From the Pulpit: Experiencing the emotions of Tisha B’Av in pandemic times

By Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg, Temple Israel of Ottawa

“O how has the city that was once so populous remained lonely! She has become like a widow! She that was great among the nations, a princess among the provinces, has become tributary. She weeps, yea, she weeps in the night, and her tears are on her cheek; she has no comforter among all her lovers; all her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies.”

The opening words of Lamentations resonate this year, unlike any time that we can remember. We read the entirety of this book on Tisha B’Av as we collectively recall the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. The illustration takes us to a time when our individual and collective sense of being was destroyed, leaving us lonely and in despair.

In recent days we have been shut in our homes, unable to see our loved ones, living in fear of disease, turning on the news and being shocked by what we witness. Our traditional Jewish ways have also been shuttered – for months we were unable to pray in person. As our loved ones mourned losses, we could not comfort them. Our holidays were muted, our souls heavy. We can look to the story of Lamentations as we now seek to rebuild and look to tomorrow.

The Israelites found their way home as a people. Yes, their standard communal structure was no more, but they could look to one another for strength to walk the path of healing. This was also a time of great creativity. It was from the exile that the ancient rabbis mobilized the community to live in every part of the world. The Talmud, their masterpiece literature, serves as a guide to the people to this day. True, Judaism would look very different, but it would continue to be forever strong, with values deeply rooted.

Faith is an important topic in times of despair. In these difficult times, the Israelites would struggle with their belief in God, yearning to understand how they could trust. They would discover that these bonds are eternal and could not be broken. God did not cause our present predicament, but we can certainly look to the Eternal as we yearn to reflect Godliness with all that we do.

And finally, the story of Lamentations reminds us that we have endured great pain in the past, but we are resilient. From these times of despair, we rebuild, anchoring our hopes in promise of better days. We will put these days behind us shortly. We are already taking small steps forward. True, there are many obstacles in the way, but we will emerge with strength and courage.

The closing words of Lamentations speak of renewal: “Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old.” On this Tisha B’Av, let’s hold the lessons of this dark period and may we walk together as one. We do so with hope, committed to one another, and assured of upcoming promise.