T’Sha B’Av, the ninth of Av, is a day of mourning and sadness among the Jewish people. Some people point out its not a biblical holiday and choose not to observe it, but it is biblical if you count the account of the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. It is also the date of the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, and was also the date of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. It has come to represent a remembrance of all the calamities that have befallen the Jewish people over the millennia. We fast and pray and read the book of Lamentations. It is a looking back to the sadness over the destructions of the past, and a looking forward towards the future, praying no more calamities befall us.
It is no wonder that T’sha B’Av is not one of the more popular Jewish holidays. It is sad and depressing, and in this age of “serve me” and “entertain me” religion, who wants to feel bad? It goes against the hedonism of our times.
I recall attending a Messianic conference many years ago that ended on T’Sha B’Av. It may be that they had not consulted their calendars when they planned the conference, or they may have thought that since it was a holiday that is ignored by the majority of the Jewish community (for the reasons stated above), that it would go unnoticed. Not only did they have the conference during T’Sha B’Av, but they planned no special service, nor did they observe the day of mourning. They opened their marketplace tables and it was business as usual. I happened to be operating a table at the conference, but closed it for T’Sha B’Av and put up a sign reminding people it was a day of mourning. It went largely unnoticed. As a Messianic Jew, I was embarrassed. I mention this incident, not to point out how insensitive the leadership was, as they have since corrected the situation, but to show that most people don’t even think about it. To the crowds, it was just another day to buy and sell. This added to my sadness.
Ecclesiastes 7:3-4 gives a different perspective. “Sorrow is better than laughter, For by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, But the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”
Times of sadness are good for the soul. They give us time to reflect on our lives and make changes for the better. We need times that are sobering to bring us back to reality. During the period of 9/11, when I lived in New York City, I observed dramatic changes in attitudes across the country. People all over America proudly displayed the American flag on their homes and on their clothing and cars. People expressed gratitude and respect for Police and Firemen, as they hadn’t done since before the 1960s. Prior to 9/11, New Yorkers were considered something “other” by the people of America. After 9/11, blood banks had lines of people waiting to give blood to help “our brothers in New York,” as one radio disc jockey put it. Military enlistments skyrocketed after 9/11 as well. Especially in New York, normally brash New Yorkers were kind to one another, and God Bless America went to the top of the charts. The disaster gave us a sobering change of heart that brought about a change in our attitudes. The disaster was a horrible thing, but it brought out the best in us. A holiday like T’sha B’Av does the same thing. Sadness moves us to come back to our identity and deeply held values.
Like the story of the Turkey Prince by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, we have forgotten our true identity, and step by step we need to be brought back to who we are. The pleasures of life with which we surround ourselves give us a false sense of identity and well-being. We need to pause and think about the serious issues of our lives and the world around us. The party we have been living in may be coming to an end, and we need to think about what really matters in life. More than that, we need to think about who we are and what God expects of us. T’Sha B’Av is important. We need it. We not only need to stop and observe it, but also need to think seriously about our lives and our purpose in the world. The Holy Scriptures promise the day will come when God will wipe away every tear and there will be no more mourning, but that day has not yet come. Ecclesiastes says, “there is a time to mourn and a time to weep,” we need to observe these times as well.
Rabbi Nasson of Breslov was over 90 years old and his students found him weeping uncontrollably at the funeral of a total stranger. When they asked him why he was carrying on at the funeral of someone he didn’t even know, he said, “Sometimes a soul needs to cry out to God. Never miss an opportunity.” All things considered, it was good advice.