The nadir of the year
This week's portion: finite language, infinite truth

Tisha b'Av roundup, and a story

Tisha b'Av is the one day of the year when most Torah study isn't permitted -- at least not in the traditional Jewish understanding. We can study Eicha or Eicha Rabbah, or Jeremiah or Job, but we're not supposed to delve into parts of Torah which might bring us joy, since joy is dissonant alongside the awareness of suffering that this day represents.

I often see blogs in terms of the lived Torah of human experience, the holy texts of our lives as they unfold. So is reading one's blog aggregator antithetical to Tisha b'Av? I'm in no position to decide that for anyone -- but should you be online today and browsing the blogosphere, and wishing for reading that explores the themes of Tisha b'Av, here are some links to blog posts I'm finding valuable today:

Elf at Apikorsus Online has a comprehensive roundup of Tisha b'Av-related posts from the last few years. She links to folks across the religious spectrum: here are posts from rabbis and laypeople who practice Judaisms ranging from Orthodox to Reform, exploring the day through a wide variety of lenses. It's especially useful, and interesting to me, that she breaks the roundup into sections: first "general" (a miscellany of excellent posts), "the contemporary problem" (how commemorating 9 Av is different in the modern world than it used to be), "liturgy" (how and why the traditional liturgy is fraught for many modern Jews), and "personal reflections."

At Radical Torah, Aryeh Cohen offers a view of Lebanon through the lens of Tisha b'Av, exploring the midrashic notion that God looks to us in order to learn how to mourn, and asking difficult questions about the ethics of what's happening in Lebanon these days.

And at Soferet, Avielah offers a transcript of a teaching by Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein entitled The transformative call of Tisha be-Av 5766. I was particularly struck by how R' Marmorstein links a teaching about the words רעה (ra'ah, wicked) and טוב (tov, good) in the Biblical story of the spies to the Baal Shem Tov's teachings about the need to love one's shadows. (If that's a little dense for you, Avielah's recent post Crush is more personal and perhaps more accessible.)

Speaking of personal and accessible, a story. Last night toward the end of the study session which followed our service, a congregant asked an unanswerable question about how we can respond to suffering. In response, I said something like this:

It's always my temptation, at times like these, to find a way to look on the bright side. I want to find a way to make things better, to turn from despair to hope, to argue that everything's going to be okay and that we can make the world a better place. But I don't think that's the right answer for tonight. On erev Tisha b'Av, we can't go there yet. Our obligation tonight is to witness the brokenness of the world. Maybe by late tomorrow we can begin moving toward a place of hope, but for now all we can do is sit with the awareness of what's broken.

As today wears on, may we find ourselves capable of sitting with the sorrow of Tisha b'Av without yielding to the temptation to put a band-aid over the suffering. Today we are all hospital chaplains, ministering to the world with presence and the willingness to face what hurts even when it hurts more than we think we can bear. And by tonight, may we find a way to move through this, and to rededicate ourselves to the work that awaits.

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