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Tisha b'Av: the start of bettering ourselves

08/08/2019 10:47:21 AM


Cantor Leah Shafritz

Tisha b’Av, the ninth of the month of Av, will be observed by many Jews starting at sundown this Saturday evening. A day in the middle of the summer dedicated to fasting and mourning the ancient destruction of the Temple might not exactly feel relevant to us as Reform Jews today. As a progressive movement that has embraced diaspora Judaism and abandoned the notion of rebuilding the Temple, how are we to make sense of this day that falls in the cycle of our calendar each year?
In the book This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared - The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, Rabbi Alan Lew encourages us not to think of Tisha b’Av as a seemingly stand-alone day in the Jewish year, but, rather, to consider its positioning exactly seven weeks in advance of Rosh Hashanah and using this to reframe its significance.
Rabbi Lew suggests that Tisha b’Av marks the beginning of the process of teshuva (turning, or repentance), the central theme of our High Holy Days. In fact, the text that is traditionally read on Tisha b’Av, the Book of Lamentations, concludes with a verse that may be familiar to many of us, Hashiveinu Adonai, eilecha, v’nashuva - chadesh yameinu k’kedem, “return us to you, Adonai, and let us return - renew our days as of old.” We often sing this text during the High Holy Days because the words "teshuva" and "hashiveinu" are from the same root for “to return.”
But before we can do teshuva, we have to allow our own walls, like those of the Temple, to come down. Rabbi Lew writes, “Tisha b’Av is the beginning of teshuva, the point of turning toward this process by turning toward a recognition of our estrangement from God, from ourselves, and from others. Yom Kippur is the culmination of the process that begins on Tisha b’Av, when we acknowledge the darkness, when we let our guard down, when we turn toward the truth…The walls come down and suddenly we can see...and this recognition is the beginning of our reconciliation.”
It might feel too early to begin thinking about the High Holy Days, but I invite us all to consider Tisha b’Av as a starting point of a process of bettering ourselves in the coming year. We can reframe this day of mourning as a chance to lament the things within us, in our lives or in the world that cause us grief and begin to think about turning toward a better future so that our days may be renewed in 5780.

Wed, November 13 2019 15 Cheshvan 5780