Thinking about Tisha b’Av

Thinking about Tisha b’Av

“Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun of York…” Shakespeare’s Richard III tells us.

It’s not entirely accurate for us. Now is the summer of our discontent, boiling over, after the spring of our discontent, which did, to be fair, follow the winter of our discontent, just as Richard told us. Of course, the autumn of our discontent came even before that.

You get the point.

The ties that hold together our country, our world, are fraying; it can’t be possible that this frying heat helps hold anything together, although it may well make us too lethargic to do any more tearing.

Without commenting on whether there’s anyone in our world who is like Richard, who tells us “I am determined to prove a villain,” certainly there is villainy unloosed in the world.

Which brings us to Tisha b’Av, the Nineth of Av, which starts this Saturday night, right after Shabbat, taking the Sunday of a summer weekend and setting it aside for fasting and mourning.

There’s little that matches the emotional intensity of Tisha b’Av in the Jewish calendar. You sit on the floor in the dark and listen to the haunting dirge (maybe all dirges are almost by definition haunting, but this one, then, is even more so) and lays out the degradations that Jerusalem, both as a city and as a personification of all Jews, must endure.

And it’s not just about history. If only it were! But no. Tisha b’Av commemorates, among other calamities, the destruction of both the First and the Second Temple. The Second Temple was brought down by sinat chinam. Senseless hatred. We have a lot of that going on now. Terrifying amounts.

But the thing about Tisha b’Av is that it has an arc, and that moral arc does bend toward goodness.

The first chapters of the book of Eicha, Lamentations, is as dark as possible. But then, by the end of the book, there is some hope. It’s dark out as you go dinnerless home to bed, but you know that there are faint glimmers, tiny little bits of light, maybe shooting stars. The end of the book opens into the possibility of new light.

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, who we write about in this issue, has lived a long life; he has known deep sorrow, and as a historian he understands horror. He has chosen to title his newest book, his magnum opus, “The Triumph of Life.” He believes in the slow, halting, sometimes halted but never stopped forever movement of people toward goodness.

He also talks about how it’s harder to hate someone, to mock someone’s ideas, when you’re in a room with that person, when you’re looking at and listening to each other. It’s not impossible, of course — reading about the school board wars that raged across this country in the last year or so makes that clear. But still, it’s harder.

Out of all the unpalatable wisdom in Eicha, perhaps one of the deepest truths is that if you hang on long enough, eventually things will get better. Not necessarily for each individual person, but for the group. For the country. For the Jewish people.

We hope that our readers have a meaningful fast and come out of it renewed.


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