This year on Tisha B’Av we mark the 16th Yahrtzeit of Michael ben Mordechai, Michael Samuel, Papa to many of us. Tisha B’Av is the most solemn, mournful day in the Jewish Calendar. It commemorates multiple disasters that befell the Jewish people, most prominently, the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, as well as the sin of the Spies in the desert. This is a day of fasting and in great contrast to Yom Kippur, we actually go through rituals that are similar to those performed during shiva, the most intense period of mourning following the death of a parent, sibling or spouse. We sit on the floor, abstain from eating, drinking, bathing and carry on in a communal fashion that is much more solemn than Yom Kippur.
However, there is a twist to this intense mourning. We are taught that we do not say the daily Supplication or Tachanun prayer on the afternoon before Tisha B’av, a practice usually reserved for days of festivals. Why is this? What kind of festival can possibly include such mourning practices? Indeed, the explanation for skipping Tachanun is that Tisha B’Av is itself a moed, a festival. How do we learn that? In the book of Eicha read on Tisha B’av, the fifteenth verse of the first chapter includes the phrase: “Kara alay moed, lishbor bachurai”. This translates as “He has proclaimed a set time (Moed) against me to defeat my young men” which sounds anything but holiday like.
Indeed, the fact that this is the day to commemorate our physical exile from Israel and spiritual exile via the destruction of the Temple is enough to create a long-lasting spirit of defeat, of doom and of tremendous loss. In the history of the world, almost no nation has survived such a tremendous uprooting of its population and dispersal around the world. The destruction was insurmountable, and survival almost thoroughly unimaginable.
Yet, we have a slight hint of optimism derived from this very gloomy phrase. And as Tisha B’Av unfolds, we continually see the hints of light beneath the darkness of destruction. The mourning rituals are not all kept for the 25 hour fast, rather, several are lifted at mid-day. The Shabbat that follows Tisha B’av is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of Consolation and the 9th of Av is rapidly followed by the 15th of Av, which is the Jewish Valentine’s day. It is taught that Tisha B’av is the day that the important messianic events will take place. Moreover, every year we pray that in the Messianic world, when the world order will be restored to peace and harmony among all, Tisha B’av will revert from a day of mourning to a day of tremendous feasting.
Even more important, nearly two thousand years after the destruction of the Temple, a nation, en masse, the Jewish Nation, still sits on the floor, rends its garments and prays for an edifice and for a state of being that, despite the passage of time, is still very much alive for us only through the pages of our holy books. Perhaps that is not what the prophet Jeremiah meant when he described the day as a moed, but the experience of mourning for Yerushalayim, truly highlights the best of our national spirit and in and of itself can be truly uplifting and redemptive.
It is this type of spirit that characterized Papa and his family, whether it was the loss of his beloved mother in childhood, to working to fend for his family, to taking care of a family of 6 as the oldest male sibling, there was a sense that in spite of all odds, all would work out, as long as one would persevere. Through loss, instability, no mater what, the Samuel family collective spirit allowed the family to not only survive, but grow and prosper. Papa would never be too discouraged to forge forward, despite hardship or illness. It is no wonder he was also a passionate boater, since he clearly understood how to chart a course and navigate through both the calm serene lakes and the rapids that would appear unexpectedly.
We all saw and admired this example. However, it’s a lesson that emanates from our national history. The lessons of Tisha B’Av and the survival of our people are integrated in our DNA. We should always remember these lessons, especially as we remember the life and legacy of Mike Samuel as a tremendous example of how we should conduct ourselves as we navigate the not always smooth waters of life.
Th-he Nishmato Tzrurah B’ Tzror Ha-Chayim; May his memory always be a blessing
Parts of this D’var Torah were inspired by a superb shiur on Tisha B’av by Rabbi Josh Blass of Yeshiva University.