The biggest challenge we have on Tisha B’Av is relating to its sadness. Our Judaism is so upbeat and so positive that it can be hard to find the inner strength to be sad on this day. We are more Slabodka than Navardhok. We are more Chasidishe than Litvishe. We are more Mesillas Yesharim than Shaarei Teshuva.
That’s contemporary Judaism. Asceticism is out. Joyful service is in. Eating is the new fasting.
As such, it can be difficult to muster the requisite sadness and appropriate mood for Tisha B’Av. I struggle with this every year and I know many others who do as well.
Since the time around last Tisha B’Av I have been stuyding and teaching Daf Yomi. I think that the daily Talmudic study may have a secret that can inform our Tisha B’Av experience this year.
One of the beautiful things about studying Talmud is appreciating the way the text immerses you in the conversation. The reader is not a passive bystander. The reader is an active participant in the discussion. Sometime we are the Tanna Kamma. Then we are the voice of the Gemara that challenges that Tanna. Then we become the the various Amoraim who answer these challenges. All along the way we take on the persona and logical faculties of the speaker in the text. One second you’re R’ Yehoshua, the next second you’re R’ Elazar, the next minute you are Abaye, and immediately thereafter you are Rava. We read their words and we strive to understand their thinking.
I find this exhilarating. Every other book I have read or studied tells you what to think. The Talmud asks you to join along in thinking with it.
This Tisha B’Av we can try to do the same thing with the Tisha B’Av liturgy. We hear the haunting intonations of Eicha. Instead of trying to feel pain that is so fleeting for us today, let’s try to empathize with the pain of Jeremiah. His pain leaps off the page. Can we hear the agony in his words? Can we step into his shoes and experience his torment?
We can do the same thing we read the Kinos. They are obscure and arcane. But they can also give us a window into the hearts and minds of their composers. When we read the poetic dirges written centuries ago we must transport ourselves to that day in history. We must try to feel what they are feeling when they wrote these searing laments. We may not be able to feel our own pain, but we can all empathize with our ancestors and feel their pain.
I propose that we treat the Tisha B’Av liturgy the way we treat the Talmud. We read the lines of the Talmud and we put ourselves in the place of their speaker. We can do the same thing on Tisha B’Av. We can become Jeremiah, we can become HaKalir, we can live Eicha and the Kinos vicariously.
Perhaps if we feel their pain, it will awaken the dormant pain in our hearts this Tisha B’Av. And maybe if we awaken that latent pain found deep in the recesses our soul, we will merit to have that pain replaced with the joy of a time when Tisha B’Av is a day of celebration and no longer a day of mourning.
השיבנו ה’ אליך ונשובה חדש ימינו כקדם
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