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{Originally posted to Rabbi Weinberg’s website, The Foundation Stone}

There are moments when the programmed heaviness of the Nine Days and Tisha b’Av suck the air from my heart in rhythmic assonance with aimless conversations. It’s that point in deep talk when I shudder at the limitations of words, the flash of ague that burns when I suspect the futility of ideas to shatter the problems discussed. I chant the Kinot, Lamentations, sharing my fifty years of Tisha b’Av weeping, convinced that I empathize with Jeremiah who warned and pled, who wept and challenged his people, only to observe his efforts mix and disappear with the smoke rising from the burning Temple.

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A fourth-century monk, Evagrius Ponticus, would describe such a Tisha b’Av experience as a spiritual affliction, “Acedia,” a “sadness, a disgust with life, which comes from our inability to get along with ourselves, our disunion with God.” Jerusalem was lost, say the Sages, because of our inability to get along. The loss of the Temple is a disunion with God. It leads us to question the tangible results of mourning the tragedies of Jewish history. We’ve been crying and praying for two millennia and despite our survival, the miraculous return to Israel and the waves of her accomplishments that rush out declaring, “We are alive and well, thriving, changing, aspiring to more!” we mourn these Nine Days as we did when hiding in the Judean hills watching the Romans level Jerusalem, peeking out our windows trembling before the violent pogroms of the Crusades, and crammed into German cattle cars. There are no official words during the day that allow us to appreciate the good, and I wonder whether we’ve been infected by Tisha b’Av acedia.

I ask children and adults whether they believe that their prayers to rebuild Jerusalem will change anything, whether their mourning the Temple will speed its return. The answer is always, whether firm or in whispered sadness, “No.” “Do you experience your mitzvot bringing hope and beauty to the world?” I ask, and hear the same “No.” I grew up with teachers, many of whom were Holocaust survivors, constantly speaking of Jewish suffering, and their words left hollow spaces in my heart. I too taste our infinite pain, but I nourish my soul with the joyous possibilities of serving God. I cannot believe that we are meant to experience dangerously infectious acedia, especially since the original Tisha b’Av was a response to “Crying in Acedia,” hopeless tears. The festival’s observances were designed to battle the infection, not to spread it. Tisha b’Av is categorized as a Moed, a festival. It stands Bein haMitzarim, as the liminal man hovering on the boundary between one reality and another, between hope and despair, between acedia and a meaningful life.

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