The One Thing Your Rabbi Won’t Tell You About Tisha B’Av

Remember when you were a kid and your parents would be talking about something private and somehow in the instant when you’d pop into the room all of a sudden there was a change in the conversation? It was subtle so you couldn’t exactly point out what happened or what changed, but you had a sense that there was a shift in the discussion from just prior to you entering the room and the moment you said, “Hi Mom/Dad!”

I have a feeling akin to this with regard to the upcoming holiday of Tisha B’Av. It’s a holiday that, like a taboo adult conversation, most of the synagogues and organizations don’t talk much about in the open. The Holiday has taken on the familial status of the long lost uncle whose stained reputation seems to be hidden in the deep recesses of our otherwise tidy closets. Tisha B’Av is relegated to a distant place, far behind the shelves stocked with other, more nourishing, Jewish holidays.

I’d like to share my opinion as to why this may be and what we have lost as a result. When I Googled the top 10 things to do in America, the No. 1 ranking on the list was, unsurprisingly, Disney World. Now, I’ve been to Disney (though it’s been about 25 years or so), and I can accept that it really is a fun place to visit. I’m not knocking Disney, in fact if Disney decided to support Aish Minnesota, I’d be the first to send an enthusiastic and emphatic “Thank You” letter, I would simply like to point out that Disney World is a place we associate with FUN. Now, I’m not a “Debbie Downer” and have no problem in general with “FUN,” however, our culture’s primacy with fun is, what I believe to be, the core reason why Tisha B’Av is not mentioned or honored in most of our synagogues.

Tisha B’Av is a heavy and introspective day. It’s a day where we fast for 25 hours. We essentially sit on the floor from sundown until the afternoon of the next day. We don’t shower, we don’t wear leather shoes, we sleep in separate beds from our spouses, it’s simply not a fun day. And therefore, it’s easier to not acknowledge it, as it’s what business people would term: A hard sell. So we gloss over it. We, as in: many rabbis, clergy and admittedly many outreach and engagement organizations such as ours. We all do Purim, Passover, Sukkot. Because they’re fun! It’s easy to sell Purim. Come drink ’til you can’t see and you’ll accrue spiritual merit with each ounce of alcohol is a rather alluring proposition to many people. But come don’t eat or drink, sit on the floor and read morose texts and prayers for 25 hours, is simply not an easy sell.

This explains, in part, why we don’t hear too much about this holiday. But, as a result of all-but-deleting this Holiday from the Jewish calendar, we have lost quite a bit through its absence.

What are we supposed to take away from a day spent in fasting, sitting on the floor, and reading acutely painful descriptions of tragic times throughout our long history?

I believe we are supposed to pause and ask ourselves the most difficult questions of all: Why did these tragedies occur to our people and what am I prepared to do about it? This requires a full day of thinking. Because it is not a simple question to ask. And, like the proverbial genie out of the bottle, once asked, we then need to face up to it.

Like a traffic cop seeking to insure maximum awareness for those travelling through dangerously windy streets, our Sages highlight in nothing short of bright yellow signs, the direction of why the historical tragedies such as the loss of the two Holy Temples occurred on Tisha B’Av. And, more acutely, they note what our role is today in such tragedies. Succinctly put: Intolerance of other’s differences. Our Sages, in their unequivocal and laser sharp language tell us, the soul of the 2nd Temple was sucked out due to the careless attitudes we had toward one another. In Hebrew this is called, Sinat Chinam: Baseless hatred.  Which in essence means, I am completely intolerant of your shortcomings and condemn you for them, while, like an Olympic judo champion, I valiantly protect my own ego from any and all condemnation of my own choices.

So, what we lose from not honoring and engaging in this day is a golden opportunity to help work ourselves out of the mess we are in. When we experience the painful day of Tisha B’Av we are given an impetus to do something different with our attitudes about each other so that next year we may not have to be in such a position again.

Perhaps it is time we encourage our clergy and leaders to reinstitute this oh-so-critical day. And with that, we hope that by next year at this time, we have long moved past our pettiness to true feelings of love, and brother/sisterhood in our Jewish communities the world over.