Observing Tisha B’Av: Obligation, Guilt, or something else?

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As I sit here on a Sunday, not feeling very well and giving up a beautiful beach day, I ask myself what motivates me, a man in no way consistently observant, to acknowledge Tisha B’Av, the day widely recognized as the saddest day on the Jewish calendar.  Although by no means do I minimize anyone else’s observance of this sad day that commemorates the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem, but for someone whose observance is a daily integral part of their life, fasting and acknowledging the day is not even a question, very much like the observance of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath would be.  For someone like me it can almost be seen as random that I take the day as seriously as I do, to the extent that I myself have questioned its origin.

As the title of this piece states, obligation has to be considered as a motivating force.  However, logically speaking, there are observances considered far more important than the observance of Tisha B’Av.  Frankly, as someone who truly believes each man and woman on the planet only really gets judged by God, I can honestly say I do not do it out of obligation.  Other than maybe 2 or 3 people, and now anyone reading this, no one coming in to the day had any idea that the day holds the importance to me that it does.  The other option I proposed was that I am motivated by guilt.  That too is not the case since when it comes to religious practice and honestly mostly every other aspect of my life, guilt does not motivate me.  That being said there is a personal element involved that is so inherent in my being that one can say it encompasses many factors including obligation and guilt.  Growing up the son of Holocaust survivors, and seeing how my parents used Tisha B’Av as the day they commemorated the murder of family members whose exact date of death was not recorded, as clearly as I felt the sadness of my family’s loss I felt the sadness of Tisha B’Av.  It is this fact that allowed me to identify what it is that makes the day so important to me.

As negative as the day may be, it is one of humanity’s most positive features that motivates me.  That feature is love.  Love for the Jewish people. I see humanity as one great force and see all people as equal in the most basic terms, but as a Jewish man raised in a positive Jewish household, I sit here as someone who loves the Jewish people.  Just as we observe the loss of a loved one and do so naturally, for me the tragedies that have happened to the Jewish people causes me an instinctive sadness.  As one Rabbi once told me in speaking of the fasting required on Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, “knowing what Yom Kippur stands for who is able to eat? And knowing what Tisha B’Av stands for who would want to eat?”

I don’t believe that this makes me love the Jewish people more than someone who feels differently about Tisha B’Av, but on this day as I sit here acknowledging the day I realize my motivations to be pure and my love for who I am and where I come from to be solidly in tact.

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