|A series on the holidays, brought to you by The Deep Ecumenism Initiative|
by Rabbi Nadya Gross
My last posting to this blog was in the final week of the Omer count. I left us all in Malchut/Shechina – the manifest world. There, we confronted the truth of an imperfect Creation, acknowledging the essential design flaw that occurs when this realm comes into being.
As if I needed confirmation of this challenging truth, we have witnessed too many reminders as we descended into the heat of the summer in this northern hemisphere: extreme life-threatening heat, fires and floods; more mass shootings and rage-full hyperbole and outright lies in the media; political moves intended to harm and limit the freedoms of certain segments of our population… I could go on, and you have your own examples.
My Savta (grandmother, whose secrets I teach) taught me that our liturgical cycle is a garment on the natural rhythms of the earth. (And again, I must clarify that the Jewish tradition originated in the northern hemisphere – with acknowledgment that some of my friends, reading this, are experiencing winter. Perhaps there’s still resonance there with what I have to say.)
The rhythms of this time of year are slow and heavy. After the rains and renewal of Spring, the heat dries everything out and slows us down. In the haze of summer, we revisit some of the harshest moments in the history of the Jewish people, and our Torah readings guide us through the wilderness on the long, 38-year trek in the unknown.
This is the month of Av, and on the ninth day, we will commemorate the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. History has conspired to add more devastations to this day, including the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and the start of the Warsaw uprising in 1942. The three weeks leading up to the ninth of Av are a time of deep mourning. Traditionally, we observe the three weeks as one would during a period of shiva, following the death of a loved one. And on Tisha B’Av, we fast, and sit on the floor and hear the haunting sounds of the Book of Lamentations, Eicha.
Who hasn’t been feeling the desolation of this time? The loss of hope as thousands of acres of land burn, as homes are flooded and lives are lost, as legislators continue to trample hard-earned liberties. This time in our calendar reminds us to grieve. Slow down, honor the heavy, slow rhythm and grieve.
Grief is one of those big emotions that demands its expression. We don’t just get over the losses, we don’t simply forget the horrors. Grief never gets lighter, we just get used to carrying the weight. And that is only truly possible when we give ourselves permission to feel the grief. Many of us are afraid of falling into the deep well of grief and getting stuck there. So we avoid it. Tisha B’Av gives us a focus and reason to grieve; and it comes along when our bodies are feeling the weight of the heat (or cold) and we can allow ourselves to be more vulnerable to the emotion that is asking to be honored.
This year, the 9th day of Av is on Shabbat. Our tradition calls for a lifting of mourning on Shabbat – when we are sitting shiva for a loved one, Shabbat interrupts the mourning. So Tisha B’Av will be observed on Sunday, the 10th day. We are told that Mashiach, the Messiah, is born on the afternoon of Tisha B’Av. Many will end the fast in the afternoon, and begin to turn toward hope.
The 11th day of Av marks the beginning of another 49 day period, leading to the New Year. Reb Zalman taught that we climb back up the the Tree of Life – reversing the process we followed from Pesach to Shavuot – so that we arrive at the threshold of the New Year, Rosh Hashanah, in the fullness of Chesed/Lovingkindness, having revisited each of the attributes of this created world and Creator, and aligning ourselves with the best expression of each as we prepare to offer our best version of ourself to the One to whom we pray for forgiveness and At-One-Ment.
On Sunday night we intentionally step back into Malchut/Shechina looking up, with hope. And in each of the following weeks, on Sunday evening, we step into the next attribute in reverse order: Yesod, Hod, Netzach, Tiferet, Gevurah, Chesed. (You may want to return to the Legacy Notes on the Yerusha website to read our postings during the Omer – and receive renewed inspiration for each week.)
But first, we grieve.
* Tisha B’Av begins after Shabbat ends on Saturday, August 6th.
Rabbi Nadya Gross is the Co-Founder and Chief Programming Officer of Yerusha.