Late one evening, the grief counselor spoke to a man in hospice. The patient was suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). "What's the hardest past of this experience for you," the therapist asked. "The hospitalization? The disease?"
"No," the dying man replied. "The hardest part is that everyone sees me in the past tense. Something that once was. No matter what's going on with my body, I will still be a whole person. There is a part of me that is not definable and doesn't change, that I will not lose and does not disappear with age or disease. There is a part of myself that I cling to. That is who I am and that is who I will always be."
The way we, who mourned on Tisha B'Av, respond to the Seven Weeks of Consolation that follow, indicates that we relate to ourselves as something that once was and is no more: We recover from Tisha B'Av rather quickly. I am a committed Simcha (Happiness) person, and I'm not advocating that we suffer for the next seven weeks, but it is sure is strange that we have seven full weeks of consolation that we don't need! Did we miss something in our mourning? How can we recover so quickly when the Sages were certain we would need almost two months to return to ourselves?
We mourn over the past, the Jerusalem that once was, the great nation we were so long ago. We tell stories of the past and we weep over the countless tragedies of our history. We mourn in the past tense so we recover quickly. I needed a long time to reconnect with life after my father's passing. I don't need to recover when I observe his Yahrtzeit, the anniversary of his death. Tisha B'Av has become an elaborate Yahrtzeit of a long ago death, and we don't need seven weeks to recover.
That is exactly what I mourned this past Tisha B'Av: I ached for people who see Judaism in the past tense, whether it is the Jerusalem of old, the great Jewish communities of Europe and Spain, or even how much better things were a generation ago. I cried for the people who do not believe that there is a part of us that doesn't change no matter where or when we live. I weep for those who forget that each of us is indefinable, special, beautiful, magnificent. I mourn for those who see the world through the eyes of our suffering, not our greatness. I agonize for a nation that doesn't pride itself on its ability to keep Jerusalem alive two thousand years after its destruction by the Romans. I mourn those who are stuck in the past tense without any joy in the present. The ache did not disappear with the end of the fast. The pain is palpable. The hurt remains. I need Seven Weeks of Consolation.
I started The Foundation Stone because I refuse to cling to the past; I cling to the present and future. I did not want to be another website that shares the insights of previous generation without rejoicing in their practical applications for ours. My goal was, and is, to delve into the wealth of a living Torah and discover treasures of meaningful wisdom. I write and teach for those who study to discover their indefinable potential, not for those who simply want to keep the past alive. We are not a dying body. We are a living being. Whole. Magnificent. Eternal.
I find my consolation in choosing to live in the Present Tense.
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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