I find this time of the year — the period of the three weeks, the 9 days, and culminating with Tisha B’av- to be the hardest of the year religiously — for a few reasons. It is a time when we are commanded to mourn, and to be sad — but no one likes to be sad! It’s much more enjoyable to be happy- and to tap into the numerous times of happiness and celebration within the Jewish calendar. Compounding the problem, this time period inevitably falls out during the summer season- a time that is designated for fun and leisure — making it particularly challenging to get into a mode of mourning and sadness. Finally, and most importantly, the unique challenge connecting to mourning during this time is the fact that the Bet Hamikdash was destroyed thousands of years ago. For generations, we have become accustomed to reality without its existence. How can we truly grieve for something that we never personally had, and therefore don’t really miss?
Because of these issues, many of us do our best to just “get through” these few weeks — managing the imposed restrictions as best possible, or perhaps even finding creative ways to get around them. We bide our time until the weeks pass, and we can resume our regular summer mode and activities. And when it comes to our children, as well, this approach is certainly true. We either don’t want to burden them with the sadness, or we simply don’t know how to talk to them about the sorrowful themes of Tisha B’av — so we therefore do our best to get them through these weeks, finding fun activities that are allowed to occupy their time. While our kids understand that there are certain things that practically aren’t allowed during this time, and that we fast because there is no longer a Bet Hamikdash — we don’t spend time discussing and processing this difficult and sad topic with them. Children in camp may have some learning or programming dedicated to these topics — but as a general rule, these subjects are not a priority or focus for us, as parents
While much of this is understandable and reasonable, I believe that this approach and attitude is unfortunate — both for our own personal avodat Hashem, and in our role as parents. It is important for us to realize that the Jewish calendar year goes through a progression — with various emotions and feelings at different points of the year. This is by design. There are moments of fear and trepidation, moments of elation and joy, moments of sadness and grief, and so much more in between. The various Chagim- biblical and rabbinic, fast days, mini-holidays, and time periods come together each year to create a flow and progression, the goal of which is to elicit the continuum of human emotions over the course of the year. Through this flow of the year, we are able to experience the gamut of human emotions within the context of G-d and spirituality — each at its proper time. We are thus able to recognize and appreciate that our avodat Hashem is not done only in one way, or through one singular emotion — but rather can and should be cultivated through all the human emotions, each in the correct context and time.
With this in mind, we can better understand the importance of this time period within the flow of the Jewish year — and thereby understand the importance of relating to it properly. As important as it is to celebrate the happy times in the Jewish calendar, it is likewise important to commemorate and reflect upon the sad times as well. The human experience naturally contains times of sadness/despair in addition to moments of happiness and joy. It is therefore important that we access and develop these emotions in a religious context. As Dovid Hamelech says in Tehillim Perek 126, הזורעים בדמעה ברנה יקצרו- “They that sow in tears Shall reap in joy”. Our ability to connect to the religiously happy moments, and to reap their benefits — depends upon our ability to connect to the religiously tearful and despondent moments, as well. Sometimes, the connection between these two states of emotion may be apparent, while at other times it may not- but the connection is there.
Therefore, we should make a determined effort to connect to this period as part of our overall religious experience, despite the challenges. Rav Soloveitchik notes that as opposed to the personal mourning for a relative, which is instinctual, mourning for the Bet Hamikdash is harder. Therefore, suggests Rav Soloveitchik, “the mourning for Tisha Be’av needs to be taught…We must learn how to mourn, to wail and weep for the hurban Beit Hamikdash.” He explains that this is why the mourning of Tisha Be’av, in contrast to personal aveilut, begins with a period of lighter mourning, and then builds up to intense mourning- because it takes time to relate to the sadness of Tisha B’av (The Lord is Righteous In All His Ways pg. 24).
It behooves us, therefore, to take the time and effort to connect to these days- by attending or listening to shiurim/classes about these weeks, kinnot recitations, videos/presentations about the Bet Hamikdash, etc. — each of us in our own way. With a plethora of platforms and mediums at our fingertips, this should be manageable for us. It might be hard, but it’s important, nonetheless.
And our obligation of chinuch applies to this time period, just as it applies to the rest of the year. If we focus with our children solely on the happy and fun moments of the Jewish calendar, then we are giving our kids an unrealistic perspective on life, and on Judaism. We may think that we are helping our children by protecting them from sadness and sorrow — but in reality we are hurting them. Of course, all conversations about death and destruction must be age appropriate — and each parent can make their own decisions in setting proper parameters- but it important to speak with our kids, at all ages, about the challenging times of our history as a people, and to discuss how to relate to them, on a practical level. By doing so, we will help our kids gain a realistic picture of both life and Yahadut- how life is full of many emotions, sometimes even conflicting ones- and enable them to create the concrete space needed to experience the full gamut of emotions in their avodat Hashem. We will also model for them how to deal with sadness and sorrow in a healthy and productive way.
The weeks and days leading up to Tisha Bav can be challenging for us, both personally and as parents. It is hard for us to relate to the sadness, and it is challenging to cultivate the feeling and mood appropriate for this time. Our natural reaction, therefore, is often to rush through these days with minimal reflection, and very little dialogue with our children. However, hidden within these days are unique opportunities for us spiritually- and it is incumbent upon us to connect to those opportunities, even as we work to help our kids relate to them as well.
Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful fast!