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Mourning What is Missing

Mourning What is Missing

Understanding Tisha B'av


I was sixteen years old when I became enchanted with Israel as I trekked throughout the Holy Land with a group of sunburned teenagers on a summer youth group trip. I called home to my mother, proclaiming that I wanted to live in Israel and marry a handsome Israeli soldier. The trip wasn't religiously oriented and the mission was more to expose young American Jews to the land than to expose us to Judaism. But when a land and a people are so inherently connected, that sole mission was impossible to achieve. As we went to the holy sites I thought to myself how I didn't really know what to do there, but when I came upon the Western Wall, my body swayed, my eyes welled with tears, and my lips couldn't stop themselves from whispering petitions. I thought I didn't know what to do, but I did.

The air continued to hang heavyBefore our journey ended, I remember a certain night that stood out from all the others. It was a dark night and the air continued to hang heavy from the boiling August sun. Our counselors explained to us that the night was Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, and that it was a tragic day in Jewish history. They didn't go into too many details, but we were told that it was the night of the destruction of the First and Second Temples. We then did a reenactment of an escape from Roman soldiers. At the end we were also told that it was a fast day for the Jewish people.

I fasted through the night and the next day, my first time fasting for Tisha B'Av. At the time I didn't fast for the destruction of the Temples. This had little or no significance to me and was something too removed for me to comprehend. I fasted because I found out that it was a fast day for the Jewish people, and as a Jew, I wanted to share in this experience with my people.

Two years later I went to synagogue on the night of Tisha B'Av. I found myself sitting on the floor in cloth shoes like a mourner. In a weeping voice, the Rabbi led the congregation in the reading of the book of Lamentations and for the first time in my life I had a sensation of what it meant to mourn and feel a connection to the loss of the Holy Temple.

There is a famous story told about Napoleon Bonaparte. He was walking in the streets of Paris when he heard wailings and the sounds of people lamenting, coming from a synagogue. He turned to the person he was with and asked, "Why are they crying?"

The other answered, "They're mourning over the destruction of their Temple."

"When was it destroyed?"

"Almost two thousand years ago."

Napoleon then declared, "A nation still mourning after so long will be eternal. They will return to their land and rebuild their Temple."

Why would Napoleon make such an assertion? Maybe because Napoleon understood that people don't mourn thousands of years over broken bricks and stones. Tisha B'Av isn't about the destruction of a building. Tisha B'Av is about the exile of a people from their homeland, an estrangement of a nation from G‑d, and a separation of the spiritual from the physical. Tisha B'Av is about national tragedy and about personal suffering. Each one of us has individual struggles and all of us, in one form or another await, redemption from them, and the day when Tisha B'Av will no longer be a day of mourning, but a day of celebration.

Why do the Jewish people continue to mourn and weep?But why do the Jewish people continue to mourn and weep year after year? Isn't there such a thing as let go and live? Be happy with the moment and forget the past?

The Torah describes how grief-stricken Jacob was when informed that his son, Joseph, was attacked and killed by an animal. For twenty-two years, Jacob was inconsolable, unable to get over the death of his beloved Joseph. Rashi – a post-Talmudic commentator - explains that Jacob's mourning was beyond the mourning of a parent for their child. This is because Joseph was really still alive. Jacob's wounds could not heal because they weren't closed, Joseph was still alive and Jacob continued to bleed.

Mourning a death is very different than mourning something or someone that is missing. Even if a person is missing and presumed dead, the search for that person, or even the person's body, is never forgotten. We need proof. We need closure. For until there is closure, we cannot begin to move on. Yet this is what Tisha B'av is showing us. We are not mourning a death, we are mourning what is missing. The Temples were destroyed, but not forever, for the Third Temple will be rebuilt. But until it is, Tisha B'av is that reminder of what we have temporarily lost.

This is why in the Talmud (Shabbat 31), there is a discussion about which questions are asked by the Heavenly Court for admittance into Heaven after a person dies. One of the questions that the Talmud states is, "Did you expect (wait for) the Redemption?" The author of the Melech b'Piv - a Torah commentary - notes that the word used by the Sages is "to expect" (tzepita) or "wait for." It doesn't use "hope for" or "want," but a word which describes a looking out for - with certainty.

This is like the family with a missing child. Years may have gone by, but that family waits every single day for a phone call that their child has been found. Every day they grieve that the child is missing, yet simultaneously, every day they pray and hope. This is the crying and mourning we do on Tisha B'av. For as hard as it is to live without our Temple and to be in exile, we wait every single day for it to be returned to us and pray that immediately we will be redeemed.

Originally from northern California and a Stanford University graduate, Elana Mizrahi now lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children. She is a doula, massage therapist, writer, and author of Dancing Through Life, a book for Jewish women. She also teaches Jewish marriage classes for brides.
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Chanah-Miryam Denmark August 5, 2016

Ambiguous Loss Shalom, and thank you for the article.
When reading about Yaakov and his mourning over Yoseph, then I came to think of a psychological term called "ambiguous loss". Dealing with the mourning of someone either 1) the person is physically absent, but no body found (as with Yaakovs loss of Yoseph) or 2) absent psycologically but being bodily present (eg. coma or alzheimer's disease).
There is a book about the subject: "Loss, Trauma and Resilience" by Dr. Pauline Boss. She describes these 6 guidliness for creating resilience when dealing with ambigious loss:
Finding Meaning
Tempering Mastery
Reconstructing Identity
Normalizing Ambivalence
Revising Attachment
Discovering Hope

I hope it can be helpfull to someone reading this.
And may G-d soon bring healing for all our sufferings and illnesses.
May the hopefull and healing song to Yaakov of his lost son being alive - become a song of the Meshiach - and the healing of mankind.
BS''D Reply

Anonymous Munroe Falls, OH July 24, 2012

mourning My spouse just told me that there was no love left and that we are parting. I am in heavy grief and shock. I am trying heartily to hold on to the hope of brighter and happier feelings some day, but right now I feel so so long and I am hanging on to hashem with both arms. How do I find this hope again, that life will be happy again? Reply

Anonymous Omaha, Nebraska August 13, 2011

Mourning This article teaches that we must never forget the trials and tribulations of the Jewish people, and how they have always recovered despite the hatred of their enemies, and how they are constantly driven from their homelands, even today when Israel is threatened by neighboring countries. No matter what happens, G-d is with us and we will triumph.
. Reply

sheena - australia August 8, 2011

awaiting moshiach What a beautiful article. It has made me understand tisha báv in a whole different way. thank you. Reply

alice New York, New York July 21, 2010

mourning what is missing This was very beautiful and so sad. It brought to mind my feelings about the destruction of the twin towers, I WILL NOT STOP mourning that loss either!
As United States citizens, perhaps we should remember 9/11 in a similar manner as Ti's-ha b av. thanks for all of the wonderful articles. And all of your good works. Reply

Lisa Bell Ann Arbor, MI July 21, 2010

Letting Go of the Past You have given me strength, that was nearly destroyed and depleted. It is okay to mourn, to know the difference between pain and joy. Then it is okay to believe that joy is what I strive for, not to make a shrine to pain!
AM I SOMEONE THAT COULD BE LEAD TO THE DEATH HEAP, WITH LOVE AND FAITH IN MY HEART? This topic has got me going crazy almost. Is all of life suffering do to envy? Reply

Anonymous Napa, ca December 28, 2009

Because of Rachael....she is still weeping. I weep everyday until i see my children again. Reply

Pnina Usherovitz Mercaz Sapir - D.N. Arava 86825, Israel July 30, 2009

Your article is beautiful. Thank you for adding another something meaningful to my day. Reply

Devorah Roness North Miami Beach, FL July 29, 2009

Letting go of the Past Jews can never let go of the past. It is constantly there to remind us of our future. We must remember Amalek, the Greeks, the Romans, the Nazis, all the ones that tried to anihilate us and remember that G-d is always there with us. Jews need to remember the past and learn from it, not embrace the present, which is galus (exile). G-d wants us to use the past, remember it, and strive to have the Bait Hamikdash rebuilt in our time- Amen. Reply

Donna Stern-Ritch GULF SHORES, ALABAMA July 27, 2009

Mourning This article was so moving, it made me cry and be proud to be Jewish, I understand and thank you for writing this article, it came from your heart, G-D Bless You, it puts our lives in perspective of the past, present and the future, and to never give up, we come from very strong roots and to be proud and strong and be spiritual in our life at all times. Reply

Dennis Cast Kinta, Ok August 12, 2008

temple Your words are so moving.I thank you for sharing your thoughts. Reply

Anonymous Oxnard, CA via July 27, 2007

Mourning WE should be finished mourning- we are together in Israel and in the diaspora . Not in the ancient Temples with sacrifices etc.

We can be proud of being Jewish because we stand out from the rest of the world in many of the challenges of life. It is time to look ahead and stand up to present day challenges and let go of the past. Reply

Chevee Hein via July 25, 2007

What a beautiful, well written article! Reply

Vered LA, CA via July 24, 2007

To Steve AZ I cannot stop crying. Your pain is shared by all of us Jews. May you see your sons soon with the coming of Moshiach. Amen Reply

Faye Doomchin GreatNeck, NY July 24, 2007

Remembrance of Tisha B'Av The article was beautifully written, very stirring and emotional explaining a loss to our Jewish people that continually haunts us, and that should be a force to motivate us to unite as a Jewish people in our holy land and do acts of love and kindness and Teshuvah (repentance) that will make us worthy of the rebirth of our Temple and redemption as a holy nation honoring G-d's presence continually. Reply

Paul Robert Wilcox Hollywood, California July 23, 2007

Remembering Tisha B'Av, "L.A. style" WOW! Suddenly the lyrics of the song "Babylon Sisters" by Steely Dan has taken on a whole new meaning for me during this long hot summer. Excellent article, and Shalom-ALOHA to everyone with all my love... Reply

Steve Tucson, AZ July 23, 2007

Thoughts on mourning what we are missing This has been a very sad year. My oldest son finally ‎succumbed to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) as result of his ‎service during the first Gulf War. The VA and Government ‎refused to acknowledge this until 17 days before he died in ‎my arms. His younger brother was always troubled, but he ‎could not understand how his brother who never took drugs ‎and lived a good life could be allowed to die? He slipped ‎away from the family and into heavy drug use, questioning ‎why? The police notified me he died eight months to the day ‎after his own brother, from a drug overdose. I cannot know ‎if it was by his own hand or an accident? All I am sure of is I ‎have lost two sons. I mourn them. I mourn the temples’ ‎destructions. It is indeed a sad day. Thankfully, I can rely ‎upon G-d to comfort me, and yes all of us who mourn.‎ Reply

Ferdie Lucasan July 23, 2007

I may not be a Jew I have a shallow background regarding the Jewish culture and traditions, but in my opinion I think the Jewish culture may have a relevant and deeper meaning for the non-Jews in spiritual search to reconnect what was lost or missing link of soul searching. Reply

Janice Denver, CO July 22, 2007

Tish B'Av Though we may not be Jews, and may not be able to identify with the destruction of the Temples. Many of us can look at our family condition right now and see the destruction of family lines. Much has come from "independance" in which families (clans) make independant decisions regarding where they live, what are their values and dispurse (excile) themselves for the Corporation. Tribes and clans are the greatest glue, made from long lines of families and often attached to a land. Look at your own families, where are they? what are they doing? who's taking care of the children? Return to your families and your lands. Reply

Linda Haniford Buffalo, NY July 22, 2007

Thoughts on the Temple. I always appreciate reading Napolean's comment especially since we have returned to our land. It's important for those who are generations removed from anything observant.

I don't think anything has changed in Israel. I think the land still ejects its inhabitants for going against G-d. I also think G-d rejects the person who rejects Israel in any way shape or form. What's a poor ignorant Jew supposed to do?

I guess the positive way to look at it is that we're working on our own shortcomings and through G-d speaking to us individually we will eventually merit the ability to bring the world back to its original purpose. Reply

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