Tisha b’Av – Mourning the Missing Color

I always have trouble this time of year.

We’re in the infamous ‘Nine Days’, Tisha b’Av is around the corner. I know it’s a time of mourning, and as a Jew with a long-eyed view of history, I know there’s plenty to mourn about.

That’s not the problem.

My temperament’s not the problem either. Melancholia comes easily to me (maybe because I was born during this misfortunate month).

I think my problem is the fact that we’re directed to primarily mourn the destruction of the Batei Mikdash (ancient Holy Temples in Jerusalem).

I have a hard time relating.

Yes, they were great and holy edifices. Yes, their destruction brought with them much human suffering and launched bitter and humiliating national exiles.

But I’ve always felt that there has to be more to the story, something deeper and more essential. Jewish days of commemoration (happy or otherwise) always contain a concurrent and parallel spiritual component. For me, this transcendental inner level is what enlivens my external observance of its rituals and customs.

On Tisha b’Av, I’ve found that aspect hard to grasp. But this year I think I might have hit upon something I can hang onto.

The Holy Temple was the locus, receptor and transmitter of the palpable spirituality of life. It literally bathed the world with a fifth dimension of existence – the direct perception of the individual’s inner essence and life’s deeper meaning.

Once the Temple was destroyed, it was like a color had been removed from the visible spectrum. The most beatific and important color of all. The color that revealed life’s true purpose, wisdom, and love.

It was the color that unified and gave context to all the others. It was the color that showed us that everything was one, all emanating from one source and returning to one source. It showed us that whatever was happening within or around us was part of that oneness and truly happening for our, and the world’s good.

Life then wasn’t idyllic; there were still wars, poverty, sickness, and death. But while there was pain, there was no suffering in the sense of the pain perceived as being meaningless, random, or unfair. Rather, it was clear and palpable that the current tribulation was a but a channel being dug as a tributary to bring one to an ocean of pleasure that dwarfed any possible discomfort in getting there.

When the Holy Temple existed, these were not just comforting words, a way to cope and paste a veneer of sense on the existentially senseless – but perceivable, indisputable fact.

In short, everything we must now take on faith – emunah and bitachon – and struggle to believe, contrary to our sensory perceptions and instinctual emotions, was then no more subject to doubt or debate than is the greenness of a leaf.

And then, on Tisha b’Av, the Holy Temple was destroyed and all this was gone.

Yes, life went on. People made do with their now dull and faded perceptions. They recorded pre-destruction memories and tried to convey a sense of ‘what was’ to their descendants through writings and rituals.

But it wasn’t the same. Not even close.

Spirituality was now a theory – to be adopted or denied. It was no longer a daily living experience and dimension as real as up, down, right or left.

Those who continued to traverse this dimension, via the maps provided by their predecessors, were now ‘flying by instrument’ rather than by sight. To them, flights (or leaps) of faith; to their map-less detractors, flights of fancy and fanaticism.

We’ve been limping along this way for some 2000 years. We’ve long forgotten even that we’ve forgotten what it is we’re missing or mourning.

I certainly had, and largely still do.

But at least now, as Tisha b’Av approaches, I have an inkling of what’s lacking, and am yearning its returning very soon and in our days.

About the Author
Nesanel Yoel Safran, US born and a graduate of Brandeis, now living with his wife and family in the Judean Hills, is a writer, chef, and a teacher/student of Jewish spirituality. He blends these assorted vocations on his blog, Soul Foodie, where you can join him on mystical cooking adventures and glean practical wisdom for the kitchen — and for living.