June 21, 2024
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Tisha B’Av: Relating to, and Educating Toward, the Sad Times

I find this time period—the Three Weeks, Nine Days, and culminating with Tisha B’Av—to be the hardest of the year religiously. We are commanded to mourn, to be sad—but no one likes being sad! Compounding the problem, these weeks inevitably fall out during the summer—a time designated for fun—making it particularly challenging to get into a mode of sadness. Finally, the unique challenge with this mourning is that the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed thousands of years ago. We’ve become accustomed to a reality without its existence. How can we grieve for something that we never personally had?

Because of these issues, many of us try to “get through” these few weeks—managing the imposed restrictions, perhaps even finding creative ways around them. We bide our time until we can resume our regular summer mode. And the same when it comes to our children. We don’t want to burden them with sadness, or we don’t know how to talk to them about Tisha B’Av, so we just push them through these weeks, not taking the time or effort to discuss these difficult topics with our children.

While understandable, I believe this approach is unfortunate—for our own personal avodat Hashem, and in our role as parents—as we fail to properly process an important part of the Jewish calendar. The Jewish calendar year is a progression, with various emotions and feelings throughout the year. This is by design. There are moments of fear and trepidation, moments of elation and joy, moments of sadness and grief, and much more in between. The various highlights—chagim, fast days, mini-holidays, and other periods—come together to create a flow, and serve to elicit the continuum of human emotions over the course of the year. We thereby experience the gamut of these human emotions within the context of God and spirituality. We are thus able to recognize that avodat Hashem isn’t accomplished through one singular emotion, but rather is cultivated through all the human emotions, each in the correct context and time.

With this, we can understand the significance of these weeks within the flow of the year. As important as it is to celebrate happy times, it is likewise important to commemorate sad times. The human experience contains times of sadness/despair in addition to moments of happiness/joy. We must therefore develop these emotions in a religious context as well. As David Hamelech says in Tehillim Perek 126, הזורעים בדמעה ברנה יקצרו, “They who sow in tears shall reap in joy.” Our ability to connect to the religiously happy moments and reap their benefits depends upon our ability to connect to the religiously tearful and despondent moments as well.

Therefore we should make a determined effort to connect to this period as part of our overall religious experience, despite the challenges. Rav Soloveitchik notes that as opposed to the personal mourning for a relative, which is instinctual, mourning for the Beit Hamikdash is harder. Therefore, suggests Rav Soloveitchik, “the mourning for Tisha B’Av needs to be taught… We must learn how to mourn, to wail and weep for the Churban Beit Hamikdash.” He explains that this is why the mourning of Tisha B’Av, in contrast to personal aveilut, begins with a period of lighter mourning, and then builds up to intense mourning—because it takes time to relate to the sadness of Tisha B’Av (“The Lord Is Righteous In All His Ways” pg. 24).

It behooves us, therefore, to take the time and effort to connect to these days—by attending or listening to shiurim/classes about these weeks, kinot recitations, videos/presentations about the Beit Hamikdash, etc.—each of us in our own way. With a plethora of platforms and mediums at our fingertips, this should be manageable for us. It might be hard, but it’s important nonetheless.

And our obligation of chinuch applies to this period just as to the rest of the year. If we focus with our children solely on the happy moments of the Jewish calendar then we give them an unrealistic picture of life and of Judaism. Of course, all conversations about death must be age appropriate, but it is important to speak with our kids, at all ages, about the challenging times of our history as a people and discuss how to relate to them practically. By doing so we help them gain a realistic picture of life and Yahadut—realizing that life is full of many emotions, sometimes even conflicting emotions, at once—and we enable them to create the space needed to experience the full gamut of emotions in their own avodat Hashem. We also model for them how to deal with sadness in a healthy way.

The weeks and days leading up to Tisha B’Av can be challenging for us, personally and as parents. It is hard to relate to the sadness and challenging to cultivate the mood appropriate for this time. Our natural reaction, therefore, is to rush through these days with minimal reflection and little dialogue with our children. However, hidden within these days are unique opportunities for us spiritually—and it is incumbent upon us to connect to those opportunities, even as we work to help our kids relate to them as well.

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful fast!


Rav Yossi Goldin is the menahel tichon at Yeshivas Pe’er HaTorah, rebbe at Midreshet Tehillah, and placement adviser/internship coordinator for the YU/RIETS kollel. He lives with his family in Shaalvim and can be reached at [email protected].

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