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Shabbat Parshat Devarim-Chazon 5777

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Tisha B’Av As A Moed (Holiday)

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5775

If you were to go to the cemetery on Tisha B’av you would not recite a kel maleh, our traditional prayer. It almost seems backwards – this is the saddest day of the year, a day of national Jewish mourning and yet we can’t recite a prayer for the dead?

As strange as it seems, that is correct. Why should that be?

We find the answer in the shulchan aruch in the laws of Tisha B’av.

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות תשעה באב ושאר תעניות סימן תקנט

טז) ה אין אומרים [ו] תחנון (ולא סליחות) (הגהות אשירי) בת”ב, ואין נופלים על פניהם (יז)

“We do not recite tachanun or selichot on Tisha B’av” one might be tempted to think that this is analogous to a shiva home where we omit tachanun but the shulchan aruch tells us that is not so. Rather   <ו> משום דמקרי מועד- we don’t recite tachanun on Tisha B’av because it is called a holiday. Just like we don’t say tachanun on Sukkoth, we don’t recite it on Tisha B’av. 

And that is why we would not recite the kel Maleh as well.

One has to wonder, what could that possibly mean? In what way is the day that we commemorate death, destruction and tragedy a holiday? In what universe?

To further complicate matters, when you look at the source provided by the Chafetz Chaim in the Mishna Berurah for this, you find that it indicates exactly the opposite.

The proof text provided is

איכה פרק א

טו) סִלָּ֨ה כָל־אַבִּירַ֤י׀ אֲדֹנָי֙ בְּקִרְבִּ֔י קָרָ֥א עָלַ֛י מוֹעֵ֖ד לִשְׁבֹּ֣ר בַּחוּרָ֑י גַּ֚ת דָּרַ֣ךְ אֲדֹנָ֔י לִבְתוּלַ֖ת בַּת־ יְהוּדָֽה: ס

15. The Lord has spurned all my mighty men in the midst of me; he has called an assembly against me to crush my young men; the Lord has trodden, as in a wine press, the virgin daughter of Judah.

In that verse the word Moed does not mean a holiday, rather it means an appointed time to destroy the young men of Israel. That is not exactly cause for celebration.

Additionally the Talmud in Taanit 29a explains this Moed to refer to a second day of Rosh Chodesh av, and not Tisha Bav.

It is due to these questions that Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, the great Noda B’yehuda, in his commentary to the Shulchan Aruch rejects this approach. He writes that in general it is difficult to comprehend and if it is really a holiday then we should not say Aneniu at mincha! Rather he writes we don’t recite Tachanun because it is analogous to a shiva house. We don’t ask for forgiveness at a time when we know that our prayers have not been answered thus we omit tachanun at a shiva home and on Tisha Bav.

The Rav, Rabbi Soloveitchik, also struggles with the concept. He is quoted in “the lord is righteous in all of his ways” as saying: However it is unclear what the Moed is. As a matter of fact, I have discussed this many times with my father. The Gemara does not say that Tisha Bav is a Moed.

He too proceeds to offer an alternate explanation for the custom relating to the grief and emotional upheaval of reliving the churban and its affect upon our prayers.

And yet, the shulchan aruch codifies this explanation. We don’t recite tachanun because Tisha B’av is called a moed. What could that mean?

I have seen a number of suggestions, none of them that good.

Some point to the verse in Zecharyah indicating the in the future all 4 temple related fasts will be transformed into days of joy.

Of course that only explains why it should be so in the future, and not today.

Others suggest that there is something inherent in the day and the tragedy that contains an element of joy.

  • The Rav mentions, as do many others, that the fact that it was the Beit Hamikdash that burned and not the Jews is some cause for celebration. I would say, relief but maybe not celebration.
  • The Nesivas Shalom, the Rebbe from Slonim suggests that when we hit rock bottom and experience real destruction, God will look down and have mercy upon us and therein lies the joy. I have no idea what to do with that!

The few good articles that I read all seem to suggest that an idea which they have difficulty pinpointing and formulating.

I think it goes something like this. Tisha Bav is clearly a day of mourning. We are sad, we lament and cry. That is the dominant aspect of the day but there is a sliver of hope that we must hold onto and that is why the prophet uses the term moed to describe a terrible day. He could have used a different word but chose this one to remind us of something.

Even when things look bad, even when they are bad, we know that we have a relationship with Hashem and the Jewish people have a future, a destiny that is in God’s hands. That acknowledgement has to be part of Tisha Bav as well and is the Moed element of the day.

I am tempted to add that it is specifically tachanun and selichot that we omit to teach us another lesson. Those are the prayers that represent our helplessness and sole dependence upon God’s mercy. Our initiative and efforts are null and void. Maybe specifically on the day that we remember the churban it is also important to remember that although in the past we were subject to churban, when we look to the future we are not powerless and our efforts not futile. We have the ability to impact our future and destiny and that is something that we must remember as well.

I have spoken a lot this year about activity in the political arena. And that is important and we should continue. But in the context of the fast days, the prophets hone in on our spiritual behavior as well. How we act as individuals and as the Jewish nation will impact our fate and destiny as well.

That is certainly something to think about today and tomorrow and that is the Moed aspect of Tisha B’av!