Sunday, July 18, 2010

Jerusalem Prepares for Tisha B'Av

Yom sheni, 8 Av 5770, Erev Tisha B'Av.
"Tonight no learning Torah."
The Dearly Beloved and I were walking down the street in Talpiot (a neighborhood in Jerusalem) when we were confronted by this initially-shocking sign.  After a few minutes of deciphering, we figured out the real message of the sign: It was an invitation to join a congregation in Baka (an adjacent neighborhood) for the observance of the reading of Eicha (Lamentations), which traditionally begins the 25-hour fast of the Ninth of Av, the commemoration of the destruction of both Temples.  It reminds us that one of the things we deprive ourselves of during the fast is the learning of any portions of our Holy Torah that might bring joy.

 One of my sons has been struggling with what is the connection between depriving oneself of food, and remembering the destruction of our Holy Temple, nearly 2,000 years ago.  "Ema, honestly, when I go without food, all I think about is how hungry I am.  I can't connect it to the Temple's destruction.  I just get grouchy, and start counting the hours until the fast ends."

He studied and wrestled with his questions, reading and asking his chavruta's opinion, and the opinions of friends and family.

Finally, he answered his own question -- more or less -- by reminding me of a story I had told him years ago.  I had forgotten the story; and I now cannot remember the rabbi about whom it is told.

A couple of young men went to their rabbi, asking for advice about how to get through the upcoming Tisha B'Av fast.  The rabbi apologized to them.  "I wish I could give you advice," he said, "but I've never fasted a day in my life."

The young men were shocked.  But they had been taught to reason, and to give the benefit of the doubt.  Surely this holy man kept the Laws, handed down for generations!  Finally, one of them responded to the rabbi's statement.  "It is possible that the Rav found leniencies, for reasons of health, for not fasting on the minor fasts," he said.  "But surely the Rav has fasted on Yom Kippur!"

"I can honestly say that I never fasted on Yom Kippur, bochrim," he answered.

Now the second boy was emboldened to respond.  "I cannot believe the Rav didn't fast on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year!"

The rabbi smiled at his talmid.  "You are right.  Yom Kippur is the holiest day.  I am always so overwhelmed by the opportunity for such closeness to my Father in Heaven, so excited by the knowledge that He will forgive all of my sins, that I cannot even think of food.  It happens that from Kol Nidre until Neilah, I am so overcome with joy, food is the very last thing on my mind."

"And Tisha B'Av?" asked the first boy.  "The Rav also never fasted on Tisha B'Av, the saddest day of the year for a Jew?"

The rabbi's face clouded over, as he glanced at the calendar on the wall.  Tisha B'Av would begin that very night.  "On Tisha B'Av --" the rabbi's voice become choked, "I am so very distraught at what we have lost, and what we have suffered ever since that loss...  that I cannot bear the sight of food."

The young men left their rabbi's presence, clear now in the approach they would take to surviving the next several hours.

One thing passed through my mind when I saw that sign.  I realized how very sweet it is to suffer this supreme sadness with my people in our Land.

Sitting shiva is always easier when surrounded by family.

May we see an end to our suffering, individual and collective, and rejoice together this year in the complete and total Geula.

This post dedicated to two dear Rebbetzins who have recently lost their beloved fathers.  May their sweetness and love of their fellow Jews continue to accrue to their dear fathers' accounts in Shemayim.

Glossary:
Chavruta: Torah study partner
Bochrim: young men
Talmid: student
Kol Nidre and Neilah: opening and closing prayers of Tisha B'Av services
Shiva: the seven-day mourning period after the death of a close relative
Geula: the Final Redemption
Shemayim: Heaven
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