Two Past Nine: Looking Back
According to prevalent custom, the various regulations associated with the Nine Days continue until halachik noon on the 10th of Av, or 1:02 pm yesterday (Monday) here in Central NJ. But for me, it never feels like this period of semi-mourning is really over until the following morning - this morning, that is. Today was the first full day of back-to-normal routine: my first comfortably hot morning shower, the first weekday when I could don outerwear that were not pre-worn or otherwise less than fully fresh, the first morning commute with the radio tuned back to Classic Rock instead of news.
Today was also my time to reflect back on what the Nine Days has really meant to me, this year and in the past. In re-reading the post I linked to above (written in 2006 and recently given a nice shout-out by my good blog-friend Shira - thanks!), one line in particular stands out:
"Of all the Nine Days customs, going meatless is the hardest for me... I pine for it, and pretend I'm pining for korbanos."I think it's all too easy for most of us to get hung up in the technical prohibitions of this period, and lose sight of the reasons behind the practices. What I was alluding to in the above quote was the fact that avoiding meat and wine is not simply meant as some kind of (lihavdil!) Lenten act of self-affliction, as much is it may feel like that to an avowed carnivore like myself. Otherwise, the rule would simply be to give up your favorite food, thus impacting vegans and meat-lovers alike.
But that would entirely miss the point. The avoidance of meat and wine per se is very specific, since they are so closely associated with the fundamental loss we mourn during this period, that of the Bais Hamikdash [Temple] and its daily service of of korbanos [sacrifices]. Even if you never eat meat or drink wine on weekdays all year round, so that you are dining during the Nine Day exactly as you always do, the object-lesson - that which the rules of this period is supposed to bring to mind - must not be lost.
To me, Tisha B'av and its preliminaries are not fundamentally about what we hope is to come - that's done as part of our daily service - but rather are a time to focus on looking back, on what we've lost. To remember that there was a time when a two-way connection to God felt tangible and provable, rather than nebulous and uncertain. A time when - for example - we could stand before the Temple gates on Yom Kippur and watch a red thread physically turn white before our eyes, proving beyond any doubt, beyond any skepticism, that our sins were entirely forgiven! How wonderful, how nearly unimaginable such a lifestyle of the casually miraculous seems in our current jaded, oh-so-cynical times.
Perhaps this point is the reason behind the unbreakable association between Tisha B'av and the parsha of Devarim. Most of the Jewish holidays have Shabbos parshiyos which are usually read in conjunction - Tzav the Shabbos before Pesach, Bamidbar before Shavous, Miketz on Shabbos Chanukah, Ha'azinu on Shabbos Shuva. But each of these correlations is broken on occasion, more or less frequently. The only such rule with no exceptions, ever, is that Devarim is always read the week before Tisha B'av. Clearly, there is an important, a critical lesson to be learned this connection.
Many answers have and can be given, but the one that resonates with me is that Devarim is the first time in the Torah that we find reminiscing. There is no new narrative in this parshah - rather, Moshe discourses to the Jewish nation, recalling to a new generation the events of their past 40 years of history. It was critical for them - for us - to understand where we came from, the mistakes we made and how we got where we are, before we could move ahead to a new and brighter horizon in the Promised Land.
So now, as we finish our laundry backloads, bring out the leftover fleichigs, and otherwise put the Nine Days practices fully behind us, let's try not to lose sight of why we did them in the first place. Though tonight is already two days since we broke our Tisha B'av fasts, it's not too late - it's never too late - to think back, reflect, recall. And remember, not just what we lost, but why. Perhaps then, after fully appreciating the past gifts that were taken from us, we will be truly ready to start earning those of the future.