Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Swallowing the Bitterness of Tisha b'Av

צום החמישי תשע"ג
Fast of the Fifth Month (Tisha b'Av) 5773

I bumped into my friend Yoel Meltzer yesterday. We had not seen each other in a while, so we took a few minutes to chat.

Invariably, the topic of the impending fast came up. Yoel said that he was on his way to buy lettuce, to eat before the fast. He had heard that eating the lettuce cores before the fast can reduce ones thirst during the fast. He had done this for the past few years, and it seemed to work.

I have heard the same about ingesting something bitter, anything from black coffee to lemon. I chose to drink water all day with lemon juice. I had already weaned myself from coffee over the previous two days, in order to avoid a caffeine withdrawal headache. Lemons also contain electrolytes which bring the water the to where it is needed in the body. Otherwise, the water can just go and out, without doing much else.

Both Yoel and I agreed that we did not care much if any of all of these recipes for an easy fast were only psychological, as in a placebo type effect. If they worked, they worked.

So, last night, this got me thinking. By eating and drinking bitter things before the fast appears to make the current fast easier. This appeared to have the makings of a good metaphor, so I began searching. I found the section in the Babylonian Talmud which refers to the merit received for mourning over Jerusalem, assuming that bitterness was one manifestation of mourning.

תלמוד בבלי תענית ל,ב
בט' באב ואינו מתאבל על ירושלים אינו רואה בשמחתה שנא' (ישעיהו סו,י) שִׂמְחוּ אֶת-יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְגִילוּ בָהּ, כָּל-אֹהֲבֶיהָ; שִׂישׂוּ אִתָּהּ מָשׂוֹשׂ, כָּל-הַמִּתְאַבְּלִים עָלֶיהָ מכאן אמרו כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה ושאינו מתאבל על ירושלים אינו רואה בשמחתה

TB Ta'anith 30b
On Tisha b'Av one who does not mourn over Jerusalem does not see its rejoicing, as it is said, (Yishayahu 66:10) Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her; rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her; From here they said all who mourn over Jerusalem merit and see its rejoicing, and that one who does not mourn over Jerusalem does not see its rejoicing.

As with any section of the Talmud, the above can be examined on several different levels. However, I want to focus on only one small aspect here.

I found a piece by Rabbi Yehuda Prero, in which he points out that the above is written in the present tense, not the future tense, as it is often shown to be in translation. This begs the question, "What does 'seeing' Jerusalem's rejoicing mean?"

Rabbi Prero provides answer which is both simple and hopeful at the same time. I recommend that you, read the entire piece. In short, we cannot be comforted for the loss of the Temple and Jerusalem, for they are not truly dead. Thus, we continue mourning, just like Ya'aqov Avinu refused to be comforted for Yosef, because he was not truly dead.

He then concludes:

"We can share in the joy of knowing that Jerusalem is not totally lost, and a time will come when it and the Holy Temple will be restored to their former glory.

May that time come soon."
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