We, the Jewish people, are no strangers to mourning. As the fast of Tisha Be’Av approaches, concluding a three week long period of mourning the loss of our temple, we are simultaneously infused with sadness and relief. As we listen to the reading of Megillat Eicha, we can’t help but imagine the bleak and desolate picture that it paints of Jerusalem and the terrible state that the destruction left of our people and our land. And yet, there is a sharp sense of relief, at the conclusion of the fast, a feeling of readiness to move on, to step forward in joy. To shed some of that melancholy and infuse our lives with an outward show of happiness and a verve for life.
We tend to do that. In general. Most people will agree with that same sense of relief – and even joy, some will say – when we hear the shofar blowing at the end of the most intense and serious day of our calendar, Yom Kippur. And those of us who have been unfortunate enough to sit shiva after losing a loved one, will also agree that “getting up” from shiva after seven long and difficult days is both difficult emotionally, but necessary.
I, for one, believe that it’s impossible to exist in a constant state of happiness for one’s entire life. And I also believe that it’s God’s great wisdom that gave us these intermittent days of sadness and mourning for good reason. Sometimes we have to be knocked on our backsides and thrown for a loop in order for us to be able to truly see how lucky we are. I’m not saying that we should have to endure terrible and tragic ordeals in order for us to be thankful for what we have. But by commemorating and remembering the days that we Jews have collectively endured devastation and destruction together as a nation, it serves to remind us that we got through it once before and we will do so again. And again and again as many times as required, because what other choice do we have?
Looking at this amazing country we live in, it’s a far cry from the desperate state Jerusalem was in during the time of the destruction of our temple. Our streets are not empty and barren, but are teeming with life, with the noise of children playing, of cars honking, of life happening. Our future, unlike what is written in Eicha, is burgeoning with promise, with hope and with growth. We have, in an impossibly short time, blossomed into a dynamic, democratic, sovereign country that is growing by leaps and bounds. Israel boasts a high standard of living, a hi-tech industry that is internationally recognized, medical research that constantly astounds us and a military that is just and ethical and world renowned. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Someone once asked me why Jews were constantly obsessed with their past. That we tend to talk endlessly about the Holocaust, the expulsion from Spain in 1492, and of our temple’s destruction. It happened many lifetimes ago, centuries ago and why can’t we just let it go already? Taking that step back in time, in our history, and remembering when Jewish life was precarious isn’t living in the past. It’s taking stock in what we’ve survived and knowing that this too shall pass. And that we need to take that day, that moment to be sad and introspective, to remind ourselves how fragile life is, how it can be taken from us at any moment. To try and rectify the mistakes we made in the past, so as not to get caught in that hamster wheel, making those mistakes over and over again. And then, more importantly, we have to remember to get up off the floor, to nourish ourselves once again and move positively forward in anticipation of joy, of happiness, of celebration.