If we look at the laws of mourning and compare them with our practices of the Three Weeks and the Nine Days, we see an odd reversal. An actual mourner who has lost someone close to them begins in the deepest levels of mourning and slowly comes out of that state. The average Jew, from the 17th of Tammuz to Tisha B’Av, goes through an almost opposite process. 


Aveilut, mourning, begins with tearing one’s clothes upon hearing about the death. Next come burial and shiva. During shiva, the mourner is encouraged not to work unless absolutely necessary, or in service of mourning. They do not extend or return greetings. They refrain from most things that would give one pleasure. Next comes shloshim, the month-long period during which the mourner has gone back to a mostly normal semblance of daily living, but refrains from hearing live music, going to celebrations, haircuts, or wearing new clothes. For the next ten months following shloshim, the mourner says kaddish with a minyan whenever possible.


The Three Weeks are different. We begin with a minor fast, but then enter a period of semi-mourning, similar to shloshim. When the month of Av begins, we increase our mourning practices and stop eating meat and drinking wine. All of these mourning practices culminate with Tisha B’Av, one of two major fasts of the year. On that day, we are like mourners. We sit on or close to the ground. We do not exchange greetings with others. Like an onen, one whose dead has not yet been buried, we do not study Torah. 


This last detail is different for an onen from the practice of Tisha B’Av. On Tisha B’Av, we are forbidden to study Torah. An onen, on the other hand, is simply exempt from mitzvot. 


Why is it that a mourner goes from the most intensive practices of mourning while the average Jew during the Three Weeks goes from the least intensive to the most intensive? I think the reason is simply about people’s states of mind. When we lose someone close to us, we need time to grieve. We are not in the most normally functioning state of mind at that time. The practices of aveilut reflect that fact, and are meant to help us heal from the initial blow of that loss by gradually re-acclimating us to normal life. Tisha B’Av, on the other hand, is a day of national mourning of a loss that came upon our people over two thousand years ago. We do not actively “miss” the Temple in Jerusalem because none of us ever lived with it. We need time and spiritual practices to prepare us for that day. We need to reflect upon the meaning of the Temple itself to our ancestors, or what it symbolizes to us today. We also need to gradually build up to a state of mourning to feel the loss of the Temple and to fully appreciate the meaning of that loss. 


As is true with aveilut, though, Shabbat is a time to put mourning aside. The miraculous fact that there is a world at all, and that we are gifted with the experience of being part of it, is a fact that we still need to celebrate fully and constantly. Shabbat is our day for that. Even during the Nine Days, Shabbat is Shabbat. It is still a day for every delight and pleasure available to us. Afterwards, we can return to mourning the loss of the system of worship that was our people’s means of cultivating that sense of delight. 


Shabbat Shalom!

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