance of Acknowledging and Mourning for what We have Lost

On this Saturday night, as Shabbat ends, we transition into a day of mourning and so begins the saddest day of our calendar. This day is known in Hebrew as Tisha b’Av. The Hebrew word ‘Tisha’ means ‘nine’ or ‘the ninth day’, and ‘Av’ is the name of the current Jewish month. So, Tisha b’Av literally means ‘the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av’. It ends at nightfall on Sunday night, as the Jewish day starts when the night begins. Our tradition is not to eat or drink, not to wear leather and not to make love. We read the biblical book of Lamentations (Eichah) and Kinot (mournful poems remembering that those that have died). Tisha b’Av is the day when we acknowledge and mourn for all that we, as a nation, as a people, as a religious & ethnic community, as a tribe, as spiritual seekers, have lost in the last 2,500 years. For it was on this day, approximately 2,500 years ago, that the first temple in Jerusalem, the centre of Israelite national, religious and spiritual life, was destroyed by the army of the Babylonian Emperor Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE. Along with this physical destruction came the exile from the land of Israel to Babylon of all the leaders and much of the general population. You may remember the lyrics of that great song by Boney M: (https://youtu.be/vYK9iCRb7S4)

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down
Ye-eah we wept, when we remembered Zion
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down
Ye-eah we wept, when we remembered Zion
When the wicked
Carried us away in captivity
Required from us a song
Now how shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?
Let the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart
Be acceptable in thy sight here tonight

By fate or by coincidence, the second Temple in Jerusalem was also destroyed on that date in 70 CE, this time under the orders of the Roman general, Vespasian. Our tradition teaches that it was on Tisha b’Av that tragedy struck during the second year of the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt. On that day, the people refused, out of fear, to enter into the Land that God had promised them. That fear had been communicated to them by the spies whom they had sent to spy out the land. This led to the forty years of wandering in the desert, during which all those adults who had been of the Exodus died.


Our Rabbis added that it was on Tisha b’Av in 135 CE that the Romans captured the city of Betar, the last stronghold of the Bar Kochba revolt against Rome. And on the 9th Av a year later, the Romans ploughed the site of the Temple and began to build there a pagan temple and a Roman city. Jews were forbidden to enter the town that had previously been Jerusalem.


Our tradition teaches views the destruction of the Temple as not only a military defeat and a political and cultural disaster for the Jewish people. Rather, the understanding is that the Shechinah (the Divine Presence) itself went into exile. People experienced a sense of spiritual alienation and anomie.


Later in history Tisha b’Av became associated with other national tragedies, including the Crusades, the Expulsion from Spain, pogroms in Eastern Europe and, for some, the Holocaust.


Many of us in our modern western capitalist society have lost the skill of mourning, of lamenting, of really setting aside time to reflect on and grieve for what we have lost, both as a community and also as individuals – it just doesn’t seem to be very productive. Tisha b’Av, and the three weeks leading up to it, is that time in our calendar.


This year, in particular, we know that so many amongst us have lost so much. Let’s listen to and learn from the wisdom of our tradition and make time to do the work of mourning those losses – whether through joining us in shul, journaling, writing poetry, sitting silently, being in nature, conversations with loved ones or listening to mournful music. It is after we have truly felt and mourned our losses that we can then comfort each other and ourselves and move forward with a sense of closure on the past and be fully present and available for what life will bring us next.


And so, when Tisha b’Av ends on Sunday night we enter into the seven weeks of comfort. The first Shabbat after Tisha b’Av is called the “Shabbat of Comforting” (Shabbat Nachamu) when we read the words of chapter 40 of the Book of Isaiah. It is the first of seven Shabbatot when we begin to rise from the depths of Tisha b’Av and climb to the renewal of Rosh Hashana.

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