Discomfort can be a catalyst for change
We’ve got plenty of time to prepare for Tishah B’av. We know that it’s the next “big day” after Shavuos and as we’re planning our summer vacations and outings, we know we need to work around it. We have, the Three Weeks, initiated by a fast day, to help settle us into a period of sadness and loss.
In case we’ve missed something, there’s the Nine Days and the week of Tishah B’av — the message drumming ever louder into our consciousness that we’ll soon be immersed in national mourning. And then it arrives.
“Mommy! I’m bored. He’s hitting me! Mommy, what’s there to eat? Mommy, I’ve got nothing to do. Mommy, d’you want to play a game with me? Mommy, when’s the fast over — I’m starving!”
Even with all the preparation, it can be hard to concentrate. The needs and demands of children break the contemplative mood. It’s tricky enough to keep youngsters occupied on regular days, but having to keep them happy while being appropriately sad is far more challenging. (“Here’s some Lego guys… you play while Mommy reads her holocaust memoir. And please keep the noise down because Mommy’s head hurts.”)
Older kids and adults feel weak and tired without any sustenance. With rumbling stomachs and achy heads, we may have trouble concentrating on the catastrophic loss of the Beis Hamikdash and its impact in our times.
We can be disturbed by the disconnect — having to focus on the physical experience of the day when we’re supposed to have our heads and hearts in deeper philosophical places, mourning our loss. We find ourselves being nothing more than hungry and irritable, when we’re supposed to be reflective, remorseful, and penitent. What gives?
A Lesson in Fragility
We know that the soul learns its lessons in a bodily journey on a physical plane. The difficulty and discomfort of Tishah B’av gives us a subtle hint of the tragedy experienced so long ago, when our nation was killed and enslaved.
The small amount of pain we experience in the comfort of our cozy homes is there to remind us what real pain is. Our fragility is heightened on Tishah B’av when we’re laid low by pangs of hunger and thirst. Losing the comfort of our couches, finding ourselves sprawled awkwardly on floors or on chairs that are too small to support our solid bodies, we’re humbled. We yearn for our furniture. We want our suffering to end!
Yes, entertaining a houseful of our safe, healthy children when we’re feeling unwell and distracted is hard — but not as hard as living in the torturous conditions endured by our ancestors at the time of the siege of Jerusalem. We can feel pain and gratitude — gratitude that we have so much and that Hashem has been so merciful to us.
We can become aware of how precarious our situation is; at any moment all our blessings may be snatched away from us or, just as possible, Mashiach may arrive to put a permanent end to all suffering and usher in a period of spiritual and physical bounty, the likes of which has never yet been experienced by humankind.
Dealing with Our Challenges
It’s easy to see how the physical and emotional challenges of Tishah B’av can help us inculcate the spiritual lessons of the day. In fact, it works the same on every other day of the year as well. The challenges of our lives and our relationships inculcate the spiritual lessons we’re meant to learn.
A spouse who doesn’t understand, a child who refuses to listen, a teen who frightens and disappoints us — all of it is grist for the spiritual mill. Even routine daily challenges such as unexpected expenses, broken appliances, long lines, and bad service, are all afflictions designed to guide and uplift us. Whether they will do so depends on our response.
When we see Hashem’s hand in every minute detail and direct our hearts to Him, acknowledging our dependence on Him, then we can elevate our souls. And when we’re filled with gratitude for the blessings of having loved ones, appliances, and resources, then Hashem will continue to send us even more.
Hopefully, very soon, we’ll have a Beis Hamikdash once again, and along with it, the blessings of wholeness and enduring peace for each and every one of us.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 654)