On Tisha B’Av (תשעה באב), we mourn the loss of the First and Second Temples that once stood in Jerusalem. The ninth day of the month of Av has evolved into a day of commemoration of tragedies affecting different Jewish communities at various points in history.
I’ve been thinking about how tragedies offer an opportunity to build up one another after experiencing great loss. Tisha B’Av helps us learn how to practice mourning that is nourishing for the soul and healthy for the mind. This day of mourning and praying for the rebuilding of the third Temple is also a time to learn to rebuild one another’s mental health.
As we remember the devastating losses throughout Jewish history, we are reminded of the challenges we have faced and of our capacity to confront them as a community. An article by Emily Bulthuis, MSW, LCSW, about confronting and recovering from tragedy-related trauma highlights the importance of community. Ms. Bulthuis says that among the top five actions one can take to begin their road to recovery, a crucial element is talking about it in a loving and supportive environment. “Open up to a professional, loved one or support group about how you are feeling. Getting meaningful support from others and feeling heard is a critical aspect of recovery. It can also be helpful to connect with others who have shared a similar experience.”
Through our emphasis on sharing the Jewish people’s burdens and defeats in the way we mourn the losses of communities separate from our own, we gain strength from one another to move forward, exemplifying the middah (value) of kol Yisrael arevim zeh la zeh (all Jews are responsible for each other).
Perhaps that is why Jewish tradition predicts that Tisha B’Av, among other fast days, will transform into a day of joy. When we come together in prayer, supporting one another, listening to one another and being present with one another, we recognize we are not alone, and in that sense of community, we can finally rejoice and rebuild each other.
In “Rebuilding Each Other”, a resource on Tisha B’Av’s connection to mental health, we learn about the ways the Jewish community comes together on Tisha B’Av in the recitation of Kinot. This practice goes back thousands of years, and each poem contains innumerable lessons. Commemorating the devastation of communities and tragedies other than our own exemplifies the Jewish imperative to be there for one another. We learn to recognize the struggles that others go through, both communally and individually.
In “Good Mourning”, a thought-provoking article, by Esti Klien, we learn about how Tisha B’av can serve as a reminder to consider the devastating effects of unhealthy mourning on our mental health. Some of the practices of mourning on Tisha B’av highlight healthy approaches to loss. These healthy practices include the establishment of a dedicated day of mourning for focused and controlled grieving, placing tragedy and loss within the context of a higher power and coming together as a community.
Tisha B’av is a yearly reminder that grief and mourning are natural parts of the human condition and a day that can instill the importance of healthy grieving to those who practice it. It is worthwhile to remember that despite the severity of the loss of the Temples and the various tragedies the day commemorates, the best way to honor them is to mourn in a healthy and effective way. It is only through healthy and thoughtful grief that we can come to truly honor the legacy of our losses.
Tisha B’av is a challenging day to understand and connect with on a personal level. We can get lost in the depressing atmosphere of the day and miss the deeper messages hidden within the prayers, poems and practices for Tisha B’Av. Learning to appreciate everything Tisha B’Av has to offer to our understanding of our mental health and wellbeing in dire circumstances requires purposeful thought. Let us resolve to be there for our friends and family in times of sorrow. And, let us learn from our rich history and traditions to live a healthier and happier life.
For information on mental health and substance misuse through a Jewish lens, visit www.thebluedovefoundation.org.