What is Tisha B’Av? Is it the birthday of the trees?
No, that’s Tu Bish’vat. Sounds similar, I know.
Does it have something to do with the Torah?
No, that’s Shavuot, the other holiday that lands during summer vacation so kids don’t learn about it and adults don’t remember it.
So, what is it?
Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning in remembrance of both destructions (which happened on the same date) of the two Ancient Temples in Jerusalem. It has become a day of mourning for all kinds of tragedies (some of which also happened on the 9th of Av), from Jewish expulsion from England and Spain to the Holocaust to even the tragedies of 9/11. It is observed with chanting the Book of Lamentations to haunting descending musical motifs and with fasting.
Tisha B’Av is not a happy holiday for sure. But I’m feeling kind of psyched for it. Weird, right? Well, here’s why…
I recently finished reading the book THIS IS REAL AND YOU ARE COMPLETELY UNPREPARED by Rabbi Alan Lew. It’s a wonderful book about the Holy Days, and for Rabbi Lew, Tisha B’Av is the start of those days. For this is not only a day to start facing our mortality and the loss of our ancient spiritual center. This is also a day for letting go of attachment, for setting down our baggage, for embracing (rather than fighting) the impermanence of life, for facing the past and the future… the themes we encounter during the Holy Days.
When the Ancient Temples were destroyed, the Jewish people had no choice but to adapt and evolve. Without a Temple for sacrifices, new methods of connecting to God had to be created. If the Temples hadn’t been destroyed, there would be no private prayer, no synagogues, no Rabbis or Cantors, no personal relationships with God, no Jewish communities around the world. Those things were all created out of necessity because of the destruction. And for many of us, a return to the ancient sacrificial days is not what we are hoping for, so as much as we may mourn the loss of the old Temples, we also don’t necessarily yearn for their reconstruction. This is why so many of us don’t fully observe Tisha B’Av… because we don’t want to return to the sacrificial cult. Judaism has grown, changed, and evolved, and we like where it is going (thanks, by the way, to one of my teachers who posted a great article about this from Times of Israel.).
There is even a theory out there that the creation story (yes THAT creation story) of the Torah was written DURING the Babylonian exile. Imagine this: the people are without their Temple, the place they believed was the earthly resident for God, and they don’t know if it’s possible to reach that God anymore. Their future as a peoplehood is at stake with no center for their religion. So, what happens? Maybe a story was created… a story that connects the Jewish God to the creation of the universe itself. With this story, if God, in fact made everything, God must be everywhere. God must be Universal. God must be able to find us wherever we are and live inside and beside us. The people no longer believed that they needed a tabernacle or a Temple to reach God. With such a story, the people had the faith to carry on, and one of the most well-known pieces of spiritual literature may have been born because of destruction.
Once upon a time we built a house for God. Now we build houses for ourselves. What if they disappear as that one did? What if all of our expectations become knotted or broken? What if we lose our jobs or have to move to new neighborhoods or have to leave communities we love? What if we are faced with illness? What if our lives don’t turn out as planned? What do we do then?
Well, we do as our ancestors did. We keep putting one foot in front of the other. We find new ways to have as joyous as lives as possible. We try to hold the memories of lost realities and lost people, places, and things in our hearts, but not allow those memories to keep us from attempting wholeness again. We build new things. We start new trends. We bend, but we don’t break.
I have never really observed Tisha B’Av before, but I’m thinking that maybe this year is going to be the first year that I do. Not to mourn the temples or to wish for the “good old days” but to celebrate the opportunities that come from letting go, from adapting, from obstacles becoming opportunities. I may fast not as an exercise of mourning but an exercise in clearing myself out (mind, body and soul) of my expectations, of my attachment to all of the “stuff” in my house (thank you George Carlin), to what my career should look like, to the house itself. I will fast to remind myself that life keeps evolving, that I must be like water and move with the tides. And I will fast as a reminder that if I have to lose some thing or even many things, if it is only the building, the stuff, and the career, but not those I love, I will be just fine.
Tisha B’Av is the “opening ceremony” for the Holy Days, for as we start this journey of turning and returning to who we know we could and should be, we must leave our “stuff” at the door. We can only find our true selves, our inner peace, our most magnificent goodness, if we entertain the notion of the house falling down, and still finding light.
Join us for a Cool Shul Shabbat and an honoring of Tisha B’Av this Friday, August 12 at 6:30pm. Click here for the evite: http://evite.me/n1hGzQNUjg