Tisha B’Av Teaching

Tisha B’Av Teaching

R. Diane Elliot


The Baal Shem Tov or Besht—the founder of Chasidism—met the soul of the Messiah during an ascent to heave. The Besht asked him, “When will the Master come?” The messiah answered, “When your wellsprings break forth to the outside!” (from a letter written by the best to his brother-in-law about one of his soul ascents)

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach—may his memory be for healing—taught that Av is the month of listening, listening to the crying in the world, the crying within our own souls, the lament of God in the face of what we wreak, the ongoing destructions.

There are meaningful silences, pregnant silences, and there is also stunned silence—like the silence after the holocaust. To heal, we have to break that silence.

During Chodesh Av we are to make heard the deep desires of the soul, expressing our most essential needs, even when we can hardly articulate them to ourselves. When we can give voice to pain, listen to it, honor it, then we can process it, move it through.

So, Reb Shlomo teaches, this is the time when mashiah is coming—not Yom Kippur when we stand before God, acknowledging our shortcomings, saying forgive me and I’ll be better-- but on Tisha B’Av, when we tear ourselves open, bare our hearts, sit on the ground, wail inarticulately, telling God, “ ‘unless you take me back, unless you give me the whole Land in the way we were promised, I can’t live.’ ” Bring us back!!! We wail, cajole, demand. This is the essence of lament: open all the gates—body, mind, words, emotions, spirit!

On Tisha B’Av, not only do we not eat, we don’t study. Reb Shlomo tells us that "we fast from Torah learning as if to say, 'I don’t want to stay bodily alive in a world of such pain, such shutdown vision, such horror! Master of the world, unless you give me the real Torah, the Torah from Heaven that lifts me up so high, unless you give me the Torah of ki-mitzion teitzei Torah’—you know, the Torah from Sinai did not prevent me from making the golden calf—the Torah from Mt. Sinai did not prevent me from sending out spies. I say, ‘Master of the world, give me the real Torah. Give me the real thing.’ ”

So let the melodies of lament work on your heart, to soften it. Breathe in the losses of your own life, breathe open the holes in your soul, so that the torah you need to hear this Tisha B’Av can come through. Then, God willing, may we begin to be able to lift up our tzurus to its root, to HaShem, and as the Holyt BeShT teaches, l’hamtikah, to sweeten it.