When we look at this photograph of a relief on the Arch of Titus celebrating his siege and destruction of Jerusalem, that historical event can feel as old and foreign as the stones depicting it. Yet for Jews the idea of ‘never forget’ is not a new one. Jews remember the events of the past, celebrating the times of joy and mourning the times of sorrow and destruction. It is tempting to brush aside ancient history. It was so long ago… it offers no present joy. It is easy to poo-poo the ‘old fashion’ Jews who change their daily behavior to observe the mourning period defined by Tisha B’Av. But what might we be missing by doing so?
1. There is George Santayana famous quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Isn’t this true of all knowledge? Burn books and you will lose the knowledge held there. Fail to pass on to the next generation what we have learned and they must learn it all over again.
2. In our American culture we tend to avoid the unpleasant. Keep old people, mentally disabled people and other ‘unsightly’ humans in institutions where we don’t have to think about them. We minimize death. Someone died in your family? Don’t mourn, ‘celebrate’ their life.
Frankly, that’s damn unhealthy. Life is far from perfect and we do better mastering our challenges if we see life for what it is and learn to cope.
3. All those rituals prescribed for Tisha B’Av – no purchasing of new clothes, minimal bathing, fasting, refraining from singing and dancing, etc., how unpleasant! I wouldn’t be having fun! I wouldn’t be thinking about ME!
How little in American life requires us to delay gratification, acknowledge that there are deeply sad and distressful times, or take time to care for others.
Rituals create a way for us to get in sync with a bigger idea. They formalize the way that we move through time and allow us the opportunity to reflect.
I invite you to choose one daily practice to observe. It could be not wearing leather shoes or not eating meat. But use it to allow yourself to be reminded – at least for one day – that we all will meet with pain, death and loss. In knowing that, we should be building for ourselves a network of support, a community, a circle, who will sustain us in our dark times. And, yes, we should be reciprocating by supporting others in their dark times too.
Read a brief description of Tisha B’Av from the Coffeeshop Rabbi here.
Read a full description of the traditional practices of Tisha B’Av here. Thank you to Beth Jacob of Oakland who provided this information.