Tisha B'Av: Remembering for a Better Future


Tisha B'Av: Remembering for a Better Future

by Baila Olidort

August 4, 2014

“One who mourns over Jerusalem merits to revel in its joy.” 

This evening, Jews around the world will remove their shoes, begin a 25-hour fast, and sit low on the floor in the manner of mourners. We will read Eicha, the lament over Jerusalem, “the city that sat alone” in the wake of its destruction. So will begin another year of marking Tisha b’Av, transmitting the collective memory of our people through ritual.

But mourning the destruction of Jerusalem of more than 2000 years ago seems an unnecessary practice these days. Tragic events affecting the Jewish people are hardly a thing of the past, especially now, when reminders that the Jewish people cannot take for granted its right to live in peace, abound. It’s been weeks now that we have not been allowed to forget how isolated and alone Jerusalem, or the Jewish people, are.

For those marking Tisha b’Av in the diaspora, being so geographically removed from Jerusalem may make the ritual seem an academic routine, lacking the impulse of the celebratory Jewish holidays which bring with them a desire for mining the tradition for new meanings; here there is no yearning to deepen the experience of old sorrows. But it does remind us that our people’s bond to the Land of Israel dates back centuries, to our early beginnings. 

In fact, in this week’s Torah reading, Moses makes a poignant plea to G-d, to allow him, if not his lifelong dream to enter the land and lead his people to their promised destination, then at least to be allowed to walk the breadth of the land before he dies. There is a mystery to this attachment that the Jewish people have with Israel, repeated through the ages, most recently by our young men—boys, actually—who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our people and our land, and have made this day of mourning resonate more personally for so many of us. 

Judaism is essentially an optimistic, joyful tradition, and we are a people who look for the silver lining in every dark experience. On Tisha b’Av itself, during the mincha service, we recite Nachem, a prayer of consolation that will emerge from the destruction. The idea of remembering, and the traditions that facilitate remembering are everywhere embedded in Jewish life, enabling us to bridge the wide gap between past and present, not for the sake of keeping us tethered to the past, but so that we will have a future to look forward to as Jews. 

Judaism believes that history moves in a linear direction, that every action taken, certainly every positive action, carries us further along towards our destiny born in the past, but realized in every present moment of our consciousness as Jews.  A Jew without memory, a people without history—the Epicurean attitude to memory—which essentially has no use for it, is antithetical to Judaism. And so in marking Tisha b’Av as as we do, we confirm that we are a people with a future; that while we live in the here and now with an eye toward the future, we are not so arrogant or foolish to believe that our story begins with us. 

From the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the most forward-thinking Jewish leader of our time, we learned that it is our stubborn bond with our history, our remembering as expressed not only intellectually but in the traditional practices that we enact today, the rituals of mourning on Tisha b'Av, and the rereading of the prophecies of consolation that follow, that inspire our progress and motivate us to shape, anticipate and realize an optimistic Jewish future. 

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