It’s a Mitzvah to be Sad…One Day a Year, on Tisha B’Av

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Sad Face & Smiley FacesOnce a disciple of a certain Chassidic Rebbe noticed his Rebbe dancing happily on the Ninth of Av. He was astonished by this behavior, for everyone knew that Tisha B’Av was not a time for happiness, but for mourning. As the disciple came closer he noticed that while the Rebbe was dancing so happily, tears of sadness poured from his eyes.

Unable to control his curiosity, he approached the Rebbe and asked him to explain his strange actions.

“It’s very simple,” replied the Rebbe,”it’s a mitzvah to be sad on the ninth of Av, and a mitzva must be carried out with happiness!”

Tisha B’Av is certainly a day of calamity for the Jewish people. On the Ninth of Av it was decreed that our forefathers were to remain in the desert and not enter the land of Israel. It was on that day that both the first and second holy Temples were destroyed in Jerusalem. At a later period on that date, the city of Bethar was captured and tens of thousands of Jews were killed; on that very same day in a different decade, the wicked Turnus Rufus ploughed the site of the holy Temple and its surroundings.

Since these tragedies and many others have occurred on Tisha Be’Av, our Sages decreed this day to be a fast day. On this day we are all mourners for the Temples, and for our thousands of ancestors who perished on this day.

“Let Zion and her cities lament like a widow girded with sackcloth, mourning for the husband of her youth” (Kinot).

Let us imagine a young woman who lived in perfect harmony with her husband. Their life was comfortable and they were blessed with children. Suddenly the husband passed away. This was of course a tragedy. The young women was left with her children and a broken heart. But she looked at her children and realized that she must be in control. She must not hurt her children with her weeping and agony. She was determined to show strength to her loved ones. As she did so however, she grew more pained. She longed to cry, she yearned to release the pressure of her suffering, but she dared not. Her children came first.

A year of sleepless nights passed, and the anniversary of her husband’s death approached. She decided that on this day only, she would allow herself to cry. She wept bitterly all day long and bemoaned her sorrow. She felt better, she felt relieved.

Tisha B’Av is an anniversary of tragedy for the Jewish people. Despite all the pain we feel and the sorrow we endure we don’t cry. We must not cry, for we must survive. We must display strength and courage. If we were to cry, we would cry all the time. We could mourn day and night all the holocausts, pogroms, persecutions and attacks which have befallen us throughout history. We must restrain our tears.

One day a year, however, we may cry. On the Ninth of Av we are permitted to release our emotions and bemoan our sorrows. Yet for each tear we shed with sorrow, we may dance with happiness.

May we merit the gathering of all Jews in peace in our days.

Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Rabbi Haber was the National Director of Jewish Education and the spiritual Leader of the OU’s Pardes program. He currently lives in Jerusalem and serves as the President of Torahlab creating powerful new educational products for adults. He also serves as Rosh Yeshivah of Orchos Chaim in Jerusalem.