There are new scribbles on the walls of our flat. When I saw the multicoloured drawing, I reminded myself to breathe and to stay calm. Besides the handy magic sponge, and plenty of verbal reminders for the future of where pens can be used-“only on the paper” — there isn’t so much that can be done post-facto.
A few hours later, I noticed the white wall again and realized, that actually, it does look rather similar to a blank canvas. Where I had seen limitations and restrictions, others, namely my children, had seen a boundless expanse with endless possibilities.
It reminded me of the importance of perspective, and of one of my favourite Talmudic stories, of Rabbi Akiva and the foxes, which is so apt for this time of the year. (Makkot 24b)
Shortly after the destruction of the second Temple, Rabbi Akiva was walking with three friends, Rabbi Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria and Rabbi Yehoshua. When they reached the Temple Mount they saw a fox emerging from the ruins of the holy of holies. The three friends started to cry. This was an area that was so holy, only the High priest had accessed it, and even then only on Yom Kippur, yet here was a fox running around…
But Rabbi Akiva laughed.
They were surprised by his reaction and questioned him.
He explained that the Prophets had predicted and foretold of this desolation, and now that he had seen this first prophecy come true, he knew that the second prophecy, that the Temple will be rebuilt, will also be fulfilled.
All of them experienced the same event, they all saw the same things. But Rabbi Akiva could look beyond, see it with a different perspective, and find the positive angle.
On the eve, and the morning of Tisha B’av, we reflect on the terrible tragedies of our history, including the loss of the two Temples. This is an important process. Just as I think that the crying over the foxes was important too. There had to be some crying over the foxes, in order to appreciate Rabbi Akiva laughing. I don’t think its a case of him being correct, and them being wrong. Rather, I feel that this prior stage of noting the bad, lamenting and mourning the ruins, was required in order for Rabbi Akiva to be able to laugh.
So too, after our mourning we need to move forward. Not yet to music and eating meat, but in the afternoon we rise up from the floor and we are allowed to learn Torah again. There is a different feel to our mourning. We try to be more like Rabbi Akiva, and use the experience of our mourning, the reflection on our past, to see the positive side and to work out how we can move on with our future.
I know a lot of families cook or bake something in the afternoon of Tisha B’av in order to prepare for breaking the fast. I love this idea, that even in the midst of the fast, of the mourning, they are forward-facing and planning for the future.
The Talmud tells us that in the month of Adar we increase our happiness, but in this month of Av we are supposed to minimize it.
Dr Erica Brown, in her book, In the Narrow Places: Daily Inspiration for the Three Weeks, shares a beautiful Hasidic idea, attributed to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, where we can really see that Av is all about our perspective:
“Mi shenichnas Av, memaatim – besimcha,
As Av approaches, we minimize – with happiness.”
The addition of a comma- acting as a pause and a break in this phrase, changes the entire reading. Yes, we do minimize the self, we do mourn, but how do we do it? Even this we can do with happiness.