Connecting to Our Legacy by Aviva Meshwork
Have you ever seen Pixar’s movie, Inside Out? I watched it with my kids and I loved it! (Kids liked it too). The movie is about Riley, a young girl who makes a big move from one state to another with her family. As Riley struggles with the new changes in her life we the viewers witness the wide range of personified emotions that she experiences. ‘Joy’, ‘Sadness’, ‘Anger’, ‘Disgust’ and ‘Fear’ all come to life to show us what Riley is really feeling on the inside. Somehow, Riley loses both feelings of ‘Joy’ and ‘Sadness’ and much of the movie revolves around her struggle to regain them. ‘Joy’, desperate to recapture dominance in Riley’s brain thinks that she is the emotionally correct response to getting Riley back to her usual, well adjusted self. However, (spoiler alert!), ‘Joy’ realizes that she alone cannot achieve this goal for before Riley can be happy again ‘Sadness’ needed to do her part. Once Riley allowed herself to feel her pain she was able to move into a more joyous place.
It occurred to me after watching this movie that sadness, while uncomfortable and sometimes painful to feel, is an emotional necessity that helps us deal with difficult realities. Escaping it only serves to create an imbalance in our emotional flora and disconnects us from our authentic selves and situations. Sadness, like joy and our other emotions all have their time and place in life, and while we don’t want to dwell on our sadness for too long, experiencing it is part of a normal human process.
For the Jewish People, who are no strangers to difficulty, that time is now. We are coming up on the saddest day of the year for our People- the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av, which is called Tisha B’Av. This day throughout our existence has been fraught with such devastatingly terrible disaster and tragedy for our People causing us horrific physical, emotional, mental and spiritual pain for millennia. In fact, the day carries with it such intense sadness that we are meant to feel as if someone close to us has just died, G-d forbid. It all began when a damning report was accepted by the Jews wandering in the desert with regards to the Land of Israel, the Land they were about to enter. The spies who were sent to go scope out the Land were exceedingly critical of it, its inhabitants and the difficulties associated with settling it (with the exception of a minority of spies who came back with a positive report.) But it wasn’t enough for the Jewish People, and instead of trusting in G-d and appreciating G-d's stellar track record, (think Exodus from Egypt and the revelation on Mt. Sinai) they cried and wept over what they had heard would be their upcoming fate in Israel, resulting in a decree that forbade them entrance! That day was the 9th of Av, a day marked by weeping and sadness ever since.
Here is a sense of the tragedy that has occurred on this day in Jewish history; both of our Holy Temples, (Beit HaMikdash) where so much of our Jewish identity and service to G-d took place, were destroyed- five centuries apart. Along with their destructions, millions of Jews were killed and millions more displaced. On Tisha B’Av, 135 BCE, a horrific massacre of over 100, 000 Jews occurred in what is known as the Battle of Betar. Expulsions of the Jewish People from countries such as England in 1290 CE and from Spain in 1492 CE were both carried out on Tisha B’Av. It was on the eve of Tisha B’Av when Germany declared war on Russia, thus commencing World War 1. Built up German resentment from that war set the stage for World War 2 and the hell on earth for those who experienced the Holocaust. In addition, the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto en route to Treblinka began on the eve of Tisha B’Av, 1942.
‘Sadness’ cannot do justice to describe what the Jews who withstood those events must have felt and yet admittedly, I must say that it is a challenge for me to feel the intense emotions that this day calls for, despite knowing the history. The mere fact that so much has happened long ago and before I was born impairs my personal connection to them. The pain doesn’t feel so personally mine even though it is. Rabbi Zev Leff likened the disconnect to an imaginary situation where one finds out that their great-great-great grandmother was beheaded long ago back in the old country, G-d forbid. Of course this would be a sad piece of information to come upon about your ancestor (who you had never met and had no connection to). But that’s it. After the initial news, the sadness (if there was any) would likely dissipate quickly and most of us would resume our business as usual. It is the same thing when it comes to the events that took place on Tisha B’Av- they are just too far removed from us to feel the pain that we are meant to feel on this day.
However, the Jewish holidays, including Tisha B’Av, are not merely commemorations of the past but rather they are times in which we are meant to relive that which we are commemorating. Jews are meant to connect to our legacy as it continues to unfold. On Passover we relive the Exodus from Egypt, on Shavuot, we relive the giving of the Torah and on Tisha B’Av we relive the sadness surrounding the destruction of our Holy Temples and the calamities of the Jewish People.
How is a generation so far removed meant to accomplish this?
We may not connect to the losses of long ago or even to the concept of the Holy Temples altogether, but the reality is we haven’t been immune to Jewish suffering either. We are still dealing with a lot. When a Jewish Israeli father of 10 is killed in front of his children and wife, it hurts. When a young 13 year-old girl is butchered to death in her own bed, it hurts. When a family is torn apart because of divorce, it hurts. When a family cannot pay their bills, it hurts. When a single man or woman is lonely, it hurts and when a couple longs for a baby for too many years, it hurts too. The shocking stuff and the common stuff all hurt, no matter how you cut it. And when something hurts, we feel pain. When we feel pain, we cry.
This year Tisha B’Av begins in the evening of Saturday August 13 and ends the following Sunday evening. It is our time to reflect on and feel the ongoing sadness and hurt we Jews continue to experience and to yearn for better times ahead. One day (sooner vs. later, I hope) we will no longer experience suffering on Tisha B’Av and instead true joy will reign! But we have a part to play in hastening that desired day- increasing our good deeds, including cutting out gossip and hatefulness coupled with true sincerity and hard work towards becoming more connected Jews certainly brings this day closer and closer- more than we even realize.
Aviva Meshwork is an educator, writer, and Trip Director for the JWRP. Originally from Toronto, she now lives in Israel with her husband and children