How can we connect to the pain of Tisha B'Av?
As we know, the Jewish year is constructed like a circle, or more aptly, a spiral, with recurring opportunities for growth each year. The Jew who taps in to the different energies of each time period gains greater heights each time round. What is the opportunity for growth on Tisha B'Av?
Parents who introduce their children to the incredibly painful past of the Jewish people during this time, and see the shock of years of suffering reflected in their child’s eyes must ask themselves this question – what is the point? Why teach the next generation to bear the heavy burden of their nation's suffering? Why delve in to our bloody past? Why teach them to carry a legacy of pain on their small shoulders? Isn’t a Jew supposed to be happy?
If we take a minute to analyse the concept of a celebration or commemoration like a birthday, a bris or an anniversary, the message we are imparting is that by doing physical actions we are showing that these events or people have meaning in our lives and we want to emphasize that they matter. Sending a card on someone’s birthday is saying ‘you matter to me, and I am using this day as an opportunity to show it’. On Tisha B'Av, we are doing something very similar. We are ‘celebrating’ pain, by doing certain actions and refraining from others. Not the usual type of celebration, but its significance and importance will become clearer to us soon.
There is something uniquely whole and uniquely human about pain. Although not a comfortable emotion by any means, pain is extremely real. Allowing ourselves to feel when we are in pain, without trying to deny it or numb it away as many people do, opens up the entire spectrum of emotions which makes us human. Animals feel physical pain, and make sounds that sound similar to weeping, but only we have what you would call ‘existential pain’; pain taking the past, present and future, unrealized potential and crushed dreams into consideration.
When we allow ourselves to feel this pain, three unbelievably powerful things happen. First, we are able to bond with others in a very deep way. Anyone who is married remembers the first time they cried in front of their spouse, and for many that moment is as meaningful as the proposal, for sharing pain is extremely intimate. Second, we allow the joy in our lives to become much more real. Just like the pain was allowed to be real, joyous times rise to a whole new level. Anyone attending a wedding of someone who has suffered (a widow, a survivor of a disease) knows the intense joy that comes along with pain. And third, pain allows us to see our frailty and connect with G-d, Who truly understands. This is why a Jew must have a time designated for pain, to ‘celebrate’ truly being human and forge an even deeper connection to his fellow man and G-d.
On Tisha B’Av we are commemorating pain, which is always a void of some kind. What void are we trying to tap in to on Tisha B'Av? This is difficult to feel, since our days are a time of Hester ester panim, when G-d's Presence is completely concealed. Regular Hester panim is like a game of hide and seek – you know you need to find someone. Hester ester panim is when you don’t even know you are playing the game.
There is a story of a Chassidic Rebbe who was explaining Tikkun Chatzot (a prayer many people recite each night after midnight as an expression of mourning over the destruction of the Temple) to a simple Jewish innkeeper. He was describing life in the time of the Final Redemption: with no poretz (non-Jewish) landlord, no bad cattle, no disease, and all of us going to Jerusalem. The innkeeper was very excited about all the blessings, but requested that he get to stay in his village to enjoy them, he has no need for Jerusalem. We sometimes fall in to the same trap and think that all the Messianic Age will do is take away this person’s sickness, that person’s shidduch problems. But let’s just say those problems weren’t there - would we still want the complete Redemption? What is truly the essence of the void?
The Beit Hamikdash was not just a beautiful structure. We aren’t mourning the destruction of nice architecture. The reason we are still lamenting its loss is because of the spiritual power we lost during that time. The Beit Hamikdash was a link between this world and G-d. His presence was infinitely clearer to humanity while the Temple stood. The spiritual light the Beit Hamikdash radiated to the whole world allowed us to view ourselves and others as spiritual beings. Imagine for a minute how different people’s self-image would be if it would be completely clear to them that they were created by a loving Father, with a soul? Imagine how people would treat each other differently - condemning a bad action but never the person, the soul, itself? Nowadays people try to fill the feeling of emptiness inside with so many physical items. Imagine if it was apparent that every single person has a divine and infinite neshama (soul) within?
This is the true void we are mourning; the missing link in our perception of the physical realm and the spirit.
One way to tap in to the potential latent in this time of year is to allow ourselves to feel our own personal pain, and then to go deeper and to see our own pain as a symptom of a greater pain – the pain of a wounded world, of the Divine Presence in exile. This will enable us to connect to G-d and the entire world in a very real way.
The Nesivas Shalom compares these three weeks to painting a canvas black, in order to then paint a beautiful night sky picture during the upcoming three week period between Rosh Hashana and Shemini Atzeret – using the pain to then forge a deeper relationship with G-d and with our fellow Jews; G-d willing rebuilding out of the ashes together.