“Alas, she sits in solitude – the city that had been filled with people has become like a widow…. The roads of Zion are [as if in] mourning, for lack of festival pilgrims. All her gates are desolate….” (Lamentations 1:1,4)
“Console, O God, the mourners of Zion and the mourners of Jerusalem, and the city that is in sorrow, laid waste, scorned and desolate….” (Mincha service for Tisha b’Av)
Every year around this time, I find myself engaged in conversations and reading statements on the internet, with a recurring theme. In this period of national mourning leading up to Tisha b’Av, many people are struck by what they see as great incongruence. Texts like the above ones, which are traditionally recited in synagogues on Tisha b’Av, simply don’t seem relevant any longer. Indeed, reciting these texts in a rebuilt Jerusalem, capital of the sovereign Jewish state of Israel even seems out of touch with reality.
Also, every year around Yom HaAtzmaut time, I find myself engaged in conversations and reading statements on the internet, with a similar – but opposite – recurring theme. At that time of year, many people (usually members of the non-Zionist haredi community, but sometimes also post-Zionist secular people) question how we can celebrate Israel’s independence, when there are so many problems, and so much that is wrong.
In truth, both arguments are correct – and that’s precisely why they’re both wrong! We live in complex and confusing times.
To those who can’t celebrate on Yom HaAtzmaut, I respond with the arguments made by those who object to mourning on Tisha b’Av. And for those who find it incongruous to mourn now, I offer the perspectives of those who didn’t celebrate back then. Both viewpoints are true – and therefore, we must mourn on Tisha b’Av, just as we must celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut. This is bewildering and paradoxical, but it’s the truth.
So how do we mourn a destroyed city that has already been rebuilt?
Undoubtedly, Tisha b’Av must be understood somewhat differently today than it was over centuries of exile. But in truth, its meaning has changed throughout the ages as well. It has never been only about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
Our rabbis (Mishna Taanit 4:6) list five different tragedies to be commemorated on Tisha b’Av, including events that happened both before and after the destruction of the two Temples. Later in history, kinnot (elegies) written about other calamities were added to the Tisha b’Av liturgy. Tisha b’Av is the day of collective national mourning, on which we focus on all the things that aren’t as they should be, everything that needs to be fixed.
In that spirit, here are four things I think are worth noticing, lamenting and pondering this Tisha b’Av:
Our rabbis teach (Taanit 30b) that whoever mourns for Jerusalem will merit seeing it rebuilt. Tisha b’Av is actually a great chance to remind ourselves of what we are lacking, so that we can take the necessary steps to improve things. Let’s use the opportunity.
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