Kenneth Brander
Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

‘Where are you?’ The most important question of Tisha B’Av

TRANSCRIPT

When a loved one dies, God forbid, the intensity of our mourning is seen in its most dramatic form on the day of burial and then gradually diminishes from the first through the seventh day of shiva, through the next 30 days – the shloshim – and in the case of a beloved parent, throughout the year of mourning.

Our communal mourning for the destruction of our holy Temple, on the other hand, progresses in the exact opposite direction.

For three weeks, catalyzed by the fast of the 17 of Tammuz, we refrain from joyous activity.

Then, during the final nine days of those three weeks, beginning on Rosh Chodesh Av (or, for Sephardic Jews, during the final week preceding the ninth of Av,) we progress to an even more heightened state of mourning.

Ultimately, the pinnacle of mourning occurs on Tisha B’Av – the saddest day in the Jewish calendar.

The reason for this opposite pattern is because unlike mourning a family member, it is so hard to sincerely mourn a 2000-year-old tragedy.

It’s true that the loss of our holy Temple led to the loss of our sovereignty and, even more significantly, the loss of our connection to God.

But still it’s hard to immediately and emotionally connect to it.

We need time to enter into the necessary mindset.

The build up from 17 Tammuz to Tisha B’Av gives us the opportunity to think beyond the “what” of this period’s mourning practices and focus on the “why”.

One idea for getting into this “why” comes from the teachings of Rav Joseph Soloveitchik, ztz”l, based on the central text read on Tisha b’Av: Megillat Eicha, the Book of Lamentations.

Rav Soloveitchik teaches that Megillat Eicha also known as the Book of Kinot provides us with prophetic license to ask the ultimate question: “Eicha?!” – how God could this have happened?

How God can you have abandoned us the Jewish people to our enemies?

How God can you have allowed the Temple, Jerusalem and the Land of Israel to become desolate?

We begin Tisha B’Av by reading this book of Eicha, this book of Kinot, which gives us permission to question, and then spend the next 24 hours engaged in seeking the answers.

Rav Soloveitchik explained that when we read the word “Eicha,” we must also read it the first way that it is pronounced in the Bible, when God asks Adam and Chava: “Ayeka”? Where are you? (Genesis 3:9)

Eicha – how did this happen? – and Ayeka – where are you? – are intertwined. Because in order to repair the devastation , we must investigate where we are?

Where are we in the treatment of other Jews and other human beings?

Where are we in our support of Israel?

Where are we in pursuit of unity?

Do we still not recognize that ultimately it was the judgmental hatred and the disrespect between us that caused famine, torture and the final destruction of the second Temple and all of its ramifications? (Yoma 9b)

Where are we in the process of trying to perfect the world, and help bring about the ultimate redemption?

This approach enables us to also mourn things taking place in our lives and in our generation, which are actually extensions of the tragedies that occurred two millennia ago, making the tragedy more relatable.

In the merit of heartfelt mourning over what we have lost and a resolution to prioritize fixing that which we have broken, may we witness the words of our Sages:

 כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה
Whoever mourns for Jerusalem will merit and see her future joy. (Taanit 30b)

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and then a meaningful and easy fast.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 30 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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