Rosh Hodesh Av Torah Essay
The Mishna in Taanit 29a teaches us ,מִשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אָב, מְמַעֲטִין בְּשִׂמְחָה with the arrival of the month of Av, one decreases happiness. This is due to the period of mourning and commemoration that we are in on these tragic dates in the history of Am Israel. We are commanded to reduce our joy and to gradually reach a state of grief.
How can we be commanded by the Torah to feel in a certain way? Especially for an event that happened so many years ago and from which we can sometimes feel disconnected? There are several examples of mitzvot that are merely emotional, some of them being V’ahavta et Hashem Elokekhah, V’aavta Lereiacha Kamocha, Vesamachta Bechagecha, lo Tachmod, and in this case, to mourn over the Beit Hamikdash during the month of Av, specifically on the ninth day of the month. Is it really possible to direct your emotions and actively decide how you feel?
Rav Soloveitchik in his essay ”Avelut Yeshanah and Avelut Chadashah” answers this question by comparing the mourning one goes through when losing a loved one, aveilut yahid, individual mourning, with the historical mourning we experience at this time of year, aveilut derabim, communal mourning.
The first type of mourning, individual mourning, is spontaneous, painful and the people who go through it are naturally emotionally affected. On the other hand, the second type of mourning, communal mourning for an historic event, requires effort. We have to have the right mindset and make ourselves feel this way because of the tragedy that occurred almost 2000 years ago.
The mourning period starts from the 17th of Tammuz. It is a way to psychologically begin getting into the right mindset. The halakhic limitations that we have help us to reduce the situations of happiness little by little, so that three weeks later we reach the day feeling the pain of our great loss. As the Sefer Hachinuch would say,’’אחרי הפעולות נמשכים הלבבות” The heart always follows the actions we engage in.
Rav Soloveitchik says that just like in aveilut hayahid we have three different stages of mourning – the week, the month and the year, where in each of the stages the restrictions are lightened, which causes the sadness slowly to go away. In the aveilut harabim, the same is true but in the opposite direction. We first have the period that begins on the 17th of Tammuz with few limitations. Then from Rosh Chodesh Av the limitations increase. Finally on the ninth of the month, Tisha B’Av, the limitations are the greatest. Ideally, our actions should reflect the way we are feeling. In Halakha every feeling or emotional experience should be translated into technical observance. And the reason we have this three week period is so that our mourning and feeling of deep sadness is genuine and real.
We should use this time as a preparation period to re-experience, feel the sorrow and mourn over our Beit Hamikdash and all the other tragedies that occured to Am Yisrael during this time. May we be worthy to see the reconstruction of the Beit Hamikdash.
Whoever mourns for Jerusalem will merit and see her rejoicing (Ta’anit 30b).
“Avelut Yeshana and Avelut Chadasha” Out of the Whirlwind: Essays on Mourning, Suffering and the Human Condition by Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik