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Scheduling Sadness

07/14/2021 01:30:54 PM


Rabbi Brent Spodek


Francesco Hayez, Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, Galleria dell' Accademia, Venice, It

The Evening of Saturday, July 17, 2021 marks the beginning of Tisha b’Av, the hardest day on the Jewish calendar. 

It literally means “The ninth day of the month of Av” and it marks the destruction of the two great temples that once stood in Jerusalem – the First Temple, which the Babylonians destroyed in 586 B.C.E. and the Second Temple which the Romans destroyed in 70 C.E. Over time, it has become the day on the calendar when we mourn many of the tragedies which have befallen the Jewish people. 

On an experiential level, Tisha b’Av is a day of intensive mourning. As on Yom Kippur, Jews traditionally abstain from food, drink and other joyful behaviors and additionally, take on practices of mourning such as sitting low to the ground. Most prominently, the day is liturgically marked by reading Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, which recounts the destruction of the First Temple. This year, we’ll be joining together with Freedom Church of the Poor People’s Campaign to mark the dynamics of loss and regeneration in Jewish and other traditions. You can join via facebook; all the details are here

On a conceptual level, Tisha b’Av consolidates mourning for a whole range of Jewish tragedies, from the destruction of the Temples to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. It’s a day of pain, a day in which the imperative of hope is put aside. Judaism articulates the belief that the world can be better than it currently is, that an enslaved and oppressed people can ultimately go free. 

Optimism is part of the fabric of Judaism, yet all of us who have suffered loss know that optimism can gloss over suffering. When we endure tragedy, either personal or national, we know that we have to give pain its due before moving to recovery and rebuilding. Maya Angelou makes this beautifully clear when she writes in The Rock Cries Out to Us Today that 

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.

Tisha b’Av is so difficult because it is a day of suspended optimism, a day of trying to face pain with courage. 

On a spiritual level, Tisha b’Av can be seen as marking the very beginning of the High Holiday season. Rabbi Alan Lew points out that on this day, we remember two great temples, grandiose in their bearing, that were seen as the very axis of the universe. They were tremendous and magnificent and now, more than 2,600 years after the destruction of the First Temple we continue to mourn what was and what might have been. 

However, ten weeks from now, after we have marked Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, we will come to Simchat Torah and we will dismantle a sukkah, the barest sketch of a house, amid tremendous joy and celebration. We mourn when the grand aspirations are destroyed, yet when simple sketches vanish, leaving us with only the present moment, we celebrate. 

Tisha b’Av can be seen as the beginning of the season in which we try to discern which visions of our lives and our world we actually want to tightly hold onto, such that they will cause us pain if they are not realized, and which visions we want to let evaporate so that we can feel the joy of the present moment. 

As always, more information is available at, and I hope that Tisha b’Av speaks to you, however you encounter it. 

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Brent

Mon, October 18 2021 12 Cheshvan 5782