The Observant Astronomer

The passing scene as observed by an observant Jew, who daylights as an astronomer.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Tisha b'Av

(I know Tisha b'Av was three weeks ago, but I figure better to post this now than to leave it on the drive for a year.)

If Tisha b'Av is the most difficult fast, it isn't because of its length, or even because it starts and ends late (at extreme northern latitudes anyway). No, it is difficult because it is the most boring of all the fast days. Yom Kippur is longer, but you are kept so busy, and, one hopes, spiritually heightened, with all the goings on that there often isn't time to think about your empty stomach. But on Tisha b'Av? I know someone who spends most of The Nine Days trying to figure out what she can do on the day itself. Perhaps "This", or "That" useful, productive occupation. My response is that you're not permitted to do This or That because you are supposed to sit on the floor and cry because the Beis Hamikdash is in ruins. For most of us, though, that's a pretty difficult level to reach.

One year, I went to the Kotel on Tisha b'Av. After maariv and Eicha, a neighbour invited us to go up to up to Yerushalayim with his family, so we all piled into their station wagon and went. We had to park some distance away, but then we walked into the Old City to get as close as we could to that focal ruin. It must have been around one in the morning at this point. The crowds had gone home, but some people still lingered. I expected strong displays of emotion, crying and weeping. Visible sadness, at the very least. Instead it was almost a festive atmosphere. Some sat on the stone paving of the plaza and chatted. Others were still saying kinos. There was a sense of waiting for something, but no one was quite sure what. Standing at the Kotel, looking up at the place where the Temple ought to stand, I tried to feel something, but couldn't.

This year I was in a shtible in the provinces (i.e. outside London) on Tisha b'Av. In most places I've been, everyone just says the daytime kinos at his own pace, but there everyone takes turns leading a few kinos. I wasn't the only visitor. There was another fellow, and for whatever reason, he couldn't figure out the proposal when it was first explained. So he took his place on the other side of the room and started saying kinos by himself, while the rest of us started up the first round. And before long, we heard sobbing. Sobbing that went on for the better part of the several hours. Here was a person who was actually feeling something on Tisha b'Av! Now I am the sort of person who keeps his emotions under tight control, but I tried a little experiment after an hour or so of crying behind me. While continuing to say the current kina, I opened the gate I keep closed upon grief and allowed it out. I didn't quite cry, but the grief welled up for a while until I bottled it back up before it could overwhelm me. I think I'll let it out again next year though, if we're still here in exile. If we can stimulate simcha on Simchas Torah, surely a bit of stimulated mourning is also in order.


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