I davven regularly with a few minyanim (Jewish prayer groups). They began when my mother, and then my father died. I will always remember the day that all of us in one minyan cried throughout the entire morning service. For a variety of reasons, grief emerged from deep within each of us and took over. We used more tissues that day than in any other. I worried that no one in the minyan would come back (forgive me, but especially the men in the group!) . Who wants to cry that much for that long?
But I was wrong. The next day, everyone returned. Two people even brought extra tissue boxes! They all agreed that both the grief and the tears were powerfully necessary, meaningful and useful. For there are times when we need to allow ourselves to simply…feel. Feel sad, grieve, and cry. Loss is real; sadness reminds us we are human; and grief is part of our emotional DNA. Tears are holy.
None of it can be denied or ignored for very long, before sadness turns into ill health and forces us to remember that our personal world has been torn asunder and we are off balance.
Often, grief and tears are cleansing. They guide us, slowly and painfully, through the loss, and eventually, hopefully, back to steadiness or at least a bit more solidity. We learn how to find and renew ourselves through the sacred act of grieving.
As much as I hate feeling it, I know that, for me, grief is an important part of mourning and recovery. The days when I allow my sadness to shine through, and my tears mingle with those of others, are the times when I am most aware that feeling my grief is an act of prayer.
Tisha B’av ^ falls today. Tisha B’av, a fast day, is our Jewish day of mourning for all the tragedies that have befallen our people. Many gloss over it because it comes in the midst of summer, when we prefer to sit on beaches rather than on low stools of mourning. We’d rather read the newest Louise Penny mystery than the book of Eicha (Lamentations). But, just as we all need to face the hard times in our lives, and feel the pain of them, so too, we as a people have earned the holy right to sit with the loss of so many of our fellow Jews and all they would have brought to the world if they had been allowed to live in freedom.
This year, Americans (speaking as one, in Boston) have much to mourn: continued losses from Covid; destroyed forests, species, and water supplies; reproductive rights for women and more. There is much throughout the world that has caused sadness for us all wherever we live.
In recent years,for many Jews around the world, Tisha B’Av has become a time to both mourn and galvanize; to share despair and gain strength for the future; be aware of what has been lost and rededicate ourselves to work for a better world. After Tisha B’Av, we begin to read the haftorot * of comfort on successive Shabbatot**, when we are told again and again that hope is alive and redemption is on its way.
As the Psalms say, we shall turn our mourning into dancing and our tears into seeds for the future.
Today, on Tisha B'Av, may we allow ourselves to mourn, to miss our loved ones, to join our tears with Jews throughout the world. Then, as we rise from Tisha B’Av, may we find that we feel a bit cleansed, a bit more hopeful, and a bit more healed.
And if you don’t, I invite you to recognise the power and holiness of your grief, and know that hope is there waiting for you when you are ready for it.
FYI--I need your help!
At the moment, there is no Mussar middah (trait) for grief. There is one on sadness. But I have found that grief is something different. Grief is something that moves us along, like an electric sidewalk at the airport. We can also get stuck in grief. Grief is a process, a verb.
So, I am creating a middah on Grief.
I’d love your input! Send me your poems, readings and thoughts on grief, with your email address, and I’ll keep you posted on this new middah( and give you credit for your thoughts, and ask your permission first if I publish it).
^ the Ninth of the Hebrew month of Av; it begins Saturday night 6 August and ends Sunday night 7 August
* readings from the Prophets of the Hebrew Bible