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Thought for the Day: Preparing to Lament and Mourn on Tisha b'Av

I got call a few weeks ago from the Riverside Sheriff's department (near Palm Springs, CA).  She asked if I knew Greg Bowden.  "Yes," I replied more than a bit puzzled since I hadn't seen him nor heard from him in decades, "he's my uncle."  Then she gently informed me of his recent demise.  Why we had not communicated in so long is irrelevant (and, at this point especially, water under the bridge).  We had been close at one time, though.  He was my mother's only sibling; the last of that generation.  I didn't cry, but I did feel a loss... or at least the echo of a loss and a sadness that I couldn't feel more.

I hate to be a downer, but the next "holiday" is Tisha b'Av.  Tisha b'Av is hard.  I don't just mean the fasting, sitting on the floor, not wearing shoes, etc.  It's hard because I don't really feel mournful about what we've lost.  After all, I've grown up in a world without a Beis HaMikdash.  It is hard to mourn the loss of something you've never experienced in the first place.  Each year I try to find some way to make the mourning more heartfelt, the feelings more real.  This year's attempt is to learn  איכה/Lamentations before we read it on Tisha b'Av.

As it turns out, I have a sefer from Mosad Harav Kook on the the five megilos.  The advantage is that it gives a brief description of what's about to be presented before each chapter, then a collection of explanations on each verse gleaned from our sages throughout the centuries that are brief, to the point, and deeply meaningful.

The first chapter starts (first 11 verses) with the narrator giving us the "backstory", as it were.  Yerushalayim is personified as a widow, bereft of husband and children.  Her pain is all the more keen because she had been the center of the world.  I think of Yerushalayim in her heyday something like the way we were taught to think of Washington, DC when I was growing up -- The center of power of the most powerful and respected nation in the world.  And now she has become a tributary.  Her close friends have betrayed her; bad enough they have offered no support, but they don't even show her any sympathy nor act toward her with any empathy.  The rest of her erstwhile friends have shown their true colors and become her enemies.

With all that, she cries only at night.  She is still regal, even if the world doesn't recognize that.  Her tears... so continuous that her cheeks are ever wet, are reserved for her private moments.  She will not give her enemies the satisfaction (and, to their shame, even glee) of seeing her mourning.  At night, though, when the world is quiet, her solitary grieving can be heard.

Now that the narrator has prepared us, her soliloquy is all the more poignant.  Her complaints and sorrow are deep, heartfelt, and absolutely real.

While one is allowed to learn איכה along with its explanations and the midrashim on Tisha b'Av... I am never up to that task.  May this earnest preparation be a merit to bring the redemption closer; even if only by a few moments.

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