Aryeh Ben David
Aryeh Ben David

Reflections on a not-sad Tisha B’Av

This year, I just couldn’t be sad on Tisha B’Av. 

I tried. But no. 

I’ve been observing Tisha B’Av for over 40 years as an adult. I’ve heard Aicha sitting on the floor. For decades, I’ve gone to the Kotel late at night. I’ve studied the history. I’ve taught countless classes on the destruction of the Temples and the unwarranted hatred between the Jewish People. I’ve spoken innumerable times on the tragedy of the fracturing of the Jewish community. 

Yet, this year I just couldn’t get sad. 

The “not being sad” didn’t stem from feeling that everything is fine. No, we, the Jewish People, are not “there” yet. We’re definitely not one fully united, harmonious people. We don’t have our holy center and the return of Ruach HaKodesh is not a present-day reality. I’m well familiar with what happened at the Kotel on Tisha B’Av and the reality of internal Jewish discord. 

Nevertheless, I would contend that never before in Jewish history have we ever witnessed as much “ahavat chinam” (unwarranted love) as we are witnessing today. Never. If we choose to see it. 

Move away from reading the newspapers and listening to the news and look at our lives, what is really happening around us. 

Wherever I go, I see kindness. Countless people being thoughtful, unselfish, and helpful. 

The health care workers. Our soldiers. The fabric of our society is doing countless acts of giving every day. The police, the teachers, the shuk, the store owners, the gardeners, the physical laborers. My neighbors. Even the bureaucracy today is so much kinder than it was a generation or two ago. I see so many unrequested smiles while walking the streets. So many small acts of generosity and light. So many gestures of love. So much baseless love. 

It is so easy to focus on what is wrong. 

It is easy to become over-demanding parents. Treating the kid who comes home from school with 4 A’s and one B and only see the B. Often we harp incessantly on what went wrong and what is missing. 

Jewish history, and especially the events of the 3 weeks, are not full of B’s. They’re full of D-’s. But appreciating the historic calamities of our ancestors gives me even greater happiness and appreciation of our condition today. 

For centuries we were hated, persecuted, and exiled from countless countries. We were like a child on life-support, barely surviving. Full of fears, both real and imaginary. Life was always one small step from the edge of the cliff, and it was a slippery slope. The kinot of Tisha B’av are one long elegy of pain.

And now? The child on life-support has gotten up off the bed and is training for half-marathons. Iron-man is in our vision. Yes, there are still plenty of bumps in the road, easily visible today. There are setbacks. But the landscape is not only bumps. Let’s not only concentrate on the failures of the Jews. 

Reading the Tisha B’av insertion in the silent amidah prayer gave me untold joy. For centuries Jews have declared how abandoned and forsaken Jerusalem was. “The city that is mournful, ruined, scorned without her glory, desolate without inhabitants”. I intentionally did not choose to read a modern alternative. I read the insertion and feel like exploding in ecstasy, asking myself: “how is it possible that I have merited to witness the unending expansion and beautification of Jerusalem?”

Yes, I know that the Temple Mount is still grieving. Yes, I know that full unity of the Jewish People, both within ourselves and with God, is still not a dream come true. 

But I just couldn’t feel the blackness of the “black fast” this year. 

The prophet said long ago that the day will come when the fast days will turn into days of joy. The deep wisdom of this prophetic statement stems from the prophet’s grasping that evil is not eternal. Ultimately, evil will become the footstool of the good; the shadow that will eventually become part of and intensify the light. For the prophet, this vision was not to be manifested for thousands of years, but nevertheless an indisputable tenet of our worldview. 

For the first time, on this last Tisha B’Av, a force within me intuitively felt what the prophet sensed. Try as I might, the joy kept breaking through. 

B”H, the day will come when we will all naturally burst out in Hallel on Tisha B’Av, fully appreciative of the long road we have traveled and the sparkling light of the present.

About the Author
Aryeh Ben David founded Ayeka: Center for Soulful Education in 2008. Ayeka educates rabbis, teachers, and professionals in bringing Jewish wisdom from our minds to our hearts to our souls and to our lives. He lives in Efrat with his wife Sandra and their 6 children.
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