Mourning on Tisha B’Av: Feeling the Void

Rabbi Reuven Leuchter

Tisha B’Av is a day when we stop, sit on the floor and mourn. Yet year after year, we struggle to connect to mourning the churban, as the whole topic seems so far from our reality. We do not have any grasp on what it is like to have shechina in our midst; we do not feel that its absence has left the world bereft. In fact, we seem to be doing ‘just fine’ without a Beis Hamikdash.

The first point to understand is that the avodas Hashem of Tisha B’Av is different from all other days. We are accustomed to avoda performed through deeds and actions. Sitting idly all day gives us a feeling of time wasting and of disconnection from avodas Hashem. We instinctively seek to busy ourselves with activities in an attempt to connect us to the day.

However, the main avoda on Tisha B’Av is actually to refrain from doing actions. We enter a state of aveilus, whose purpose is to engender a sense of the real void that exists both in the world as whole and in our personal lives. We aim to feel an emptiness – not to immediately break the silence with talk of (for example) longing for the Moshiach. The focus should simply be to ‘feel the lacking’, to contemplate without trying to repair or replenish.

Yet how are we supposed to sense this lacking – if in reality we feel that our lives are full and complete?

The main reason that we do not sense this void is because we spend our lives thinking about ourselves. In order to feel the lacking, we need to escape from our superficial, personal perspective, in which we are focused on ourselves and on how we can advance personally. We need to change direction; to start thinking about the purpose of the world, the great plan that the Borei Olam has – and where we find ourselves within His plan.

If we introspect about this, we will realize that He has a desire for the world to be a place where His malchus and kedusha are revealed. That is what Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov focused on in their avoda; as did Moshe, Aharon and David Hamelech. This is now our task – to bring the world to its ultimate purpose of revealing kavod shamayim, something that is so much bigger than our personal, individual agendas.

If we delve into this idea fully and start to see ourselves as part of a big picture, we will begin to understand how great the void is. Our world is so far from this goal of gilui shechinah, so detached from the concept of kedusha. It is not even a topic of discussion. Whilst we may be busy fulfilling mitzvos and learning Torah, we do not identify with this greater goal. Moreover, when we see that the world at large is happy to permit acts and attitudes that are totally counter to kedusha, our feelings in response are tame, borne more out of personal sentiment than out of concrern for the Borei Olam’s master plan.

For example, if we come across chilul Shabbos (×—”ו), we are pained that our personal sensitives are not being respected. We are not so moved by the fact that such a thing could happen in a world that is supposed to be the setting for gilui shechinah. This shows the depths of the void, and indicates how our personal worldview does not actually include the Ribono shel Olam at all!

There is another reason why we do not see kedusha around us. Beyond the disconnection of society as a whole, personally we struggle to see how things in the physical world are transformed to a higher, spiritual plane – whether it is the clothing we wear on Shabbos, or the pen we use to write chidushei Torah. Our mitzvos and ma’asim tovim become detached from our practical surrounding. On the one hand we have Torah and mitzvos, on the other hand we have the world around us, yet we struggle to connect the two. That is also a real void.

Seen in this light, our tefila on Tisha B’Av should have a sense of distance. Rav Chaim of Volozhin wrote that we do not wear tefilin in the morning (of Tisha B’Av) because they are a ‘sign’ (an os) of connection between the Borei Olam and ourselves. We are trying to experience the greatest sense of richuk (distance) – any generating of closeness or connection is at odds with the essence of the day, whose focus is contemplating the terrible void.