As we approach the fast of Tisha B’av, my heart begins to shudder. I wish it were for lofty reasons, like mourning the destruction of the two Holy Temples and the many other tragedies which happened on this day, but it is usually more about missing my morning caffeine infusion.

You see, unlike Yom Kippur when I am busy preparing sermons, machzors, and chairs, Tisha B’av is usually a hot summer day with little distraction. This year, the fast is pushed off to Sunday, so all the kids will be home while I try to stave off my lack-of-caffeine-induced migraine. No distractions from my personal needs; only dealing with other humans (my kids).

Irrespective of my caffeine addiction, or the more lofty thoughts I should be having, there is still much to be learned from Tisha B’av, even 2000 years later.

Our sages teach that the tragedies of Tisha B’av happened because of baseless hatred, and that it will take unconditional love to rebuild. Clearly, we need to purge our world of ego, and try to dig deep into our core and find the inner soul that is able to forgive and forget, love and embrace, move on and move forward.

However, there is a much deeper layer that provides great hope and encouragement for the many who feel that the world is in a particularly dark state at the moment.

The Talmud records two stories involving Rabbis Gamliel, Elazar ben Azaria, Yehoshua and Akiva:1

Traveling near Rome, the rabbis could hear their conquerors partying 120 miles away. Rabbis Gamliel, Yehoshua, and Elazar ben Azaria wept bitterly. Rabbi Akiva, however, chuckled.

“Why do you laugh?” they asked.

“Why do you cry?” he retorted.

“We are crying because the nation that destroyed our Temple [the Romans] sits tranquil, while we, servants of G‑d, are not secure.”

“This is why I laugh,” explained Rabbi Akiva. “If this is the reward for those who sin against G‑d, how great must be the reward for those who follow His wishes!”

The same group of rabbis went up to Jerusalem.

When they reached Mt. Scopus, they tore their garments. When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox emerging from the place of the Holy of Holies. The others started weeping; Rabbi Akiva laughed.

“Why are you laughing?” they asked.

“Why are you weeping?” he asked in return.

“This place is so holy that it is said, ‘The stranger that approaches it shall die.’ Now foxes traverse it, and we shouldn't weep?”

“That is why I laugh,” answered Rabbi Akiva. “… the Torah makes Zachariah’s prophecy dependent upon Uriah’s prophecy. With Uriah, it is written: ‘Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed as a field; [Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the Temple Mount like the high places of a forest.]’ With Zachariah it is written, ‘Old men and women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem.’

“As long as Uriah’s prophecy had not been fulfilled, I feared that Zechariah’s prophecy may not come to fruition. But now that Uriah’s prophecy has come true, it is certain that Zechariah’s prophecy will also be fulfilled.”

Hearing Rabbi Akiva’s explanation, Rabbis Gamliel, Yehoshua, and Elazar ben Azaria exclaimed, “Akiva, you have consoled us! Akiva, you have consoled us!”

These powerful stories teach us how to respond to fear, terror, anti-Semitism, pain, loss, and suffering of any sort.

In a 1974 talk, the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory—notes that a deeper question needs to be asked about both these stories. Why do the sages wait to cry? Why did they only cry when they heard the Romans celebrating? They should have cried at the very fact that the Jewish people had been conquered! And the second time, why didn’t they cry when they reached Mount Scopus and saw the destruction? Why wait for the fox running in and out of the Holy of Holies? Was it not cry-worthy enough without that?

The Rebbe explains that the rabbis understood and accepted that G‑d does things we cannot understand, and that the destruction was His wish. What they couldn’t fathom was adding insult to injury. I accept that the Temple needed to be destroyed for some Divine reason, but why must the destroyers party in the aftermath? I accept that the Temple lies in ruin, but why must animals stroll in and out of it cavalierly? What is the need to mock us on top of it all?

To me, this means that while I accept that G‑d requires some pain and suffering, destruction, hate and anti-Semitism for whatever reason, I question why so much. Yes, loss of loved ones is going to happen, but why in such traumatic ways? Why the synagogue and school shootings? It seems like too much, like G‑d pouring salt on an open wound.

And to this, Rabbi Akiva essentially says, “Stop focusing on the loss. Turn on your positivity bias and focus on the gain. If this is the reward of the wicked, imagine the reward of the righteous. If the negative prophecies come true, certainly the positive ones will too.”

According to the darkness is the light. The greater the darkness, the greater the light. The greater the suffering, the greater the ultimate reward. Until then, we have a choice: to move forward and laugh, or sit on our hands and cry.

This was Rabbi Akiva’s lesson to the other rabbis and his legacy to all of us: Sure, things are not perfect. In fact, they may seem downright bad at the moment. But we have assurances that it will be better. Don’t get stuck on the bad that has happened; focus on the good coming our way! Choose to laugh, not to cry. Focus less on what has happened and more on what can and will be!

You don't see it yet? Well, this is why we await Moshiach, the fulfillment of these realities.

Until then, “Akiva, you have consoled us! Akiva, you have consoled us!”