Monday, July 15, 2013

Yom Kippur and Tishah b'Av: Individual and Community

Of course, Yom Kippur and Tishah b'Av are nothing like each other. On both days we don't eat or drink, wear leather shoes, etc, but the days are of radically divergent spiritual characters.

On Yom Kippur we are [guardedly] optimistic; on Tishah b'Av we are miserable.
On Yom Kippur we are forgiven; on Tishah b'Av the world comes crashing down.
On Yom Kippur we declare our relationship with Gd, כי אנו עמך, "For we are Your nation"; on Tishah b'Av we say סתם תפלתי, "HaShem blocked my prayers."

But this year I came to an unsettling realization about a way in which Tishah b'Av and Yom Kippur do, indeed, run parallel to each other: They are both Days of Judgment.

Rosh haShanah is a day of judgment of each individual, and Yom Kippur is the day when each individual is again weighed. We prepare for the day by assessing our conduct, taking a personal accounting, and making amends and apologizing for our wrongdoing while trying to chart a more positive path.

And Tishah b'Av, it seems to me, is a day of judgment for the Jewish world. We are taught (Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1) that if the Beit haMikdash is not rebuilt in a generation's time, we view it as though the Beit haMikdash had been destroyed in that generation's time. So each Tishah b'Av, as we mark again the devastation of the Beit haMikdash, we are judged and we are found collectively guilty.

It's an unsettling thought, because we believe that every Yom Kippur ends with forgiveness for the individual, while every Tishah b'Av ends with a declaration of our community's guilt.

But then I had another thought: Why can't we end Tishah b'Av with forgiveness, as we do on Yom Kippur? What if we had, hypothetically, a leader who could deliver a "State of the Union" in the days leading up to Tishah b'Av, identify the elements needing fixing and apologize for wrongdoing, and so on?

Even if Tishah b'Av marks the time of Divine obscurity and blocked prayers, perhaps with proper preparation we could have a Tishah b'Av which ended with a Divine declaration of סלחתי, "I have forgiven," just as the original Tishah b'Av did? (Bamidbar 14:20)

Of course, such a thing is far from where we are today, in a world in which rabbis are assaulted by followers of other rabbis, in a world in which one Jew can easily call another Amalek, in a world in which… oh, forget it. You don't need me to run down the list of every bit of strife playing out on the Jewish world's polluted stage.

But maybe one day we'll turn Tishah b'Av into a national version of Yom Kippur.


  1. I believe we have had a "State of the Union Address". We most clearly had "leaders" get up and CLEARLY identify the elements needing fixing. The only thing missing is the aforementioned 'apologizing for wrongdoings'. For that we need real leaders to step up and proclaim the ridiculousness of this endless debacle that has become of the Jewish people.

  2. Baruch shekivanti. I once wrote the following as part of a larger piece about connecting Yom Kippur and TIsha Bav:
    It occurs to me that there is a medrash Mishlei (everyone knows this one, but they
    don't know where it's from) that describes how le-asid lavo the moadim will all be beteilim with the exception of Purim. There is a second
    opinion that says that Yom Kippur will also continue.
    I was thinking two things:
    1. The first opinion apparently thinks Yom Kippur will go away.
    2. Isn't there one other holiday missing in the list of the remaining holidays? We know that in the future tisha bav will be a happy moed (Zechariya 8:19), so why isn't that in the
    list? It's not going away if it's changing in the future.
    Maybe, and this is a big maybe, the answer to both questions is that Tisha Bav will replace Yom Kippur in the future. I know it sounds
    crazy. But hear me out:
    - Tisha Bav is very closely modeled after Yom Kippur - it's quite astounding. Why create
    another version of Yom Kippur specifically?
    - Yom Kippur was originally the day we got kappara for chet ha-egel. Maybe Tisha Bav will be the day we get kappara for the chet ha-
    meraglim as well as the sins that keep us mired in this galus.

  3. Except that much of Yom Kippur is national. For example, the lashon shel zehoris turned from red to white when our teshuvah was accepted. Did it require everyone's teshuvah, only one Jew's, the majority? Did different people saw it different colors depending on their own teshuvah? It would seem that the miracle refered to national repentance, not personal. Which would imply that the entire qorban of two se'irim were for the nation's atonement, and not for each of its members.

  4. I think there are echoes in your post of the famous 'argument' between the Jews and G-d: we say, "Redeem us, then we will be able to repent"; G-d says, "Repent, then I will redeem you." And so on until one side takes the initiative.

    That said I tend to think of the seven haftarot of consolation creating a definite bridge from Tisha B'Av to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. From Pesach to Shavuot we were on an upward spiritual trajectory, but then we came crashing down. Now we need to get back to the point were we can be forgiven on Yom Kippur. So Tisha B'Av does end in "Salachti", but two months later. Perhaps we should learn from this that true teshuva is a long and difficult process.

  5. aharon-
    Sorry for being obtuse, but what "State of the Union" speech do you mean?

    R' Dani-
    I will be the one to say Baruch sheKivanti - but what would you do with the (admittedly limited) "Salachti" from the meraglim?

    R' Micha-
    I don't know what to make of that thread, I must admit. I don't understand at all how it worked, due to the questions you ask and more.

    Nice. Come to think of it, you may take a look at Tzidkas haTzaddik 171, on the bridge of 49 days between Tisha b'Av and Rosh HaShanah...

    1. I mean the constant comments and retorts from the various leaders of different Jewish sects. True there hasn't been one all encompassing statement, but if you take all the back and forth into consideration and look at the OPPOSITE of what's happening,you can paint a picture of what the 3 weeks and Tisha B'Av should look like.

  6. The questions I asked were meant rhetorically. The idea of one string saying "forgiven" or "not" implies to me that the central theme of the Yom Kippur avodah was national atonement, not individual. Which weakens the contrast you set up in your post.

  7. R' Micha-
    I hear - but I don't understand the string at all. I see that it could be taken as a sign of communal kapparah on Yom Kippur, but given my questions about the whole system, I'm not confident in that.

  8. of interest -

  9. And another wrinkle: part of the reason for the optimism on Yom Kippur is that the individual binds himself to the tzibbur in order to tip the scales in his or her favor -- note all of the pre-written, communal-oriented viduyyim. How does that fit in to your scheme?

    But what happens when the tzibbur is not forgiven? R. Hayyim Angel points out that Eicha ends on a pessimistic note (we read it differently in shul, repeating the more positive second to last pasuk in order to avoid the implication for the tzibbur) - but I think, as previous commentators have noted, that that is the point. And, that is the nature of loss and mourning - we get stuck and feel lost. Not everything in life is positive. We need time following tisha be-av in order to bring us to a more positive outlook.

  10. Tzvi-
    Thanks; interesting list of contrasts.

    Good to hear from you. I'm not sure that binding one's self to the tzibbur takes away from the personal aspect of YK; it is still our personal judgment.