Tisha B’Av – Back to Reality
Tisha B’Av is an extremely serious and somber day. It is also a day that we may hope to quickly move past and readily leave behind, as we continue with our summer plans and feel relieved that Tisha B’Av is over and did not get in the way of things too much. (“Now let’s get back to the barbecue…”)
If that is how we feel – even if we observe Tisha B’Av as well as the days leading up to it with perfect meticulousness – we have missed the boat. For Tisha B’Av is not merely a day to remember; it is, rather, a day to recalibrate and reorient ourselves and to return to reality.
As we go through life, we tend to forget that the current state of the Jewish People is not quite as was expected. We went from a people living in security and control, experiencing miracles and receiving divine communication, with the Shechinah in our midst and the Beis Ha-Mikdash serving as the repository of kedushah and the seat of the Sanhedrin, to a people suffering thousands of years of untold persecution and contempt through this very day, lacking any direct feedback or palpable guidance from our Creator, and living in a world in which “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” is the popular mantra of much of life. We occupy a reality devoid of holiness, rife with suffering, and so detached from the ideal such that we cannot even fathom. We know no other state of existence. God’s Name is desecrated in countless ways, His values are rejected and are subjected to mass distortion, and we, His Chosen People, are despised by so many and miserably fail to reflect our title and calling. And no matter how hard and how many times we may try to escape our fate and create a new image of ourselves, the notion (and very existence) of the Jew is abhorred and countenanced with vile repulsion throughout so much of the world. Of course, there are times of relative calm and prosperity, but they are sporadic and usually short-lived in the larger scheme of things.
This is the reality of several millennia. As much as we may attempt to delude ourselves and become preoccupied and distracted with all sorts of endeavors, movements and causes, and efforts to recreate ourselves, we cannot run away from the problem, and we must be honest and face the reality of the inescapable and persistent curse of Churban and Golus.
Tisha B’Av is the day that we acknowledge this reality. We are not allowed to take our minds off of it, we are not allowed to really go anywhere, and we cannot elude the situation and immerse ourselves in anything else. We are stuck confronting the pain, the destruction, the gap between us and Hashem and between us and the world, and recognizing how far removed we are from any semblance of Jewish life as it was meant to be. We cannot wish away the ugly and disturbing reality that lies beyond the daily diversions and buffers provided by intoxication with social media and entertainment, and even by the more important aspects of life. We must face the reality and accept it.
Let us take the reality of Tisha B’Av with us and apply it constantly in order to enhance our understanding of our national situation and existence, and to inspire us to return and yearn for life as Hashem meant it to be. Grasping Tisha B’Av and carrying it forward will condition us with a proper historical awareness and implant within us aspirations for the Geulah; disregarding the long-term significance of Tisha B’Av will leave us spiritually bankrupt and will sever us from our national destiny. Tisha B’Av is a crucial reality that we dare not forget.
Rav Soloveitchik zt”l, in the course of a spectacular shiur about Tisha B’Av, explained that unlike regular mourning, mourning for the Churban has no limit:
The Aveilus Yerushalayim is an endless gesture… The message of Eli Tziyon is thus that no matter how much we cry over Yerushalayim, no matter how concerned we are about the Churban, no matter how much we have expressed our grief over the bleak and dreary tragedy of our loss, nonetheless we remain inconsolable. We cannot adequately express our mourning and grief for the devastating loss…
We will never be satisfied until the Beis Ha-Mikdash is rebuilt…
The deeper rationale for this may very well be that the effects of the Churban are continuous and relentless. They are a long-term reality that must be lamented and mourned as long as they persist. To live as a Jew in post-Churban times means to be haunted with the unsettling awareness that our relationship with Hashem and our spiritual condition are acutely damaged, and to bear a seemingly endless burden of subjection to hatred, humiliation and oppression. Hence, the mourning is dynamic and ongoing, for such is the Churban itself.
Let us conclude with a quote from another shiur of Rav Soloveitchik:
As long as Eicha remains as inexplicable as it was during the dark nights of Hester Panim, as long as historical events have not been placed within the proper perspective, as long as we grope in the darkness of the prima facie nonsensical world and absurd situations, as long as people scoff at us because of our faith in the benevolence of the Almighty, as long as the riddle of Eicha is not unraveled, Tisha B’Av cannot be abandoned! As long as one Jew asks the question of Eicha, Tisha B’Av must be observed.
Tisha B’Av will be abandoned only after the question of Eicha will be answered. What was true in the era of the Bayis Sheni (the Second Temple) is certainly true today as well. Only after the Messiah arrives, only after God will reveal Himself to mankind, only after history will be placed within the proper perspective, only when God’s truth and justice will finally be acknowledged and man will live in peace, will Tisha B’Av be celebrated as a day of redemption and will become a holiday.