The Music of Tishah B’Av – Part 2

July 16, 2021

Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt’l (Alei Shur) writes: “Remaining silent in the face of grief takes great effort. There are times when silence is not merely the absence of speech. Silence can actually say more than words could possibly express!”

As you may have noticed, instead of the usual Three-Weeks-themed Musical Notes posts that I would normally have sent out at this time of year, I decided to try something different. I decided to confront the feelings of loss that we as a nation have been prescribed to embrace, and to abstain from all things music – yes, even the heartfelt acappella kind. Instead of distracting myself from the profound sadness of galus that especially surrounds us this time of year, I was able to experience these days of mourning in a much more real way. Who knows, maybe it helped some of you do the same…

Last year, in “The Music of Tishah B’Av – Part 1,” we touched upon the essence of music, and how to find relevance in its obvious absence on Tishah B’Av. This year I would like to do just the opposite, and turn our attention to the unique presence of song on this difficult day.

As we know, our tefillos on Tishah B’Av focus on the many different historical tragedies that Klal Yisroel has endured over the millennia. We recite the Kinnos, and we lament and cry over the churban of both Batei Mikdash. We weep over the Asarah Harugei Malchus, we bemoan the many gezeiros ra’os, and weep over the horrible abuse we experienced at the hands of the Crusades. We cry for the public disgrace of our sifrei kodesh. The vicious pogroms, the horrors of the Holocaust, and many other calamities are all mourned on Tishah B’Av.

Yet, surprisingly, the Torah considers Tishah B’Av a moed, a Yom Tov. The word moed usually indicates a holiday, a happy day on which celebration is in order. Indeed, the Shulchan Aruch rules that we don’t say Tachanun on Tishah B’Av, or even at Mincha on Erev Tishah B’Av. The reason? The Ninth of Av is a Yom Tov. The question is, in what way is Tishah B’Av a moed? What is there to celebrate? What element of joy can there possibly be in a day so utterly filled with sadness?

Many have discussed this anomaly, and numerous answers have been offered. Being that this is a music blog, let us see if we can find a musical connection to help shed some light on the matter.

There is a distinct, solemn tune used when reading Megillas Eichah. The melancholy melody is immediately identifiable, as it is employed whenever we read the pesukim that describe sad or mournful topics. Hum the tune and all will know it and recognize the sadness that it implies. However, there is another time of the year that the very same tune is used, but on this occasion, its use seems somewhat strange…

We all wait with great anticipation for Shemini Atzeres (Simchas Torah) to begin. It is one of the happiest days of the year, and we look forward to rejoicing and dancing with the Torah. As the hakafos are about to begin, various pesukim are said aloud…. 🎶“Ata haraisa ladaas, ki Hashem hu HaElokim, ein od milvado… Ki miTzion tetzei Torah, u’dvar Hashem miYerushalayim.”🎶 That’s right, the tune used for Ata Haraisa all over the world is almost identical to the somber and haunting tune of Eichah!

It’s true, when we recite these pesukim on Shemini Atzeres, we use a tune similar to the one reserved for the leining of Eichah. However, there is a slight, yet significant difference. On Shemini Atzeres, the final phrase of each pasuk is recited with a crescendo, with notes that rise in pitch, rather than with the descending notes that we find with the reading of Eichah. This subtle change to the end of each pasuk transforms one of the saddest tunes of the year into a melody that represents happiness and joyful anticipation.

{There are many other fascinating connections between Eichah/Tishah B’Av and Shemini Atzeres. One that was especially astounding is a gematria that was presented by Rav Moshe Wolfson, shlit’a. He pointed out that the first words of Megillas Eichah, אֵיכָה יָשְׁבָה בָדָד, הָעִיר רַבָּתִי עָם, have the exact same numerical value as עֲצֶרֶת תִּהְיֶה לָכֶם (Devarim 29:35)!}

What we are being told by these connections is that very soon, Tishah B’Av will be a full-fledged moed. Eichah will no longer have sad endings to its pesukim, rather its words will be recited with ascending inflections. There will come a time when we will read and comprehend Eichah as a Megillah filled with bracha and nechama. When Moshiach comes, Eichah will be interpreted in a joyous way, and its tune will be transformed into a niggun of true simcha.

May we be zocheh that this Tishah B’Av turn into a real Yom Tov – a day on which our cries of supreme sadness will be transformed into the song of ultimate celebration…

🎶 הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ ה’ אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם 🎶

Wishing all of you a Shabbos of elevated revelation!

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