The Three Weeks, The Nine Days, and Tisha B’Av
I occasionally have an opportunity to teach Torah classes to women in my local community. It is one of the many reasons I am so grateful to live where I do. Had I remained the tiny fish in the huge pond that is Jerusalem, I doubt that I would ever have had a chance to grow into a teacher, or to learn that it was one of my favorite things to do.
I have been asked often to post a write up of my shiurim on this blog. Most of the time I don’t prepare early enough or have time to post soon enough, and the material is then for a holiday that has come and gone by the time I get to it.
However, last Shabbat I taught a class on the Nine Days & Tisha B’av, so thought I would put down some of the discussion while we are still in this solemn period. Especially since it was an analogy to parenting that struck me so deeply while preparing the shiur, and that has been the sharpest part of my focus this year. So this is a recap of some of what we discussed:
During “The Three Weeks” and then “The Nine Days” and finally on Tisha B’av we mark the destruction of the Holy Temple. I asked the women gathered if we are “mourning” or “yearning.” Although the word mourning is often used, we are on the one hand mourning the loss of something we never experienced first-hand. And, usually when we mourn something it is a process of letting go because that thing (or person) is gone to us forever. Here, we mourn the Beit Hamikdash that was, but we also hope for its return. So we do mourn our loss, but we also yearn for it. We yearn for a new Beit Hamikdash and Moshiach’s arrival.
The word that we use for yearning is “tshukah” in Hebrew, and it is a concept that I would like to return to later. But this is the other feeling we invoke during this period, because we not only mourn what we have lost, but we long–in fact strive–to get it back.
The next question I asked is: Why are we fasting?
Fasting is not a very popular means of connecting to Hashem for most people I know. In fact, for some of us it is a distraction from whatever process we feel we should be going through, since we feel little more than hunger. Lastly, fasting is certainly not something we associate with mourning! The restrictions during the Three Weeks and the Nine Days are those associated with mourning, but the prohibitions of Tisha B’av are more akin to Yom Kippur.
I came to learn that the period leading up to Tisha B’av is constructed in such a way as to evoke a feeling of loss, to help concentrate on mourning what we no longer have. This is done so that we will be stirred on Tisha B’av to do teshuva* – do improve and repair ourselves, our community, and our world so that we can have a day of celebration on the 9th of Av, as the Gemara explains, rather than a day of mourning. The sadness of the day comes from our feeling that we are “still not there;” it is not a sign of mourning. It is intended to be our sincere demonstration of teshuva; of “tshukah” to Hashem so that it will be the last sad Tisha B’av.
The word tshukah as explained by Rabbi Fohrman in The Beast that Crouches at the Door, is a yearning that comes not from a needy deficit, but an overflow of abundance. It is not the feeling a newborn has when it needs to nurse… it is the feeling the nursing mother has when she needs to provide. It is our overflow of love for Hashem and our desire to serve him that has nowhere to go until we once again have a Beit Hamikdash in which to channel our love and desire to cleave to G-d in the proper way.
My final question was: Why do we need to mourn for Three Weeks and to have a day of sadness and teshuva? Surely we demonstrate to G-d in our prayers and rituals every day that we miss the Holy Temple and that we yearn for its return? The commemoration is deeper than the historical anniversary of so many tragedies for the Jewish People.
Rabbi Label Lam answers this question so beautifully in his wonderful piece on Tisha B’Av at Torah.org:
“On the 9th of Av we are like little children sent away from the table. The child sent to his room can artfully distract himself. His parents wait for the breaking point. He might then even be willing to admit his faults like fighting with his siblings etc. That time never comes. Why? He’s found some candies, there’s a cell phone, a computer and a treasure of other goodies. He’s forgotten that he’s being punished.
The father realizing that the child is too busily engaged in his “things” forbids him for a time to play with these toys and those. Suddenly, he feels alone and isolated from the family. Tears begin to stream. He cries out longingly to his father and is invited to the table again with a pleasant mixture of joy and humility.” (click here to read the whole article. )
We are like G-d’s punished children all year. We are in exile every minute of every day. We do not have our Holy Temple, and we are banished from the closeness with Hashem that we enjoyed when it stood. We are so distracted by our comfort and blessing that we forget that we have been punished. Our computers and cell phones, wonderful kehillot and yeshivot, our beautiful built-up modern Israel… all allow us to forget. We don’t always know what we are missing, and we don’t know what it feels like to have such an intimate relationship with our Creator. It is sometimes easy to forget that we can and will have more; but Hashem gave us intimate interpersonal relationships precisely so that we can taste that closeness and yearn for it with him.
The Three Weeks are our reminder that we have been sent away, that we can be so much closer to the Divine… that we once were, and that it is truly up to us to be so again. Done right, the limitations imposed during the Three Weeks and Nine Days bring us to this difficult combination of mourning our closeness to our Father that we lost and our yearning to be back in his good graces. The power of mourning and yearning together ideally mobilizes our true and deep teshuvah on Tisha B’av; a teshuva marked by fasting and focus.
I bless you all with a meaningful remainder of the Nine Days, and a meaningful fast. May our communal Teshuva bring Moshiach bimheira yameinu.
*teshuva = repair, return, improvement, repentance.. or as Aish.com puts it “dry cleaning for your soul”