Passover’s opportunity is freedom. Sukkos’ is joy. The 9th of Av’s is fragmentation and disconnect. What does that mean and why is that an opportunity?
Fragmentation is the very human tendency of feeling separate, alone, other. As human beings prone to moods and insecure thought, we fall into a sense of disconnect – from the warmth of our loved ones, from the love of our Creator, from the wisdom that resides inside our own soul. In a fragmented, disconnected state, conflict and alienation feel so normal. Hence the root of the Hebrew word for dispute – “machlokes” – is “chelek,” or fragment.
Our Sages teach that while it’s always possible to get lost in a fragmented worldview, it’s in this time of year that we are most susceptible to the test.
Hence the spies’ 9th of Av report about Israel that induced national hysteria and disconnect from our very own home. Hence the destruction – twice – on this day of our Temple, the connection between heaven and earth and source of wholeness in the world. Hence the trigger event on this day in 1914 – the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand – responsible for decades of world war and conflagration.
Yet our Sages also point out that the messiah will be born on this day. The 9th of Av is also called “moed” in Hebrew, a holiday or literally a meeting in time with God. There’s tremendous opportunity on this day of fragmentation. I’d like to highlight this opportunity with a story.
After Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt’s moving introduction to the principles of Innate Health, he immediately attempted to share his experience with his wife, Chana. She wasn’t interested. Life was good and she didn’t need “principles,” much less those of folks whose wellbeing seemed to come primarily from having no kids at home and a house on a lake.
Over time, Chana’s experience grew more complicated. Life got busier, some of her kids became challenging teens, and she found herself feeling overwhelmed and agitated.
Her sense of upset reached a climax one day when she walked to her husband’s office and proceeded to tell him harsh things. The moment she said them, she knew she didn’t mean them.
Returning home, she described feeling like a little girl lost in an ocean, unable to do life. The sense of disconnect – from her husband, from God, from her own wisdom – was profound. From her fragmented state, she had no idea how to fix any of it.
And then she described her husband walking in two minutes later. He reassured her, “It’s going to be okay. We’re going to work this out.”
She was shocked. Where was his outrage? Where was his return fire? Not only wasn’t he furious, he was moved by her pain. The feeling of her smallness coupled with the hope of his expansiveness moved her. He met her disconnect not with more disconnect, but with compassion and understanding. “I’m hurting with you.” It stopped her in her tracks. She saw hope, the possibility of connection.
This is the 9th of Av. We look around, we see our dysfunction. We can blame – our fellow, our God, ourselves – and just get more dysfunction.
Or we can sense the message of the day: it’s our own small thinking that leaves us so lost.
And then we learn that God is not blaming us, He’s crying with us. “My soul will weep in secrecy for your [lost] pride,” God says (Jeremiah 13: 17). The Maharal explains that God’s “secret place” is nothing other than the soul of a Jew, the “piece of God” so to speak that resides in each of us. Our pain on this day is literally God’s own. Like the wife confronted by her husband’s compassion, she finds hope, not more recrimination.
The 9th of Av, while a day of mourning, is truly a “moed” – a meeting place in time with God – in which He wishes to connect with us over the pain of our own fragmented state. In that connection, hope is born.
May we merit this 9th of Av to understand the healing power of our disconnected state. May we tire of our own unhelpful thinking and yearn for the gift of His healing, expansive outlook.
Rabbi Henry Harris has served as consultant to Fortune 500 CEOs and Wall Street Managing Directors as