Tisha B’Av begins at sundown on August 6th and ends on August 7th this year (9th of Av). The holiday marks the date of the destruction of both temples and coincides with the dates of several tragedies throughout Jewish history. The date is commemorated with practices of intense mourning. Much like Yom Kippur, Tisha B’Av is a day of fasting and restriction of enjoyable activities. Although it’s similar to other holidays where we fast to commemorate tragedies, Tisha B’Av does not have any sort of positive spin.
So this begs the question: Why would we dedicate time out of our lives to focus specifically on sadness?
At first, it may seem contradictory to focus on an emotion that we typically try to avoid. You may think “I don’t have to force myself to be sad and reflect on what could otherwise be a perfectly happy day.” Honestly, I’d usually say that was the right way to go about it. Fixating on the negative aspects of life can just lead to the negativity that interrupts our day and makes it harder to keep going.
So, let’s assess the positives of the negatives. What comes to mind are the principles of Yin and Yang. There is no light without darkness. You can’t appreciate sunshine without rainy days. Our emotions are complementary forces. We tend to think of some moods as inherently worse than others; anger, sadness, fear. Obviously, nobody wants to be sad. But without understanding and enduring sadness, we would be unable to appreciate the full scope of happiness. Therefore, there is great value in dedicating time to experiencing and processing our more “negative” emotions. The endurance of one enhances the enjoyment of its opposite.
Reflecting on the tragedies in our collective past can help us contextualize the human condition. There will always be times when things do not go our way. As much as we may want to undo the past, it lives with us. Yet, the inevitability of the negative gives us an opportunity to recover and find ways to be happy amidst our new reality.