By Rabbi Joshua Fenton
This Tisha b’Av felt different. On the saddest day of the year; that cursed day on which just about every evil perpetrated against Jews throughout history is remembered, this year in light of the fighting and dying it felt even worse.
I didn’t go to the synagogue this year on Tisha b’Av. I stayed home, preferring to work over joining the community in what felt like another day of mourning. The thing is, it’s felt like Tisha b’Av for a while now. Watching videos of riots in Europe, reading stories of Jews around the world attacked, hearing the news report how the Jewish state was killing Palestinian civilians, it’s been feeling like Tisha b’Av for a while.
And it’s not just me. Yesterday afternoon and evening I began to read post after post on social media reflecting people’s deep sense of mourning this year. So much so, some even expressed the desire to stay in mourning a bit longer. Tweets I read suggested folks weren’t ready to let the day go while others spoke of how the day was holding on to them, #stilltishabav. This year Tisha b’Av didn’t begin with the three weeks. We didn’t slip deeper into despair during the nine days. We were already there, since the beginning of this most recent fighting in Gaza, we’ve been there. I’ve been there.
And I think that’s a problem. There is a reason that Tisha b’Av happens only once a year. That same reason is why we don’t have additional days of mourning to commemorate the crusades, Spanish expulsion, Kmelnitzky massacre, and all of the other atrocities remembered on Tisha b’Av. It’s enough. How many sad days should there be?
This was an argument made in the Knesset when first discussing whether or not there should even be a Yom Hashoah. There is already a Tisha b’Av, some said, and how many sad days should there be? How many days of mourning do we want to freckle our calendar?
My favorite halakha of the Shulchan Aruch, my favorite piece of Jewish law, speaks about Tisha b’Av. It pertains to the fast of Tisha b’Av when it falls on a Sunday and answers the question, what one’s last meal before the fast should be.
Traditionally, the last meal before we fast is the meal of mourners, a seuda mafseket or interrupting meal. It’s a meal that gets us ready for the sorrow of the following day. The meal consists of hard boiled eggs rolled in ash, eaten while seated on the floor. The imagery is powerful. When one first hears of a loss, before the period of mourning technically begins, the mourner has a meal. Something to get food into his or her stomach before the sorrow descends. A last ditch effort to build up our reserves for what is sure to be an exhausting experience. The law speaks about that meal when it comes on Shabbat. If the fast of Tisha b’Av is on a Sunday, how can we eat a mourners meal, a meal of sadness while it is still Shabbat?
The answer the Shulchan Aruch gives is marvelous and instructive. The instruction is to “set a table fit for King Solomon.” If you were to ask my children what that means, they’d tell you it would have to be a meat meal with parve ice cream afterwards. What else could a king ask for? What this law highlights is that the joy of Shabbat cannot be limited by the mourning of Tisha b’Av. The most sorrowful day of the year needs to be contained. It can be radioactive in it’s ability to affect and infect all those around it and we must therefore resist the urge to let it. It’s also a halakha/law that if the fast of Tisha b’Av falls on Shabbat, we push it to Sunday. The day must be contained.
Just as it is a mitzvah to mourn on that terrible day, and just as it is a mitzvah to join your community and your people in mourning, it is also a mitzvah to move on. When the mourner completes her seven days of mourning, shiva, she is commanded to get up.
Of course as I write these words, sitting in my office in San Francisco, I have my family, friends, colleagues, and fellow Jews living in Israel speaking to me from inside my heart and soul. They ask me how to let it go. They ask “how can we move on when it feels like the evil and terror that continues to chase us may have only quieted for a moment?” I share that fear and I share that doubt, as does every mourner as they see the end of shiva fast approach.
My response is to have hope, none the less, that today’s tomorrow will be better than yesterday’s, and that the quiet may build and grow. And to all of us in the states, to my friends who felt a longing to stay just a little longer in mourning and to those who didn’t feel drawn to stay in Tisha b’Av but felt stuck, I say it’s time to move on. It’s time to again celebrate life and possibility, and even if it only lasts for 72 hours, it’s time to get up and walk around the block and hope and believe that these past weeks of war have come to an end and we are all ready to move on.
Is that a shofar I hear?