I always find it fascinating to think about which holidays have become wildly popular and which have fallen by the wayside. Looking back at Jewish history, certain holidays like Shavuot and Sukkot were essential in an agricultural society and/or during the time of the Temple, with it's wonderful array of colorful sacrifices. Others either
didn't exist yet, or they just weren't seen as essential. Today, holidays like Chanukah (gift giving), Tu Bishvat (environmentalism), and Yom Ha-Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance), seem to be trending, because they connect to the modern values that prevail in our society. In a way, our holidays are a mirror back on our lives, they teach us to reflect on what we care about, and what interests us. So what do we make of the upcoming holiday of Tisha B'av?
Tisha B'av is really a day of mourning, when we lump together all calamities that have befallen us (destructions of Temples, Crusades, pogroms, etc) and spend the day in reflection and prayer. Well, that's the idea anyway. But very few people observe this day, or perhaps
even know that it is taking place. Yom Ha-Shoah, back in May, seems more relevant to us, because the Holocaust took place in our own communal memory. Furthermore, most of our fast days are followed by celebration, but Tisha B'av is not. Yom Kippur is followed by Sukkot and Simchat Torah, The Fast of the Firstborn is followed by Passover, and The Fast of Esther is followed by Purim. Tisha B'av used to be followed by a holiday six days later, Tu B'av, but it hasn't been celebrated in 2,000 years, so Tisha B'av just winds up seeming like the downer of all depressing holidays.
I recently read a wonderful article by Nigel Savage, who is the founder of the organization, Hazon. (Incidentally, Nigel is going to be our Scholar in Residence in February, which promises to be a truly phenomenal weekend!) In his article on Tisha B'av, Nigel talks about 'the rhythm from mourning to joy.' He points out that we don't do this very well nowadays.
We treat days of commemoration like 9/11 only with sadness, instead of letting the day transition from reflection and remembrance into joy and celebration of life. We need to follow the example of the other fast days in the Jewish calendar, and not let ourselves get too focused on the calamities that have befallen us. Our Jewish collective memory is incredibly strong. We still commemorate events that took place over 2,000 years ago. But the Jewish historian Salo Baron warned us about what he called, 'the lachrymose view of Jewish history,' where we see the Jewish past as merely a long collection of tragedies and woes. A strong connection to history can be good, but only if we use it as an impetus for improving the present and the future.
This upcoming Shabbat is called Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat of Vision. The name refers to a prophecy by Isaiah regarding the impending destruction but eventual redemption of the people. Fun
stuff. It is always the Shabbat right before Tisha B'av, and I think we can use this as an opportunity for growth. How do we envision the world around us and our role in it? Where do we put our focus, our energy? And I also share with you some of Nigel's powerful questions: "What do we mourn? What are our destructions? And what, arising from the ashes, do we choose to celebrate?" The fact that some holidays become popular and others lose support isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's all part of our evolution. But history still has much to teach us, and both Tisha B'av and Shabbat Chazon offer us opportunities to reflect and evaluate that we really shouldn't pass up. Just remember not to be too lachrymose; I'm sure you hear that all the time...
Photos in this blog post:
4. CC image courtesy of rachaelvorhees on Flickr