Monday, July 19, 2010

Thoughts On Tisha BiAv

Tonight starts the fast of Tisha BiAv. The culmination of the three weeks (if you don't hold of the three weeks then the nine days). The past three weeks (or nine days) have been a period of mourning. Why? Supposedly, on Shiva Asar Bitamuz (the 17th of the month of Taamuz) the walls of Jerusalem were breached and then the temple was destroyed on Tisha BiAv (The 9th of the month of Av). There are other reasons stated in the Gemora and other places, but this is the most publicized (and I think the most reasonable reason to mourn for). Any other reason stated for this fast and period of mourning other than the destruction of the Temple does not make sense to me. There have been so many tragedies throughout the years that Judaism has existed, why would we choose to mourn some over others? The reason we mourn the Temple, even today, is because it represents the pinnacle of Jewish worship of G-D. Therefore, if we are going to mourn something throughout the generations let it be the destruction of the Temple. For, when it is rebuilt we will again be a "complete" nation.

Also, commemorating different horrific acts against Jews throughout the years would create fast days on every day of the year, so that is not a plausible commemoration. True, we are saddened that so many Jews were killed throughout the generations and our holy scriptures were defiled, but to mourn these events on separate days is untenable. That is why Tisha BiAv is supposed to commemorate all Jewish tragedies. (Why there are other fast days and days of mourning throughout the year, I do not understand, except for Yom Kippur because it is not a day of mourning).  Indeed, these commemorations must be in tangent with Tisha BiAv in order for them to have true meaning. Why? Because what was the reason these people were killed? What was the reason they were hated and their holy books were burned? It was simply because they were Jewish. And, what is the greatest symbol and idea in Judaism? It is the worship in the Temple that represents a Jew's connection to G-D. This idea is stated most clearly in the Midrash Tanchuma (Matos 3):

Moshe told G-D, "If the Jewish people were uncircumcised, idol worshipers, or deniers of the commandments then the Midianites would not hate us (the Jewish people) and they would not run after us. It is specifically because we (the Jewish people) follow your Torah [that they hate us and try to kill us]. Therefore, it is not a "revenge" for us, but for You (G-D)." 

The Jewish people mourn Tisha BiAv because it reminds us that we are removed from G-D and we were spread throughout the nations of the world. Subsequent to that, the nations of the world then killed us, oppressed us and detroyed what we held dear. It is the principle of cause and effect, the Temple was destroyed and thereby other tragedies befell us. Therefore, we mourn, in order to remember the cause and, along with the cause, everything that was an effect of that cause.

Personally, it is very hard for me to relate to Tisha BiAv. Fasting does nothing but make me angry. I can not contemplate the past on an empty stomach, nor can I appreciate all the tragedies that befell my people. All I can focus on is my hunger and my headache. This is especially true when I have to go to school or work on Tisha BiAv. How, then, am I supposed to make Tisha BiAv meaningful? Is it by reading Kinnos that talk about tragedies that I am disconnected from? Is it by listening to Eicha which is written in a language that is difficult for me to understand? I am unsure how this day is supposed to help me remember and commemorate all the tragedies that have befallen my people.

I personally believe that one of the most important things one can do is commemorate the past. Holidays, days of mourning, and just learning history is probably one of the most important things. This is why, I believe, the Torah and many books in Neviim (prophets) and Kesubim (writings) are written in a way that tells the story of Jewish heritage. A person can not understand what they need to do in the future if they do not know what has been done in the past. The Torah is there to teach us life lessons in order that we learn how to act and how not to act. The main argument I would give for this idea is that the Torah could have just been written as a book of laws, like the code of Hammurabi, and the other books could have been written like a mussar sefer, like Mesilas Yesharim, or some other format. This idea is why I find it so necessary (and why the Rabbis instituted the idea) to mourn and commemorate the past.

However, I still do not understand how mourning has anything to do with fasting. Fasting, to me, seems like it is either to inflict pain on oneself or to attempt to grab at a higher "spiritual" position, like we do on Yom Kippur. Why do we fast if the point is commemoration and mourning? Does the person in a house of mourning fast after their relative has past away? (No, in case you were wondering.)

It seems to me that the point of Tisha BiAv is not just to mourn for the Temple, but an attempt to request that G-D allow us to rebuild the Temple. For we can see in many places like in Esther 4:3 it says:

ג  וּבְכָל-מְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה, מְקוֹם אֲשֶׁר דְּבַר-הַמֶּלֶךְ וְדָתוֹ מַגִּיעַ--אֵבֶל גָּדוֹל לַיְּהוּדִים, וְצוֹם וּבְכִי וּמִסְפֵּד; שַׂק וָאֵפֶר, יֻצַּע לָרַבִּים. 3 And in every province, where ever the king's commandment and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting, and weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

What was the point of fasting, weeping and wailing? I think it is clear from the Gemora in Gittin why someone would fast (56a):

For R. Zadok observed fasts for forty years in order that Jerusalem might not be destroyed

The idea behind fasting has nothing to do with commemoration. The idea behind fasting is that we are requesting from G-D that He observe our desire for something to happen. By Megilas Esther the Jewish people were requesting that G-D save them from death and by the Gemora in Gittin Rav Tzadok was requesting that Jerusalem not be destroyed. On Tisha BiAv why is there a national fast day? Is it solely because we are mourning? NO! It is because it is a national day for us to request G-D's help and compel Him (as if that were possible) to allow us to rebuild or for Him to rebuild the Temple.

The day of Tisha BiAv has a two-fold meaning, remembrance AND requesting. This is what we should take into the day of Tisha BiAv, we are not just supposed to be sad, we are supposed to be requesting the rebuilding of the TEMPLE. One who focuses on just the sadness of the day misses an extraordinary opportunity at supplication of G-D. We are not supposed to do other things than focus on tragedy and the destruction of the Temple for two reasons: 1) We are supposed to commemorate our loses, but 2) We are supposed to be requesting the rebuilding of the Temple.

Hopefully, this will be the year that our prayers and fasting will be recognized in such a way that it will lead to a rebuilding of the Temple. I hope that G-D will act in a similar manner to these verses (Shemos 2:23-25):

כג  וַיְהִי בַיָּמִים הָרַבִּים הָהֵם, וַיָּמָת מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, וַיֵּאָנְחוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל מִן-הָעֲבֹדָה, וַיִּזְעָקוּ; וַתַּעַל שַׁוְעָתָם אֶל-הָאֱלֹהִים, מִן-הָעֲבֹדָה. 23 And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.
כד  וַיִּשְׁמַע אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-נַאֲקָתָם; וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת-בְּרִיתוֹ, אֶת-אַבְרָהָם אֶת-יִצְחָק וְאֶת-יַעֲקֹב. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
כה  וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיֵּדַע, אֱלֹהִים.  {ס} 25 And God saw the children of Israel, and God took cognizance of them.

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