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It’s the first day of Av. I’m seeing a lot of Facebook status messages and Twitter tweets griping about the Nine Days.*
I’m thinking (…can’t stop thinking…) about the bereaved young family not far from here who lost their 3-year old darling daughter in a sudden, tragic accident. Thinking about their loss, their pain. How the preschool-teacher mommy will be able to bear teaching her students again. How the babysitter will face herself, her friends, her future children… and on and on….
No meat. No music. No luxuriating in the shower. No swimming. No fun… Why not? “To remember the destruction of the House of G-d.” What does that mean? Why do we mourn now, today, this year?
Others have taught about learning the lesson from the past to the present; to repair the sins rampant then and now. “If the Temple is not rebuilt in our time, it is as if we destroyed it.”
Others have taught that the Destruction goes on until Redemption. We live in a world where humanity, the Jewish Nation, and the Expression of G-d’s Presence are in constant suffering. “One who mourns the destruction of Jerusalem shall merit to witness its rebuilding.”
I’m thinking… I’m thinking… I’m thinking about “nosei be’ol im chaveiro”. Shouldering the burden with your friend. How putting yourself truly into the experience of another person makes you both stronger.
I’m thinking that the Nine Days is also about keeping in touch with the global, historical Nation of Israel. Feeling a part of it, being a part of it. Maybe feeling a part of it IS being a part of it. In good times and in hard times.
“Getting through” the Nine Days misses the point entirely. Will that family whose daughter died be thinking about “getting through” the Nine Days; “getting through” their shiva? They’ll be the week in the deepest form of grief, finding expression in rituals of mourning that the Nine Days only shadows dimly. Will they be griping about the lack of chicken? About sitting on the floor in torn shirts and unpressed trousers? About not listening to music? About not having fun?
And why not? [I don’t mean: “Because the minor inconveniences are overshadowed by the enormity of grief.”] And why not? Because the actions suit the emotional state. They won’t be wanting to take a vacation this week. Or shop for new clothes. Or eat a steak… or much else. They won’t want to listen to a capella singing groups. They won’t want to be drawn out of their grief; they will want to experience and share and touch and reach and be drawn close. They will want to feel held by G-d and know He is carrying them to somewhere good.
Their pain, as almost-impossible as it is for me — a stranger — to bear, is right now. It is only my own pain for as long as I am willing, capable of sharing their burden.
Holocaust survivors know that the world is forgetting their pain. It isn’t gone. But we aren’t always willing to shoulder the emotional burden with them. We want to have fun. We want our meat and music. Despite an individual and human burden of pain that is so vast compared with that of a single family. (”Compared with…” is unfair. There is no “compared with”. What I mean is the vastness of numbers of individual sufferings, each unique and whole.)
The Churban Bayis. The destruction of the Holy Temple. It wasn’t just a demolition, a political or military casualty. It was a whole, long, agonizing war. A siege and famine. A Holocaust, if you will. The nearly complete destruction of the Old Country, the cities, towns, villages, educational system, government. A whole country, a whole people, a whole way of life. A thousand — nay, a million and another million individual sufferings, each unique and whole.
Experiencing the Nine Days is not about “getting through it” until the melave malka on motzaei Shabbos Nachamu. If you feel the pain, you aren’t trying to have fun. You are seeking meaning in the tragedy. You are seeking to experience, to share and touch and reach and be drawn close. To feel held by G-d and to know that He is taking you somewhere good.
You aren’t yet feeling the pain yourself?
It’s about shouldering the burden with your friend. Which friend? Your grandparents. And their grandparents. And theirs. Which friend? G-d, your Father. He does not experience time; it is all fresh, new, raw to His Shechina, ke’v'yachol.
“Kol rodfeha hisiguha bein hametzarim. All who pursue her [the Shechina] shall grab hold of her during the Straightened Times [of Mourning].”
Can you stop thinking about your meat and music long enough to sit down in the house of mourning? To shoulder the burden with your friends? To honor the freshness of pain by taking it into yourself, by acting as one with the body nation of Israel? To become the realization, the actualization, the embodiment of Jew, of Human, of Tzelem Elokim (image of God)?
“G-d is your Guardian, G-d is your Shadow at your right hand.”
*The “Nine Days” count from the 1st to the 9th day of the Jewish lunar month of Av — this year, beginning Wednesday, July 23. They are part of a three-week process of increasing mourning, culminating in the Fast of the Ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av). During the Nine Days (or the week of Tisha B’Av for Sephardic Jews), the Torah teaches to avoid eating meat; enjoying significant new acquisitions such as clothing, houses, cars; restricting bathing to cleanliness (as opposed to pleasure); and listening to music. A summary of the Laws of the Three Weeks, Nine Days and Tisha B’Av may be found here: Halacha For Today.