The Nine Days are not my favorite time of year. I imagine this is the case for most people. It’s hot outside, the kids are bored and we can’t take them swimming. The food options are limited. And with the pileup of laundry, our houses are a mess. Hence, lots of stressed out Moms.
But with my food hang-ups, I am probably grumpier than most people.
1. I don’t eat fish, cheese, potatoes, mushrooms, eggplant, avocadoes, yogurt…and a variety of other foods that many two year olds don’t eat and that I never learned to grow up and try. Which means that during these “nine days of torture”, I am eating a different shape of pasta for dinner every night. Or a bowl of Trix. (And then I will complain next week about how much weight I’ve gained)
2. Boiling hot showers are not a luxury for me, they are a necessity to function. And yet, hot showers are on the list of “don’t dos” during the Nine Days. Which basically means, my family is dealing with a half-asleep mother for nine days.
3. While I don’t profess to love doing laundry, the ever-growing pile of my family’s dirty clothes is a constant scary reminder of what’s waiting for me on the afternoon of the tenth of Av. Not a pleasant thought.
But when I get caught up in all of the Nine Day restrictions, an incident that occurred 13 years ago stops me in my tracks and reminds me what this time is all about.
I was twenty-three years old and spending the summer in Atlanta on a YU summer program with eight other men and women who had come to learn and teach Torah in the community (including one man who would later become my husband). As befitting our stage in life, that erev Rosh Chodesh Av, we were not thinking about nine days of no laundry, but rather, the fact that we had to spend the upcoming days without meat. For college boys, this was a big deal (and admittedly, for a non-fish, cheese and potato eater, I can’t say I disagreed). And so someone had a brainstorm for a great program: an Erev Rosh Chodesh Av, all-you-can-eat BBQ, which as we shopped and prepared for extravagant amounts of meat, became known as “the basar-fest”.
The preparations took almost all day and finally, with the delicious aroma of grilled meat in the air, we sat down to our feast, ready to engorge ourselves… when Rabbi Michael Broyde, who was then the Rabbi of Young Israel of Toco Hills, walked in. He had been approving or tolerant of all programs that we had run thus far and so when he walked in, we invited him to join us and partake of our gluttonous feast. To our shock, for the first time that summer, he gave us a look of total disapproval and followed with a speech that left us awash in shame. There was nothing wrong with having a barbecue the night before the Nine Days began, he explained, but our lack of sensitivity was astounding. To engage in gluttony- as a way to “stuff ourselves with meat before the Nine Days”, was in bad taste. We were days away from hearing Eicha, the chilling words which describe starvation so awful, that women ate their own children. Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash in flames, a day in which we commemorate all Jewish tragedies in history… and we dared begin these auspicious days of mourning by stuffing our mouths with meat? He was clearly disappointed in us, and we were ashamed. We had never thought past following the detailed laws that involve the Nine Days, but we realized then, how right he was. We were lacking the sensitivity for what these laws were all about.
I think of his words today as I look at the four suitcases full of dirty laundry that my daughters just brought home from camp and stifle the anxiety it leaves me at the actual mountain of dirty clothes that I cannot launder. Instead, I shake away these trivial thoughts and I think of the Jews of Warsaw – whose first transports to Treblinka began a few days from today, on Tisha B’Av. How those Jews would have yearned to have the mere inconvenience of no laundry and meat for these nine days as their primary concern. I think of the few summers I’ve spent in Jerusalem, looking at the golden walls of the Old City as the haunting tone of Eicha was read, making the destruction feel real and relevant. I think of the beautiful words of the haftorahs that we read these past few weeks to prepare ourselves for Tisha B’av- words that speak of a city of justice and peace, and that make us cognizant of what we lack. I think about the fighting between the left and the right about who gets to pray at the Wall and where, and I wish that whatever the outcome, the two sides could at least hear each other and treat each other with more respect and sensitivity. We are a divided people, and it is so sad that this issue highlighting our division has to occur at the site of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash.
I think of the beautiful city of Jerusalem- and how Jews in Israel say that outside of Israel is “galut” (exile) but yet, even in Israel, we are so far away from geula. I think of Har HaBayit, where it is illegal for Jews to pray (even if one gets a psak that one can go to Har HaBayit), as it is seen as incendiary and how the world even views taking security measures in our most holiest of places, as provocative. The city of Jerusalem is not yet, the city of peace.
The prophesy we will read this Shabbat predicting a just and united nation glorifying G-d’s holy city feels very far away from fruition. And I should be eagerly stuffing myself with meat because for nine days (less, when you count Shabbat), I will have to go without?
These nine days, culminating in Tisha B’Av, are a time to forego our physical comforts and cravings in favor of greater meaning. To transcend our individual selves in efforts of becoming a greater and more unified people. And we are reminded of this every time we eat macaroni for dinner and every time we see the mounting loads of laundry. These laws are not an inconvenience- they are a reminder of the greatest inconvenience that we as a people have- our divisiveness, and as a result, our exile.
May we use these nine days as a time to learn the lessons of the past and to ensure that next year, we have no need for a Nine Days- perhaps then, we as a united people can all enjoy a “basar-fest” of celebration together in a rebuilt Jerusalem.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.