By: Rabbi Minna Bromberg
“To everything there is a season,” Ecclesiastes insists, “a time for mourning and a time for dancing.” But what do we do when our own hearts don’t seem to align with the calendar of Jewish holidays?
That’s one of the complaints I often hear about Tisha B’Av, the day we commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem along with other calamities the Jewish people have faced. Why would we intentionally make ourselves sad?
And this issue rarely comes up in a more common situation: facing festivals of joy when we’re stuck in sorrow. For me personally, Tisha B’Av when everything is (thank God) going well in my own life is much easier to handle than Simchat Torah when I’ve been having a hard time.
In either case, I think this question of how to allow our own hearts to harmonize with the Jewish calendar is an important one because if we are not doing this harmonizing work, then we are not truly bringing our full selves to our Jewish lives.
As Tisha B’Av nears, here are three possibilities for creating harmony between our emotions and the Jewish calendar
It’s not about you. Tisha B’Av invites us into empathy. It invites us to feel the loss and the suffering of our ancestors just as we might empathize with the sadness of a community member who is in mourning. How do we do this? We acknowledge our own emotional state while at the same time behaving in ways that are sensitive to those who are grieving. What would it mean to treat our people’s losses through the ages with the same compassion we show when we visit a shivah home? The fasting and the incredibly poignant liturgy of Tisha B’Av invite us to use our bodies to tap into this empathy.
It’s all in there. The truth is that at any moment there’s a good chance that we have things to be happy about and things to be sad about. Tisha B’Av gives us permission to search for what is broken in our own lives (no matter how big or small) and use that sense of inner brokenness to engage with the experiences of brokenness that our people commemorate on this day.
We are richer stews of emotions than we often acknowledge. When our own feelings clash with Tisha B’Av, we have an opportunity to reflect on the ways that emotions so often intermingle. This clashing itself can invite us to deeper feeling. Have you ever experienced the giddy, guilty flash of joy of realizing that you will never again have to put up with the quirk of a deceased loved one only to find in the next moment that the spark of happiness you have felt opens up even larger reservoirs of sorrow? That allows us, indeed forces us, to feel our sorrow more completely. Conversely, many of us have moments of sadness in the midst of celebrations: At a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, we may feel the stab of missing loved ones who are no longer with us to celebrate. This can enrich the overall joy of the occasion. Might we do the same with Tisha B’Av by allowing our summertime pleasures to highlight our sense of what is lost?
Tisha B’Av invites us to use our whole range of human emotion to remember what was once ours and is now forever lost. May we bring to this commemoration the fullness of what we are feeling and let our hearts bear an honest and compassionate witness to the destructions that we have lived through as a people and the many losses we have suffered as individuals. l
Rabbi Minna Bromberg, a singer and songwriter, is the rabbi of Kesher Zion Synagogue in Reading. She can be reached at minna@minnabrom