Tisha b'Av and the Power of Lament

To remember where it hurts,
how it got that way,
to tell the journey,
to honor the pain,
not become the story.

To keen, wail, let out the anger and grief, the desire to have things go back to the way they once were - hah-deysh yah-mey-nu k’kedem to shrie gevalt - “to cry out: ENOUGH!” Some thought to put an end to this mourning sequence when the State of Israel was reborn. We didn’t. We couldn’t forget that Jerusalem twice fell. From such a memory comes determination and strength. We are all-too-aware of how fragile survival can be in the Middle East, even today.

The Hebrew title of the book Lamentations is Eichah, which means “How.” It derives from the first line of the text, “How lonely are we. . .” To lament means to mourn or wail, to "How(l)" Take up a copy of Lamentations, look at the words with a friend, go line by line and see how the verses apply to you in your life. What is your lament?    

Lamentations is a sacred text.
Your laments are also holy.
Lamenting is part of the initial process
of healing from a wounding.
Sometimes this can become a stuck place,
a tape playing over and over.
A lament must be
heard, honored, and looked into
to see what you need.

When a lament moves on to become
part of your sacred history,
no longer the foreground of your daily life,
then healing has begun.

Laments are often mishandled. A nursing home resident laments: “I had a beautiful home, my children sold it. Now I live in a small room, the meals here do not taste right.”  Too often the response is: “You are so lucky to be here, this is an excellent facility, you couldn’t live on your own anymore.”  To respect a lament is to respond:  “How sad you sound to have given up your home and so much of your independence. I can imagine that you miss the familiar taste of foods you preferred and there are many other things you probably miss too.” If heard and respected, the pattern of the lament does not have to be repeated. Tears may be shed and gradually curiosity about being in a new place with different advantages has room to emerge.

This echoing back of the lament is the function of Lamentations on Tisha b’Av, for the pain of the ancestors to be heard and honored, the hard lessons understood, and then to move on with renewed vigor and determination for living.

To learn more about the power of Lamentations and a powerful exercise to express your own, please consider Reclaiming Judaism as a Spiritual Practice: Holy Days and Shabbat; and another essay that includes examples of laments created in workshops based on Lamentations to be found in: Seeking & Soaring: Jewish Approaches to Spiritual Direction.