Saturday, 13 July 2013

Loving the 17 Tammuz/3 weeks/9Days/Tisha B'Av

We are in the most dreaded time on the Jewish calendar. During the three weeks and reaching an apex on Tisha b'Av there are many prohibitions as we mourn the destruction of the Temple. 

Let's be honest. How many people really mourn the Temple? Of course we want mashiach and the Third Temple. But do you really miss the Beit Hamikdash and the korbanot? Can you even relate to the building destroyed two thousand years ago? Most people go through the motions of mourning rituals, but who really feels the right emotions? And if adults struggle, how can we pass the significance to children?

Let's start with the 17th of Tammuz, the beginning of the mourning period. The mishna recounts five events on this day:

  1. Moses broke the two tablets of stone after seeing the golden calf
  2. The daily tamid offering ceased to be brought
  3. The walls of Jerusalem were breached (proceeding to the destruction of the Temple)
  4. Prior to Bar Kokhba's revolt, Roman military leader Apostomus burned a Torah scroll
  5. An idol was erected in the Temple.

Ironically, it is the first, the one which occurred furthest away from my lifetime, which fills me with the most visceral feeling of loss and mourning.  Because it means the most to me, it is the area I would most focus on with children. It is a story they are likely to know, but when told with emotion, they will also feel guilty about the golden calf and the consequences.  
But my children do not focus on the historical components of the day. They just want to fast like grown-ups.

The 17th of Tammuz starts the Three Weeks of mourning. In this time, weddings, haircuts, music, and public entertainment are prohibited. Who is effected by these prohibitions? They are similar to the prohibitions in the omer, so the gravity of the situation at this time isn't felt as harshly. 

Rosh Chodesh Av starts 'The Nine Days. As it says in the Gemara, when we enter Av our happiness is reduced. This is in direct contrast to Adar, when our happiness is increased. Children (everyone) knows when Adar is starting, with singing and excited anticipation of Purim. For Av more prohibitions begin:

  • Home improvements, painting and new construction
  • Planting trees, flowers or grass
  • Laundering clothes, towels, tablecloths and bed linens
  • Wearing new or freshly laundered clothing
  • Making or buying new clothes, towels, tablecloths and bed linens
  • Eating meat or poultry
  • Drinking wine or grape juice
  • Bathing for pleasure
  • Swimming for health or exercise

These prohibitions are felt much more by everyone. Everyone is asking about menu ideas when meat is forbidden. I find it ironic that the people who are most disturbed by it are the same people who love the dairy on Shavuot.

For Sephardim, many of these prohibitions do not begin until "shavuah she chal bo', the motzei Shabbat before Tisha b'Av. Most still refrain from meat and wine throughout the nine days.

The prohibition on meat and wine is to remind us that animal sacrifices and wine libation offerings ended. But the main objective of these prohibitions is to reduce our happiness. I think something on this list (and the previous one) saddens everyone. Many people go a bit mad without meat and alcohol. I miss retail therapy and hot showers. And the laundry after Tisha B'Av can be horrendous! 

During our moaning about the restrictions are we thinking about the Temple? Confession: I am not.

By Tisha B'Av, I might be. 
Now, in addition to all the other restrictions, we add:
  1. No eating or drinking;
  2. No washing or bathing;
  3. No application of creams or oils;
  4. No wearing of leather shoes;
  5. No marital relations.
  6. No greeting others.
  7. Less comfortable sleeping
  8. No learning most Torah
  9. No sitting on chairs (until midday)

After the seudah mafseket, sitting on the floor reading kinnot by candlelight, I am finally mourning the tragedies of Jewish history. Are the three weeks meant to bring me to this one apex of emotion? What if I don't achieve it?

My theory is as follows:

Our sages have taught (Talmud, Yoma 9b) that the first Temple was destroyed because of the following three things: sexual immorality, widespread murder and idolatry. Hopefully, you aren't guilty of any of these. Thankfully I know I am free of these sins. 

The second Temple, however, the sages taught, was destroyed because of one singular reason: baseless hatred (sinat chinam). It is harder to claim innocence here. What exactly is hatred? What is baseless? Debating this can be splitting hairs. 

But the opposite, baseless love (ahavat chinam), is easier to grapple with. Or at least, love (with a base) is tangible and very relevant. And this love is the antidote to the destruction we mourn during the Three Weeks. Love? That is the solution to all the pain in the world? That should be easy! I love! I love myself, my spouse, my kids, my friends...

First of all, those loves aren't baseless. Second, do you love them as much as you could? Let's have another look at some of these prohibitions and how they relate to our love.

Music. I enjoy listening to music. In the car, I like to play the radio during school drop-off and pick-up. I listen to the music instead of listening to the children. Turn off music, turn on sweet voices and ideas of my children. 

Music is only one of the prohibitions of the three weeks, but it sets the stage for detaching from our distractions and working towards that ideal love.

During the 9 Days, I am not busy doing laundry, gardening, shopping, or relaxing in the shower. I am 'free'. And this free time needs to be spent loving. Loving my family, calling friends to connect, doing chesed to share love with others. 

And then comes the dreaded ninth of Av. Now there are so many prohibitions! I am hungry and thirsty, I got a poor night sleep, my feet hurt, and I feel dirty. Here is the real test! We can't even say hello, but we need to show love and patience. I have a household of screaming kids! How can I do it? 

Somehow we need to do it! No one is perfect, but now is the time to try to elevate your behavior. 

The feeling of Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av are very different. Yom Kippur is a solemn day, but not a sad one. Tisha b'Av is the saddest day of the year. 

But there are many similarities. Just like many prohibitions of the day are similar, so to is the period leading up to it. Yom Kippur is preceded by Rosh Hashana and the Ten Days of Repentance. In this time we are working on self-improvement and taking stock of our behavior.

Do you really use all 10 Days of Repentance to repent? Do you procrastinate those feelings and then work really hard right before Yom Kippur? The Sephardi practice of only keeping the week leading up to Tisha b'Av follows this mentality. We don't need nine days of wallowing in dirty clothes. The week before is sufficient time to feel the mourning to this caliber. This is just another example of Sephardim being 'lenient' in their understanding of the human psyche. 

No matter what minhagim are kept during what time period, the objective should be the same. Love! Get rid of the distractions and just show love. According to the gemara, Mashiach will be born on Tisha b'Av. Of course! His birth and coming will be created by the love we show each other, in spite of our own desires, needs, and distractions.

Now, hopefully I have made this period more relevant to you. How will we make it more relevant to our children?
Last year the children were superheroes for the three weeks.  I highly recommend this very successful approach. You can have a frank conversation about love in the three weeks, and expressing goodness for everyone around us.

But Tisha b'Av itself is very hard. My girls were very good last year. This year I need to raise the bar. Cohava is 6 but has an idea that fasting is very cool and is desperate to try. Obviously we won't let her. But we told her 1) she can fast from the start of the fast until a late breakfast. 2) She will only be eating bread, water, and vegetables.
Modified sleeping arrangement usually means fewer pillows. We told the girls it would be fewer stuffed animals in bed. They were truly mournful. 

Have a loving, easy, and meaningful fast. May our efforts bring Mashiach this week.

1 comment:

  1. This was so well written and very informative! Thank you!!