The Music of Tishah B’Av – Part 1

August 5, 2022

Music: an expression of the heart, the language of the soul.

As we all know, music has the unique ability to make us dance as well as bring us to tears. A song can create or change a mood. A melody can evoke emotion, infuse strength and instill hope. It can just as easily take us back in time as it can enable us to live in the moment. It can express that which cannot be articulated. But most of all, music has the extraordinary power to uncover one of the most profound connections that exist between our minds and our hearts, between our physical selves and our spiritual neshamos.

However, during The Three Weeks, we abstain from satiating our musical appetites and adhere to the laws of aveilus, and in doing so we are shown a slightly different aspect of the Koach HaNiggun. We are shown that music is not only associated with times of gladness, but that there is even a place for music in times of sadness and mourning; that music can help us experience the anguish of the soul and the burning faith that burns deep within us all in a way almost nothing else can.

For three weeks, we take a much-needed step back from the comforts and luxury to which we have become accustomed, and with the help of song (or the lack thereof) are reminded, ever so gently, that the things we thought were important don’t really matter much at all; that without a restored relationship with The Almighty, everything we have is exposed for what it really is – fleeting and superficial.

Yes, even our music, as real as it may seem, is just an inferior substitute for the real thing. Sure, we have artistically designed chord sequences – a multitude of musical notation, masterfully choreographed, practically dancing across the staff – played to produce a sound that is pleasing to the ear. There is music theory and harmony, rhythm and scales… but all of that pales in comparison to what we once had.

The missing element, of course, is of a G-dly, spiritual nature, and thus cannot easily be quantified. Therefore, when it comes to music, the message of the Three Weeks is very much the absence of song. For it is the deficiency of this sanctified sound that becomes the precisely prescribed noise needed to awaken us from our collective spiritual slumber.

Sitting on the floor in the dimly lit room, who isn’t moved in some way by the melancholy melody of Megillas Eichah?

…אֵיכָה יָשְׁבָה בָדָד הָעִיר רַבָּתִי עָם הָיְתָה כְּאַלְמָנָה

The sober atmosphere facilitates the revival of those feelings of loss and pain that we, both as a nation and as individuals have experienced.

On an personal level, as part of the Am HaNivchar, each one of us is a member of an illustrious choir, directed and arranged by The Conductor of all conductors. We are all sacred singers of a Heavenly song – a melody composed by none other than Hakadosh Baruch Hu Himself.

And yet today, as we prepare ourselves for Tishah B’Av, we are once again reminded that we are also, in fact, a Kingdom of Kohanim who, tragically, are without the ability to perform our holy Avodah. We are made acutely aware that we are indeed a tribe of Levi’im whose divine service has been utterly extinguished – that we are the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of millions of Kedoshim and Tahorim who were silenced by sword and by pyre, by gas and by gun.

It is said that there is no better way to truly appreciate what we have, than by understanding what we lack. Today, there is no need to pretend. We are all missing something substantial and significant, and Tishah B’Av is the day for us to tap into this void and actually feel it… all we have to do is listen to the music of Tishah B’Av.

This Tishah B’Av, may our tears and cries turn into the overflowing sounds of salvation, as we join together to witness the ultimate comforting of our people – the Final Redemption, בִּמְהֵרָה בְּיָמֵינוּ אָמֵן.

Wishing everyone a significant Shabbos and a very meaningful fast – may it be our last.

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