story: The Three Weeks
I Fast on Tisha B’Av
Rabbi Michael Gold
Jewish Family & Life!
am not a very good faster. In fact, I confess that I allow
most of the minor fast days of the Jewish calendar to pass
without notice. If I did fast, I would spend most of the day
thinking not only about food, but about missing my morning cup
twice each year I gear up for a full twenty-five hour fast.
One fast, of course, is on Yom Kippur, when I am conducting
services for several thousand people. The other comes in the
midst of the summer, when life is quiet around the synagogue.
This second fast day, Tisha B’Av, is by far the more
difficult for me.
do I fast on these days? As a wise rabbi once taught, on Yom
Kippur, when our sins are being forgiven, who needs to eat?
And on Tisha B’Av, when we recall the horrors of Jewish
history, who can eat?
fast on Tisha B’Av because we Jews need one day to
commemorate sadness. Certainly we ought to emphasize the joys
of living Jewish, particularly for our children. I know too
many Jews who show up on yizkor (memorial services) and
yahrzeits (anniversary commemorations), who speak of the shoah
(Holocaust) and suffering, but who never dance with the Torah
on Simchat Torah or wear a mask on Purim.
know too many Jews who only emphasize Jewish suffering and
sadness. That is not a healthy approach, nor is it Jewish.
Most of the Jewish calendar is filled with joyous moments.
a year, however, it is necessary to stop and remember that
Jewish history is filled with sadness. We need to mourn, and
then say never again. Tisha B’Av is that day.
me, Tisha B’Av has a personal as well as a national sadness.
I had flown out to California with my soon-to-be bride Evelyn
to introduce her to my family. On Tisha B’Av morning, as we
were fasting, we found my mom unable to talk. She had had a
stroke. Fortunately she was able to attend our wedding, but
the stroke was the beginning of a series of health problems
that led to her premature death a few months before our oldest
son’s Bar Mitzvah.
about my mother, and about Tisha B’Av, I think about how we
mourn. And how we teach our children to mourn.
first lesson is that we need rituals to mourn. On Tisha B’Av
we not only fast, but we sit on the ground and chant the book
of Lamentations to a mournful melody. In Jewish camps, the
rituals are often conducted outdoors by candlelight. Children
many of us, our natural inclination is to protect our children
from the rituals of mourning. I have met families that will
not allow even their teens to attend a funeral because it is
too sad. In contrast, I always teach that as soon as children
are old enough to sit respectfully, usually around six, they
ought to be allowed to attend funerals.
other major lesson about mourning is that sadness and mourning
are also a time for soul searching. We Jews did not despair
through the destruction of the two temples. Instead, we said
because of our sins were we exiled from our land.” We saw
the tragedy as a time for careful self-scrutiny and
mourning can also be a time for self-improvement. The Talmud
teaches that when disease strikes, people should always search
their own soul. This does not mean that our behavior caused
the disease (although that is sometimes true.) Rather, it
means that moments of sadness are a time for self-reflection
people walk away from a disease, a funeral, or other losses
with the resolve to do better in life. Our children need to
hear this lesson. We cannot protect them from the vagaries of
life. We can teach them to use difficult moments to think
about their lives, and how they can do better. Times of
national loss such as Tisha B’Av, and times of personal loss
such as a funeral, are perfect times to teach children the
importance of tzedakah (charity) and good deeds.
B’Av is a difficult fast. Some Jews fast only part of the
day, maintaining that with the rebirth of Israel the sadness
is mitigated. I still fast a full day. We Jews need one day of
mourning. My hope is that the day becomes an opportunity to
create rituals and memories, and also a time of soul searching
and resolve. On Tisha B’Av we can learn to improve
ourselves, and to improve the world.
Michael Gold wrote this article for the on-line magazine
Jewish Family & Life!--www.jewishfamily.com.
Family & Life!, 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.