Fast of Tisha B'Av

The Melody of Pain

July 20, 2018

Tisha B’Av has always been a challenge for me. References to the human dimensions of the tragedies described in Eichah and the kinos touch some emotional chords, but the core of Tisha B’Av is mourning a spiritual loss. The focus of our sadness is supposed to be the destruction of the Temples and the resulting compromising of our relationship with Hashem. I appreciate the concept and understand the loss.  It is the emotional connection that I find elusive.

This year I am going to try a new approach. I am going to consider the melody of pain.

Every year we read Parashas Masei shortly before Tisha B’Av. The parashah includes several verses recounting the Jewish people’s desert journey from location to location. When reading these verses, the baal koreh suddenly turns to a melody. For those few moments, the Torah reading shifts from a chant to a song.

Hearing that melody in shul several days ago, I was reminded of my son Natan’s suggestion that reciting the verses of the desert journey in song may be intended to highlight a difference between a narrative and a song. Both a narrative and a song have a beginning, middle and end. A narrative’s beginning and middle predicate its conclusion. The focus of a song, by contrast, is not its conclusion. Each note and each stanza of a song is to be listened to and enjoyed.  Singing the verses of the desert journey conveys that the journey was not just about reaching a destination. Every stop was meaningful on its own. Our nation’s history and our personal lives are the same. Each step, each experience and emotion, whether joyous or sorrowful, pleasurable or painful, is to be engaged as if it is a part of a song, as if it were significant in and of itself.

The anguish of loss is intensely painful. We suffer through it, encouraged by others to “cry it out,” being assured that we will get past it eventually. But perhaps mourning is more than merely a bridge between loss and rehabilitation. Perhaps we should embrace the pain. Though we certainly intend to get past it, we should also experience the pain in the moment.  Perhaps the anguish of loss should not be viewed as the middle of a narrative but rather as a series of notes in a melody.

As I sat on her hospital bed during the final days of my mother’s A”H life, I was overwhelmed by grief. The searing pain of loss was so intense as to be unbearable.  During those moments, I wondered why anyone would allow themselves to feel the kind of love that could produce such pain.

Several months later, I reflected on those thoughts. I was struck by a profound sense of appreciation, realizing how blessed I had been to have been given the opportunity to feel that pain. I realized that true tragedy is suffered by those who never have relationships that can result in the anguish of loss. I realized that pain itself is thus meaningful. Experiencing the pain of loss, though we pray to be spared, is an opportunity to appreciate and relish the relationship that we had.

Every Tisha B’Av, I wish that I felt a deep and painful sadness over the distancing from Hashem caused by the destruction of the Temples. I imagine such mourning to be among the holiest experiences. Thus far, I have never quite managed to capture the feeling. I suppose one needs to have a very real relationship with God to suffer such sorrow. During this Tisha B’Av, I am afraid that my sadness and lamentation will be over my failure to merit such pain. Perhaps that, too, is holy.