Yakov Saacks

From oy to joy: Transforming negativity


This past week we experienced the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. On this day, the Jewish nation fasted, sat on a low mourning chair, and lamented the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem. This day of national mourning is called Tisha B’Av, which translates into the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av. This always occurs in mid-summer or if you live down under, mid-winter.

The Talmud states that the 9th of Av has historically been a negative day for the Jewish people. The Rabbis list five terrible tragedies that occurred on this day.

  1. The day God decreed that Moses and the Jewish people will die in the desert and will only enter the Promised Land in another 40 years.
  2. The first temple built by King Solomon was destroyed in the year 586 B.C.E.
  3. The second temple was destroyed on this day close to 600 years later in the year 70 C.E.
  4. The City of Beitar, which led a revolt against the Romans in 135 C.E., was squashed and the leader/warrior of the Jewish people, bar Kochba, was killed along with tens of thousands of Beitar’s citizens.
  5. After the Beitar defeat, the Romans plowed through the city of Jerusalem to get rid of any trace of the Jewish homeland. It is for this reason that the Temple Mount does not look like it is on a mountain. We are taught that the Romans shaved off 1,000 feet of the mountain to reduce it to a hill.

There are other tragedies that happened on the 9th of Av that took place after Talmudic times. They are:

  1. All Jews were expelled from England in 1290.
  2. The last day for Jews to leave Spain happened on this day in 1492. Anyone who stayed was either killed or forced to convert to Christianity.
  3. Germany’s entrance into World War I, which led to the eventual rise of the Nazi regime.
  4. The “Final Solution” gained approval on Tisha B’Av in 1941, creating the Holocaust, which killed one third of the world’s Jewish population.

The Talmud further teaches that the negative energy of the 9th of Av was caused by the people and was not God’s innovation. In other words, we brought this bad juju upon ourselves. The Rabbis posit that because the Jewish people were hesitant to enter the land of Israel upon leaving slavery and bondage from Egypt, God got upset. They were terrified that they would lose against the Canaanites and perish.  However, they should have had more faith and instead of crying bitter tears for days and nights beginning on the 9th of Av, they should have been gung ho. God told them that since you cried for naught, I will give you something to cry about and there started this day of hell for the Jewish people.


Our ancestors, as just mentioned, were the ones who caused this regular day to be one of pain, strife and death. They spat in the eye of God who just took them out of Egypt by way of 10 plagues and the splitting of the sea, and instead of feeling grateful, they turned down God’s vision of bringing this newly emancipated nation to the Promised Land. I don’t know about you, but if I saw a sea being split in half or a river turning to blood, I would either be a complete believer or stop drinking so much scotch. I can’t judge because I was not there in bodily form when this occurred.

The lesson is obvious. If we were punished because we cried for nothing, then the antidote to all this negativity is to be happy for nothing.


How is someone supposed to be happy when there is nothing to be happy for? How are we supposed to be happy when we are in pain? The antidote to all this pain seems to be out of reach for the majority of people, with the exception of those who are completely emotionally numb and feel no pain at all. Even those who are emotionally numb will have difficulty being happy, as they are numb.


The solution, brought down in the esoteric books of Kabbalah, is to essentially lead a double life with compartmentalized emotions. On the one hand, when life is tough, I kvetch, cry and complain. On the other hand, simultaneously, despite whatever it is I am going through, I must feel privileged to be a part of God’s world where God decided that I am needed to help galvanize whatever it is I am chosen for.

None of us was created by mistake. None of us is redundant or no longer needed. One of Judaism’s founding principles is that we all have a distinct purpose and reason as to why we were brought down to this rat race.

Therefore, during the pain, we can pause a moment and reflect to ourselves, “Oy, this is so painful and say oy vey, I wish this nightmare would end.” However, the pain does not exonerate me from fulfilling my Godly purpose. You must say, “I am alive because God thinks I matter and therefore I must get up from my melancholy right now and do what my creator asks of me. I am privileged that God chose me and this fills my heart with joy.”

This short pep talk puts life into perspective. We have a dual existence and we must do our best to be our best in order to compliment both of them. Just living a life of pain is a waste of life. On the flip side of the same coin, simply living in euphoria, without recognizing that you need help, is foolish.

Be blessed.

About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Saacks is the founder and director of The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY. The Chai Center has been nicknamed by some as New York's most Unorthodox Orthodox Center.