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The Tisha B’Av paradox

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Tisha B’Av is a confusing day in the Jewish calendar. It shares some contradictory dimensions. It’s known as the saddest day in Jewish history but simultaneously it’s called a moed, a festival, by the prophet Jeremiah in his book, Eicha.

Another question worth pondering is that the sages tell us that during the month of Av, happiness must be decreased. Why do the rabbis use this formulation of language? Why didn’t they say that we must be sad or that we must increase our sadness?

During Tisha B’Av itself, there are seemingly many contradictions of behaviour. As mentioned above, the tragedy of the Temple’s destruction has to be real for us. We may not busy ourselves with activities that will take our minds off the fasting and meaning of the day.

However, Tisha B’Av is the birthday of Mashiach, which should foster in our minds a promise of hope and an end to our long exile. Tachanun isn’t recited as is customary on all festivals.

How do we understand this paradox?

Just as at the height of our greatest simcha, a wedding – at least one regarded by most as a happy occasion – a glass is smashed, symbolising our memory of incomplete happiness because of the destruction of the Temple, amid our greatest sorrow, every Tisha B’Av, we’re reminded of great simcha. Hashem doesn’t want us to grieve excessively or lead miserable lives.

Too much sadness can lead us to spiral into depression. Depression is one of the yetzer hara’s nefarious tools, preventing us from moving forward in life and from appreciating the good that we have.

The sages, in their wisdom, wanted to temper the sadness of Tisha B’Av, and remind us that there are times in life where sadness is appropriate but it shouldn’t be debilitating.

We excitedly await the end of our exile, knowing and appreciating the need to mourn. We’ll merit appreciation for rebuilding of Jerusalem only when we mourn properly for its loss.

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