Some time ago, I presented the following thesis, which is my understanding of Tesha B’Av:
Tesha B’Av, the day of mourning and remembrance for all Jews across the world, has roots that can be traced as far back as Gan Aden, the Garden of Eden, and that it serves as a yearly reminder, if not a constant reminder that Eretz Yisroel, the Land of Israel, is ours to possess or inhabit only as long as we remain faithful to Ha Shem (the Lord) through the observance of His mitzvahs, that is, by living a Torah-centered or Torah-driven life.
On Shabbas Nachamu, which means the The Sabbath of Comfort or of Comforting, we read the Torah Portion of Ve’eschanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 to 7:11) and the Haftarah from Isaiah (40:1 to 26) just a few days after the observance of the introspective day of Tesha B’Av. In doing so, we begin a seven week journey which will culminate in our observance of the Yamem Norahem; the Days of Awe; The Ten Days of Repentance; The High Holy Days; the beginning of the Jewish New Year; or better, for purposes of this talk, the New Jewish Year. As we begin our approach to the beginning of this next New Year, we see, laid out before us, almost like a spiritual “Trip-Tick”, or perhaps a spiritual steeplechase, a schedule of emotional undulations punctuated by three major pilgrimage-based holidays, and several other celebrations and observances. We will mark our major festivals with weeklong efforts to taste the flavor of the passing seasons as the year of the world moves along its never-ending and always renewing cycle.
If we get anything from our observance of Tesha B’Av, or from the study of the laws of Tesha B’Av, it should ready us, or at least make us more ready, to begin our efforts to live our lives with meaning and purpose as outlined by Hakodesh Barichu.
Shabbas Nachamu, therefore, can be seen as a very important day. Shabbas Nachamu can be seen as the beginning of our getting ready to begin our next year. With respect to the Land of Israel, it can be seen as a pivotal time, even if we are not living in the land per se. The world is getting smaller-and-smaller. More-and-more of us are visiting Israel and taking a far greater interest in the country than ever before. And, though the State of Israel may not be as financially dependent on its supporters around the globe as it had been, it does need our presence and active interest as it endeavors to survive in its dangerous and unpredictable environment.
But, Shabbas Nachamu is also important to each of us as individuals. I have been wondering about this Shabbas called Nachamu for fifty-two years; longer than the Jews wandered with Moshe Rabanu in the desert. It was my bar mitzvah Sedra and Haftorah. I understood that with it we began this period of “comfort” which followed the grieving and introspection connected with Tesha B’Av. But why must this period be so long? Seven weeks? And why do we need it at all? After all, we have ten days set aside for repentance of our sins; for squaring our debts; for tying up the loose ends of our lives; for making peace with those we may have wronged.
Rosh Hashanah is when we ask to be written into the book of life for another year. Yom Kippur is when we ask to be sealed in that book. The days in-between I always learned were for taking care of those loose ends we just mentioned. If that is right, for what purpose is Shabbas Nachamu and the seven-week period following it intended?
Perhaps we are taught too well when we are young? It reminds me of how young circus elephants are trained. They are chained by one of their legs to an iron stake driven deep into the ground so they could never pull it out or break free until they learn that flight is fruitless. After a time, they don’t even bother to test the stake. As full-grown elephants, a simple wooden stake and a rope, not a chain, are all that is needed to keep them from wandering off. After a full year of life as an adult, can we really get ready to make our peace before G-d and with our fellows and within our own hearts in just ten days? I don’t think so.
The process of living as a human being involves constant adjustment to things we learn from the mistakes we almost made and the mistakes we did make. We try to avoid, of course, the fatal mistakes. But nary does a day go by without our doing something for which we are or for which we will be sorry later. As we begin to get ready to start our New Year, we will want to make sure that we begin our preparations to do so with our spiritual ducks in a row. Tesha B’Av allows us, as a people and as individuals, to strip ourselves down to our emotional core. It does so in a similar way that the observation of the period of mourning for a loved one will hopefully do in order to bring us the comfort we need to continue on without them in our lives. I say similar since the mourning or grieving in the period before Tisha B’Av is actually opposite to that of the mourning done as an “ahvail”, one who has lost a loved one.
When, G-d forbid, a loved one dies, our grieving is structured to go from intense mourning to less-intense mourning. First, tearing ones garment or garments; seven days of withdrawal; thirty days of certain restrictions; eleven months of publicly pronouncing our continued faith in G-d in memory of our loved ones; to yearly Yartsiet and Yiskor observances with candles and Kaddish. We mourn and grieve to purge ourselves, as best we can, of the intense and conflicting emotions we feel with the full knowledge that we will never be entirely rid of them. That is, we seek comfort knowing we will never again be completely comforted.
Tisha B’Av grieving starts with little sacrifices, like not scheduling weddings, or not getting a haircut, to finally fasting for most of or all of a day and to dressing and acting like an “ahvail”, a mourner, by sitting on low benches or on the floor until the day is done. By the end of the Tisha B’Av grieving we have built up an emotional intensity in order to ready ourselves for the comforting period that starts with Shabbas Nachamu.
I offer that this period of seven weeks is as long as it is in order to allow us to make neither token, nor merely verbal, nor just last minute, nor easy corrections in our lives so we can feel justified in asking Ha Shem for the gift of another year of life. But, rather, I submit to you that we are expected to use this lengthy period of seven weeks to take what we learned about ourselves during Tisha B’Av’s emotional climax and apply our best efforts to making the necessary alterations in our way of living (and we all know what we ourselves need to do for and to ourselves to do that) so as to be ready for the highly charged journey we will soon be taking from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.
In seven weeks we can read a book, maybe several.
Because, in seven weeks from Shabbas Nachamu, we will want to be emotionally ready, really ready, to stand before the Lord and to ask, from a position of strength, for another year of life. If the seven week period beginning with Shabbas Nachamu is indeed for getting ourselves as ready as we can, then we would do well to make the most of it.
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