Tisha B’Av: For What Shall We Mourn?

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            What shall we do with Tisha B’Av? This year, this commemoration takes place on July 27 (the 9th of Av). For the vast majority of Jews, this day means very little, indeed, many believe that the majority do not even know what the day is! For much of the non-Orthodox community, this day remains a mystery, a mystery in the sense that its’ historical linkage has little relevance or meaning to so many of us today. How many of us will mourn for the destruction of the ancient Temple, pray for the restoration of the sacrificial cult, fast and focus on readings from the Book of Lamentations?

            A question for many of us is how to adapt this day to many of our own modern and personal needs. So, for what or whom do we mourn? That really may be the question for this week. This day is not to be a second Yom Kippur Yizkor service. Rather, as we prepare to meet the month of Elul, where we are charged to begin the souls’ preparation for the New Year; can we reimagine Tisha B’Av in some way to allow it to have some expanded meaning? Many have spoken about a day to remember all the sufferings of the Jews, from the ancient world, through the various Inquisitions and persecutions and, yes, to the Holocaust. No doubt, at Shabbat services the week, many congregations will include readings appropriate to the day. 

            Yet, let me suggest another approach, one that may speak more to our generations of elders. We mourn for people that we have lost. We remember friends and family. We can take a message from the Torah readings that we are now reading. The Book of Deuteronomy is, in a real sense, the life review of Moses. How do we remember our own journey? What choices and actions, as we review them, do we now regret or better understand? We know we cannot change the past, but we can learn from it. Perhaps this day of remembrance for the ancient Temple can be adapted to our own remembrance of things and actions from which we can learn.  With the High Holidays less than two months away, and Elul on the horizon, perhaps it is a good time to consider reviewing our own life journey and coming to understand the context of our previous choices and actions in such a way that we learn from them. Do we “mourn” them? Do we, or can we mourn for the parts of us we have lost? In a way, maybe. But how many of us have arrived at this stage of life with no regrets? Maybe a revised Tisha B’Av can honor the fact that we, as a people, have survived untold horrors and that we, as individuals, continue to struggle to bring meaning and purpose to our lives. Maybe, in this revision, Tisha B’Av can remind us that we are the sum total of all our choices in our past, that we need to accept what was, learn from that and move on, for nothing is perfect and we are constantly in the process of becoming. We are our history, we are also our future.


Rabbi Richard F Address

1 Comment

  1. So profound. I have someone I am counselling who is in his nineties and unexpectedly lost one of his sons. He is filled with regret. I read him your piece (he cannot see) – and he really related to your message. Thank you so much for this.

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