Parashat Ve’etchanan is one of the fullest parshiot in the Torah. It contains the first paragraph of the Shma, the Ten Commandments, and the verse with which we open the ark on Simchat Torah: Atah horeita lada’at….


How do we read this parashah when it is to be studied during the week of Tisha B’Av? Based on a verse in Psalm 19, The precepts of the Eternal are right, they gladden the heart, we avoid studying Torah on Tisha B’Av. We still say Shma as part of our daily prayers, but certainly not the Ten Commandments. We are certainly not ready to dance hakafot with the Torah on Tisha B’Av!


On that day, we sit on the ground, we fast, and we read Megillat Eichah, the Book of Lamentations. We sing kinot bewailing the destruction of our people and our religion. At night, after the day is done, we break our fast, and return to normal life. On the fifteenth of the month, we even have a day for lovers! We sit and mourn the loss of our spiritual center and the loss of our national life as a Jewish people. The following year, we do it again. Between Tisha B’Avs, we have celebrations of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, we eat fried foods on Chanukah, we dress up in costumes and party on Purim, etc. We mourn the loss of our religion and of our people, and we do so as part of our religion, as an expression of our people’s continued existence.


We fall into this state of mourning and loss, immerse ourselves in horrible images of death and suffering as we read Eichah, but we do so with a sense of deep security that while we have nothing to celebrate during that day, we have everything to celebrate afterwards. Shabbat will come in a few days. Tu B’Av, the lovers’ day, will come next week. 


As a medical chaplain, I attended to the grieving loved ones and family members of patients who died in hospitals. An observation I made then, which many of them told me was healing for them to hear, was that grief is a symptom of love. There is joy and elation when we realize that we are in love with someone who loves us back, or when we become parents. There are happy memories with our parents who played with us when we were little. These moments of happiness are equally symptoms of love. 


This week of Tisha B’Av contains both a day of mourning when we refrain from eating and drinking and from Torah study, and a day of Shabbat when we enjoy delicacies and take happiness in learning Torah. Tisha B’Av and Shabbat are both part of the same Jewish life, and they are days on the same Jewish calendar. Just as joy and grief are both expressions of love, so are our days of mourning and our days of celebration. This is the meaning of the verse (Psalms 30:12) You transformed my grief into dancing.


I hope you all had a meaningful Tisha B’Av, and wish you all a meaningful Shabbat.


Shabbat Shalom!

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