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A Different Sorrow

A Different Sorrow

Mourning for the wholesome world I once grew up in.


You can’t miss what you’ve never known.

Every year when the Nine Days come and the Jewish people are plunged into a period of deep and intense mourning over the destruction of the Holy Temple, I bump up against this hard truth.

I am careful to observe all the practices of mourning that our Sages outlined. I refrain from cutting my hair, from listening to music, from eating meat or drinking wine. I work to understand that the loss of the Temple was epic, that it signaled the end of a period of prosperity and peace and plunged us into a dark time of exile, of revilement and humiliation from which we have still not emerged. I know that our grief and our yearning must never abate until the Temple and the Jewish people are restored to our former glory and yet… you just can’t miss what you’ve never known.

I try to feel it. I want to feel it! I immerse myself in the words of our Sages of old and the Rabbis of today. I read the Lamentations and try to imagine the terrible desolation, the siege, the hunger, the abject fear that faced our nation, but it’s like straining to catch the scent of an exotic flower you’ve read about that blooms once in a lifetime in the desert. Or trying to imagine your unborn baby’s face. I want to, I ache for it, but it just isn’t there.

It’s the ruin of my own world that I grieve.

And yet I too lament. The sadness of this time does not leave me unaffected. I am heavy with sorrow for a destruction of a different kind. It’s the ruin of my own world that I grieve.

I mourn for the wholesome world I grew up in when I see a generation that is deaf to each other but alert to the buzzing of their cellphones, a generation where people amass friends through Facebook but would not greet them in person or extend them a helping hand. I see our decline in the diminishment in modesty, physical and spiritual, that manifests from every billboard where faceless torsos contort, selling soullessness, and unclothed, uninhibited marchers parade by flaunting their nakedness to the world. I see it in a world where we parent out of fear because our children believe that with their gadgets they have surpassed us, discounting our wisdom and advice in favor of their memory cards and gigs of ram.

I feel the sorrow of our world in the stories I hear every day of babies stricken with terrible diseases, with lifelong difficulties and their parents who struggle desperately to save them.

I see it in the rash of charity collectors who come to my door daily, each with a story more compelling than the last and I feel it when I give them money but I don’t invite them in because “you can’t be too careful these days.”

I hear it in the speeches I have given my children about pedophiles and molesters, some of whom look just like us and I feel it in the shame of “Orthodox” criminals making headlines in the news.

My world is collapsing before my eyes! A world into which I was born and raised and grew, destroying itself with its own corruption and decay. In panic, I hear myself call out, ”Eichah! Alas!”

But I have learned enough to know that God does not abandon us even in exile. That He has promised that as we mourn, one day we will be comforted. And I find myself speaking the old words of entreaty, “From your place on high look down on us! See our desolation and intervene because we are waiting for You!”

In the face of my deep sadness there is nothing to say but the words that have already been said, by countless Jewish voices throughout thousands of years.

“Our Father, our King, save us! Save us from this world without boundaries. Save us from sickness of the spirit and from perversion and from pestilence. Save us from starvation and from the hunger of the soul. Our Father, Our King, we have no merits! Have mercy upon us and save us from ourselves!”

When the Nine Days come, I feel the ache of all the miserable curses of exile, the prophets’ words fulfilled, and I pray fervently for our redemption.

So even though I can’t miss what I’ve never known, I can still lament.

July 13, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 25

(21) WLM, July 24, 2015 9:38 PM

Nothing New Under the Sun??

These words were written by a very kind person. Someone who cares so much and wants goodness and realness instead of what looks like badness, sickness , sadness and fakeness. To see our own acting like this, very sad. I understand where she is coming from. I feel it and see it. I hated that I felt naïve.
Realizing that wanting goodness is real, wise and good, I started to get back to who I was.
Technology can bring it all to light. We can speak up and not fear retribution. My Jewish upbringing wasn't about hiding things when children were hurt.
Now some have been protected. But I cannot get why the adult's life was more important than the child who was hurt.

(20) Anonymous, July 23, 2013 4:34 PM


I think that the other commentor wrote some truth when he said that people don't change and the past was not always better. In the period leading up to the destruction the Jewish leadership was bitterly divided, and the groups were slaughtering each other as they argued over the Roman occupation. We are often protected from the worst of the world as children, and look back through our own innocence, which is now lost.Perhaps that is partly what we mourn.

And yet, the world HAS changed. Older people talk about the changes they have seen in their adult lives, over the last 50 years. I grew up with Goofy's "Mr Wheeler" (made in 1953) but not until 1987 did it become so prevalent that it got it's own name, "Road Rage". People still left their doors unlocked, even when I was a teenager, at least in the day. And of course all the issues you mentioned. To say the world hasn't changed and people haven't changed is to ignore the reality...and why? Because if this is just "the way of the world" then we don't need to feel shocked, or sad or in any way responsible to change it. It allows a comfortable complacency when instead we should follow the realistic optimism of Pirke Avot. "It is not yours to complete the task: but neither are you free to desist from it." It will take generations to fix, but we must begin now.
I admire your ability to mourn. I'm afraid I have gone past mourning, which is still innocent, and fallen into anger and some cynicism...yet even the angry cynic has not yet given up hope.

(19) Rebecca, July 19, 2013 12:58 AM

Gush Katif

You are right. It is hard to feel what you have never known or personally gone through. However, one of the things I started to think about and mourn over on Tisha B'Av, as well as during the nine days, was the story of the people of Gush Katif. I don't think it was a coincidence that the tragic story of the Gush Katif families and how they were forced to leave their homes, schools, synagogues and even dig up the graves of their loved ones, happened during the time of Tisha B'Av in 2005. To this day nearly 50% of the Gush Katif population that were ethnically cleansed from their homes are struggling without homes or jobs. It's truly haunting. We need to keep these families in our hearts and prayers and help them as much as we can. I sincerely pray for the day that they will be able to return and rebuild in Gush Katif just as I pray for the day that there will be lasting peace throughout Israel and the rest of the world.

(18) Scott, July 18, 2013 5:34 AM

Objects in the past may appear more impressive than they were...

These kids and that loud rock and roll. When I was a kid....

Life changes. The world changes. People...really not so much.

Life was never all about character. The past was not truly better. How do I know? All the wonderful stories about the past are anecdotal. I remember that guy who did everything for everyone. If he wasn't an anomaly...he would have never stuck out. You'd have never have noticed him. The great rabbis of the past were only-and here's where I usually get in trouble-great in comparison to their time. There are greater rabbis alive today because people learn from the past and get better. Have more resources. It's just that the general level has risen so what we see is less impressive in comparison to what's here today.

I talk to my parents about my childhood. It see it as ideal. I was a kid. They see when dad lost his job and the neighbors were rude and how people cut us off in traffic. They remember that time they were cheated by the auto mechanic and the bad teacher who picked on my sister. It goes on and on.

As for the increase of pedophiles and religious people committing crimes and's jut that today we talk about it. It's on TV. Today is better because the bad things come to light and we now try and fix them. The pedophile rabbi in the shtetl just got away with it because people were too afraid to speak up back then.

In the past there was no Israel. There was no Aish where we could come together across borders and talk about stuff and help each other. Today is better.

As for people helping others...make aliyah. It will restore your faith in human kindness. People do lend a helping hand. You just have to be open to getting help.

Me I like today and have hope for the future. I appreciate my blessings and expect more of the same. Try positivity. Try gratitude. It may not change the world...but t may change you.

Anonymous, July 9, 2014 5:41 AM


I too believe that we are only getting better. Thank you for this post!

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