In 2019, Tisha B’Av feels tragic, in the way that a month-old-baby-loses-both-parents-in-a-car-crash feels – to the baby. The baby will cry for a few days or maybe even weeks, missing his mother and her milk. But the baby will be taken in by relatives or adoptive parents who will raise the child as their own, and the baby will never know anything different.
A stable home, loving parents, and when the child is old enough, they’ll be made aware of the tragedy of their parents’ deaths. But can we blame the child for not spiraling into depression, for not tearing his clothes and mourning the loss of parents he never knew?
At least in theory, Tisha B’Av is the most tragic day in the Jewish calendar. Tragedy after tragedy befell the Jewish people on this date: the sin of the spies’ report in the desert, the destruction of both the First and Second Temple, the murder of the Ten Martyrs, the battle of Beitar, the plowing of the Temple Mount, the beginning of the First Crusade, the expulsion of the Jews from England, and then France, and then Spain.
And then, the more recent tragedies on this date: Germany entered World War I; The Nazi Party granted formal approval for The Final Solution; the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka, the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, the disengagement from Gush Katif and the Gaza Strip. Call it unhappy coincidence or a sign from God, the date of Tisha B’Av is laden with tragedies.
Or, at least, we commemorate all of this on this date. Maybe it’s because we can’t mourn for years to commemorate the First Crusade or the Spanish Inquisition or the beginning World War I and the rise of Nazi Germany (after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Jew weren’t persecuted in a night), and so we assign a day to mourn these tragedies, and justify that Tisha B’Av is at least “close enough” to a significant day during these time periods that it makes sense. And besides, Tisha B’Av was designated as a day of mourning and tragedy, so why not?
Or maybe, we chose this particular day, Tisha B’Av, to commemorate these tragedies, because if we can lump our mourning for a tragedy from living memory with the perhaps more abstract grieving for the destruction of the Temples two thousand years ago, God will accept our collective mourning as genuine penance and yearning for a time and place we’ve never known and cannot possibly truly miss.
And so: Do we punish the child for being content with the life they’ve been given? Do we expect the child to mourn and cry and yearn for the parents they never knew and cannot miss?
Because realistically, we are content. Regardless of where you are in the world and despite the recent rise in anti-Semitism, we are, for the most part, content. Jobs, education, housing, wealth, freedom of speech and religion – it’s all available to us and we take it and we busy ourselves with the pursuit and practice of it all. If we weren’t content, I’d venture to guess that Aliyah rates would be much higher, religious practice would be more meaningful and less rote, and that we’d be much more active in a creating a radical change in our lifestyles, our treatment of others, and our and connection to God.
That’s what I imagine it would look like if we had even an inkling of what we were missing and a genuine desire to bring it back. But instead, we’re content with life as it is – and maybe that is part of the tragedy. We are so far removed and disconnected that we struggle to mourn for national tragedies and we have no idea how to rectify our situation, because we don’t really feel that it needs to be remedied – and that in itself is a tragedy.
So every once in a while, God sends us another wakeup call, there’s more suffering – but does anything really change? As we get more and more distant from even the recent tragedies, as the number of Holocaust survivors dwindle and those displaced from Gush Katif make lives for themselves elsewhere, we continue to lump our mourning for the Jews’ most recent tragedies with the rest of the tragedies we’ve suffered in the last 4,000 years. And one day each year, we attempt to grieve and mourn and afflict ourselves and yearn for redemption, whatever that is, and we hope that it’s enough, and that this year will be the year that we finally get to see what we’ve been missing.