“When the month of Av begins, we reduce our joy” (Ta’anit 26b).
Our Sages said, “Whoever mourns for Jerusalem merits and sees her joy” (Ta’anit 30b). This promise is not about the future. It’s written in the present tense: “zoche v’roeh – merits and sees.” Apparently, something about mourning positively affects our lives in the present moment.
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, in his work Kedushat HaLevi, shares a wonderful insight, explaining that the word “zocheh – merits” is phonetically related to the word for “purification – hizdakechut.” He suggests that while mourning is a tormenting experience, it is also a purifying one.
One of society’s biggest enemies today is apathy. Our daily routines have eroded our emotions. We wrap ourselves in a thick cloak of indifference and cynicism. We do anything possible to escape feeling pain or vulnerability lest we be regarded as weak. Many distractions help us numb our pain: endless work, social media, and other addictive phenomena.
However, when we use tricks to escape painful feelings, we also lose the ability to experience joyous feelings. When a comatose patient begins to wake up and feel pain, his family rejoices since they know that his ability to feel pain means he’s on the road to recovery.
There is a common saying that “the only way out is through.” Feeling pain and having the courage to cry allows us to be resilient and grow. During Av, we have a special opportunity: to encounter pain by reflecting on the national tragedies of our history, making way for emotional introspection.
“The gates of tears were not locked” (Berachot 32b). Authentic tears can melt away the layers of apathy and cynicism we wrap ourselves in and open the locked gates within our hearts. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes that just as sweat is the sign of a physical workout, tears are the sign of the soul’s workout since “tears are the sweat of the soul.” (commentary to Bereshit 37:35).
Mourning can be purifying and cathartic. It can remind us of what we should be striving for and thereby fill us with hope for a brighter future. That’s why we break a glass at every Jewish wedding and cry, “Mazal Tov!” – for only then does our joy incorporate our pain and become authentic and everlasting. Secular celebrations are often shallow and superficial; Jewish tradition believes in simchat olam, everlasting joy.
True and authentic joy cannot be attained without acknowledging the broken moments we have overcome. It is no wonder, then, that the happy festival of Tu B’Av immediately follows Tisha B’Av. The purifying mourning leads us toward one of the happiest days of the year, as the Mishnah tells us: “There were no days of joy in Israel greater than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur” (Ta’anit 4:8).
Jews around the world are going through challenging times, suffering many casualties, and facing horrendous social and financial uncertainties. Without minimizing these excruciating challenges, we should utilize them to change the way we cope with pain and insecurity.
We must try to find sources of authentic joy in our lives that are not dependent on external factors such as money, possessions, and jobs. We should look to find happiness instead from the most important assets in our lives – our families, our values, our traditions, and ourselves.
“Whoever mourns…merits.” Whoever has the courage to experience vulnerability and pain experiences true joy.