As someone who likes to believe my default level of happiness totals in as above average, I feel the dark cloud of the three weeks and Tisha Ba’av a significant and difficult departure from my regular state of being. Being consumed by the weightiness of this period of time is of course necessary in acknowledging the tragedy that has historically befallen the Jewish people and continues to stifle our ultimate happiness and fulfilment of our national potential. This year, however, it is not merely my inability to cruise in the car listening to my favourite songs or take a hefty bite out of a delicious burger that has left me to reconcile my default happiness with our national mourning, but the imminent and constant excitement of my sister’s upcoming wedding in just over a week.
As we find ourselves on the cusp of the anticipated wedding, that hovering dark cloud of fast approaching Tisha Ba’av has left me strapped with confliction and guilt. How am I to resolve the heaviness in my heart surrounding Tisha Ba’av and my deep longing for our nation’s redemption, with my overwhelming excitement and joy in anticipation for my sister to be married? In the face of immense personal happiness I have found myself struggling to adequately connect to the somberness present at this juncture in the Jewish calendar.
Thoughts of flowers, discussions of menu and choice in décor repeatedly swirl through my mind and occupy the floor in our family’s conversation. For months we have grappled with some of life’s greatest questions – chicken or lamb? We have come to learn of the universe’s series and cycles – will the flowers for the bouquet be in season? And engaged with eternal principles of space and time – how many guests can we fit into the hall and how long does it take to get there in traffic? Calls, consultations and meetings, finalizing times and confirming colours, not an order placed or decision made without careful documentation in a sacred arch-lever file labeled ‘Wedding,’ on its spine. In reading such a description one may be inclined to think we have been bitten by the wedding bug, blindsided by all the tulle and deafened by the hum of horas. Whilst I cannot fully absolve my family as victims of wedding fever, anyone who too has undertaken the arduous journey to the chuppah can certainly attest to one thing… no matter how far buried in rose petals one may find themselves, the minutiae of such details reflects a tangible manifestation of the day’s significance.
Whether the wedding serves as a culmination of the couple’s dream to begin their lives together; the parents’ pinnacle to date of a life of constant devotion towards their children; or the immense pleasure felt by a little sister to see her much admired older sister embark on a sacred journey; the day is infused with greater depth far beyond the choice of a particular napkin. When we, however, wish to express love, convey value, and show that something or someone is important to us we take pride in the small details. They become constant and conscious testaments to how we feel and it is through these details we validate the importance of the whole, which we know is greater then the sum of its parts.
In mulling over how to go about reconciling my disparate emotions during this period of time, a powerful thought occurred to me, reminding me of a story I recall having heard…
There was once a great rabbi renowned for his character and knowledge, who spent his days quietly learning in the beis midrash. A distant community in search of a communal rabbi unanimously agreed upon recruiting him specifically to lead them. A delegate of communal representatives journeyed to the rabbi’s village to propose the position to him. After what seemed like a successful meeting between the delegates and the rabbi, one representative probed would the rabbi be interested in taking the position? With gratitude and humility the rabbi’s response was unexpected, he had no interest in the job, the attention or glory that would come with it, and so he bid the men farewell. Disappointedly the men returned home to tell their community the bad news. The community persisted going to great lengths to send representatives, leaders, businessmen and scholars, but all to no avail. In a final bid, a single community member went to visit the rabbi. The community with unwavering faith remained hopeful that this visit would be the one to convince him to join their community. Like those before him the community member presented the perks of the position and assured the rabbi he and his family would be well taken care of, yet the rabbi showed no interest. Despondently the man turned to the door and sighed, “How am I going to return without you, they are all awaiting your arrival.” Immediately the rabbi accepted the position exclaiming, “if everyone is waiting for me, how can I not come? Let’s be on our way.”
For the rabbi, the knowledge of countless congregants prepared and eager to receive him, made his arrival urgent and definite. The emotional juxtaposition I find myself currently wedged between has demanded some serious soul searching with regards to how much I sincerely anticipate and prepare for the Moshiach’s arrival. As we discuss, arrange and organise the ins and outs for the wedding, should the equivalent attention and effort not be applied to how we go about endeavoring to merit a reality where we know no tragedy? Should we not similarly feel giddy with excitement at the prospect of Moshiach’s arrival as we do a wedding or any other significant life event? And is it not essential that our nation’s deep desire and commitment to being worthy of redemption manifest in the finest details of our daily lives, permeating every facet of our existence? Perhaps in order to prove our desperation for the Moshiach’s arrival we should start making plans, arrangements and preparations for the big day, creating a brand new lever-arch file, clearly labeled ‘Geula.’ With such commitment and organisation, how can the Moshiach possibly say no?
May the scheduled simcha next week be a simcha for us all, celebrated in a rebuilt Yerushalayim. Amen!