A Meditative Tisha B’av

crop mournful woman leaning on fence in daytime

We invite you to join us for a special upcoming service/spiritual encounter for Tisha B’av, on Saturday night July 17, 2021, from 9-10:30 PM. Tisha B’av, the 9th day of Av, marks the end of a 22-day period of living close to the bone—without excess or self-puffery.

It represents the “low point” of the Jewish spiritual year, a time when the earth (in the Land of Israel) grows dry and parched. On the spiritual level, we might think of Tisha B’av as the moment when both God and the People Israel blink, at exactly the same moment, neither seeing the other. Tisha B’av is a time for dedicated reflection: of holding, with care, some of the shatteredness of the world. We break the heart open to both be with this fragility and begin to collectively envision a new, more attuned, more holy way of being.

Tisha B’av has been a magnet for moments of meaningful loss: variously signifying the Destruction of the first and second Temples—the loss of the Sacred Center—and the attendant grief of Exile, of Homelessness, famine and dislocation. We sit on the ground, in a setting stripped of finery, as though in shivah, to be together in our shared grief. It is a grief that must not shut us down but rather open us out to the cry of the world. In our contemplation and in our rituals, we hold our ancestral history of being decentered, of being a refugee, of living amidst famine and plague. We stand (and sit) in solidarity with those treated as Other.

And yet, this day of mourning, with its haunting melodies and poems and the keening eloquence of Eicha, the book of Lamentations, also brings about a stirring power, and a spiritual intimacy. The fierce love of a mother for her starving children morphs into the image of Mother Rachel paving the way to a restoration. Paradoxically, love blossoms out of the ashes.

For many of us in the world of Jewish Renewal, the lament of losing our Bayit, our Home, has been expanded to include an Eco-Lament for the Earth, our most expansive and inclusive home. We sit in both grief and on the knife’s edge of resolve and hope, as we fast (refrain from taking in parts of the earth that usually sustain us) and move more slowly. At Mincha, in the mid-afternoon, the energy shifts, as hope begins to rise. We put on the tefillin of prayer, we glimpse the arrival of a Messianic future (for it said that the Messiah is born on Tisha B’av.)

I remember some years back when I co-ordinated a Tisha B’av spiritual practice for Mincha time with the late Bernie Glassman, the activist Zen Peacemaker, who was also a proud and engaged Jew. As I chanted from the Torah, he did a Zen form of a Tonglen practice, breathing in the suffering of the world and breathing out peace. Breathing and chanting together with those assembled, we opened a space in our hearts for the healing of the Planet, a prayer for Homecoming, in its many registers.

And so: this year at Pardes Hannah, we will chant from the Book of Lamentations, meditate and pray from the place of breaking the heart open, come this Saturday night, July 17. Visioning the world we wish to live in, co-create and share. Our prayers are heartfelt and tuneful, our discussions real and deep. We are grateful to be here, sharing with other Jews and planetary citizens, in the work of the hour.


Blessings and shabbat shalom,
Reb Elliot