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Joy & Tisha B’Av

Joy & Tisha B’Av

In the terrible, wonderful paradox of the Jew in exile, we are permanently, gratefully, happy. And temporarily, terribly sad.


The Talmud tells us that when the Hebrew month of Av comes we reduce our joy. It’s the month of destruction and exile and is meant to be more somber and reflective than the rest of the year. It’s a month to consider our losses and to ache with the pain of the depths to which we have fallen.

The language of the Talmud is puzzling. Instead of telling us to increase our sadness, the Talmud says we should reduce our joy. Shouldn’t the emphasis be on our sadness?

After all, Av is a month that is replete with pain and misfortune for the Jewish people. From the sin of the golden calf through the destruction of both Temples, the long subsequent exiles, the expulsion from Spain, the beginning of World War I, so many terrible things in Jewish history happened in the month of Av. In fact, we enter into a period of deep mourning during the nine days preceding Tisha B’Av where we are prohibited from eating meat, from cutting our hair or nails, from washing our clothes, from listening to music. It would seem that we should perpetuate this mourning by increasing in sadness within all of our lives. When the month of Av comes Jews should walk around feeling sad. Right?


Because a Jew is not sad. A Jew is happy. A Jew is happy to have been chosen, happy to be God’s most beloved child, happy to have the opportunity to glorify Him and spread His message in this world. In fact, it is a great mitzvah to be happy. So how do we reconcile that happiness with the sadness of the Temple’s destruction and the pain of our long and difficult exile? How do we feel happy in Av? In other words, how do we take pleasure in what we once had when we have lost it all?

Our sadness at how far we have fallen shows us how exalted we once were.

Yes, we are sad because we are in exile. We are sad because we have lost our Temple and with it our warm and obvious connection to God. We are sad because we were uplifted and now we are downtrodden. We are sad because we are exiled and we have not been redeemed. All of this is true.

But it is also true that we had a Temple, that we were chosen and that we are still His precious children. It is also true that we have the means, the desire and the hope of bringing ourselves back to Him. Once we were close to the King and now we are far from Him, but we are still his servants and He is still our King!

Our sadness at how far we have fallen only shows us how exalted we once were. And while it is terrible to find yourself deep in a dark pit, struggling to reach the light, if you have been aboveground and you have seen the light then you know the way out. You are motivated to keep struggling because you know what you struggle for.

And so we are happy because God chose us, and sad because we disappointed Him. We are happy because we have His precious Torah, and sad because we do not always have the strength to live by it. We are happy because the Temple and the closeness to God are ours to have again and sad because we have not yet managed to get them back.

It’s the two truths in our pockets; that we are dust and ashes, but also that the whole world was created in our merit. It’s the pain of the knowledge that we are transgressors and the joy of the relief that we can repent and be forgiven.

In the terrible, wonderful paradox of the Jew in exile, we are permanently, gratefully, happy. And temporarily, terribly sad.

July 21, 2015

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Visitor Comments: 11

(8) Helen Schwab (Chaiah), July 31, 2017 11:21 PM

The imagry of the dark pit of exile and the light aboveground was very clear to me. We know the way out. Thank you.

"And while it is terrible to find yourself deep in a dark pit, struggling to reach the light, if you have been aboveground and you have seen the light then you know the way out. You are motivated to keep struggling because you know what you struggle for."

(7) Zsolt, July 27, 2015 3:33 AM


Indeed, only this Nation is capable of uniting two complete, extreme opposites into one, living always on the edge of paradox.

Just as Rabbi Akiva was weeping from joy seeing the destruction of the Temple, seeing the proof that prophecies will be fulfilled; as Abraham was satisfied, happy with the answer he received that the 400 years of exile in Egypt will give his descendants the right to enter the land of Israel; as the Torah, the ultimate covenant of love was given from the Mount of Hatred; we also learn in each generation that happiness only exist above sadness, love is only possible above hate, rebuilding comes out of destruction.

And such duality, accepting incomprehensible paradox is only possible when we attain, feel in our bones that everything we feel, we experience is coming from a single source.
With our special practical method, unique Wisdom, and the necessary unity, mutual support and mutual responsibility we can arrive to the knowledge of "None else besides Him" as sages like Rav. Yehuda Aschlag explain to us.

Moreover making this unique connection to that source we can also connect the rest of the world to the single governing force of reality "becoming Light onto the nations", changing human history to a qualitatively higher, benevolent one.

Gert, July 28, 2015 10:31 AM

Fantastic comment thanks. If we could just accept that destruction is a necessary expression to invite renewal, the process will be so much more acceptable as Rabbi Akiva did demonstrate to us.

Eliyahu, July 28, 2015 6:09 PM

The Master of Paradox

Rabbi Akiva mastered of paradox for he knew its secret. It is surprisingly simple, and with education, sincere effort with others, and a thereby earned siata d'shmia (Heavenly assistance) -- accessible to all.

"Love your neighbor as yourself, this is Klal HaTorah (a general, or alternatively, assembly into Kli--vessel, principle of the Torah)."* So what is so paradoxical about that? It is that he would not dare to negate the words of the great earlier sage Hillel who said, "What you hate, do not do to your friend, this is the whole of Torah, go out and learn." If that is the whole of Torah, how can Rabbi Akiva claim a general principle that is different? For Ben Bag Bag said, "Turn it over and turn it over, for everything is in it. ..." -- so isn't this part of "the whole of Torah"? -- Yes and no, and there lies the paradox: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Hillel speaks to the parts forming the Whole, and Rabbi Akiva speak to the unification of the parts into the Whole. While it is the same thing, Hillel speaks to the immediate specific, while Rabbi Akiva to the future unity. We note that this is the sequence of creation--the components (raw materials) on "One Day," then their ordering from the second day onwards. Further, we cannot but note that Rabbi Akiva was from Beit Shammai, and by Eleh V'Eleh Divre Elok-im Chaim" -- These and these are the words of the Living G-d," but the (immediate) law is according to (Beit) Hillel, Hillel is the preliminary and Rabbi Akiva is the ultimate--like the Desert wandering vs. the entry into the Land--Rabbi Akiva is the rule which completes the days, brings the end of days.

Connection of specifics brings about the connections with the general, per Rabbi Yishmael, in here are the 13 principles of derivation of Halacha--the path of Life/Nature. Possibilities multiply to infinity where the Law is paradox, freewill--One.

(6) pesach, July 26, 2015 3:59 PM

today's sadness

Here we sit after the miracle of the Six Day War and a reunited Jerusalem and the Har Habeit in our hands but..... we have given over to our enemies and we act helpless That is for me today's great sadness and how we lost the original Beit Hamikdash through inaction, perverse attitudes towards what we have a right to etc. Never mind the lies, theft, etc from our leaders as well but our passivity and lack of outrage at the present state of affairs is even sadder for me today.

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