Alone vs Private: Exploring Tisha B’Av and Tzniut

Tomorrow is Tisha B’Av, but because it falls on Shabbat, the annual fast day commemorating the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem and our subsequent exile from Israel will be observed on Saturday night and Sunday. Through it all Tisha B’Av seems to be a day of isolation.

At the start of Eicha we read:

How does the city sit alone, that was full of people! How has she become as a widow! She who was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!  She weeps sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks; she has none to comfort her among all her lovers; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. Yehudah is gone into exile because of affliction, and because of great servitude; she dwells among the nations, she finds no rest; all her pursuers overtook her within the straits.

Lamentations 1:1-3

Jerusalem is alone with none to comfort her. We as a people are in exile. This theme tracks through the course of Eicha and the customs and traditions of Tisha B’Av. We are alone individually and as a nation.

It is noteworthy that this isolation of Tisha B’Av seems almost prescient of the CDC requirement for the social isolation protocols meant to stem the spread of Covid-19 and the newer variants. Above and beyond getting vaccinated following these guidelines is supposed to save us. At the same time being alone in isolation can be devastating and we have seen the impact of social isolation on our MESSH needs. At the same time doing everything under the ever watchful and unforgiving eye of social media can be equally damaging. We find ourselves between a rock and a hard place.

This theme of social isolation reminded me of a great midrash. There we learn:

Eikhah-How does the city sit”, three prophecised in the language of eikhah-How, Moshe, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, Moshe said, “ How can I myself alone…”(Deut. 1:12). Isaiah said, “How (is the faithful city) become a harlot!” (Isaiah 1:21). Jeremiah said, “How does the city sit alone” (Lam 1:1). Said Rabbi Levi this is analogous to a matron who had three grooms.  One who saw her in security, one who saw her in recklessness, and one who saw her in disgrace.

Lamentations Rabbah 1 (Vilna)

Moshe’s eikhah comes from Devarim, this week’s Torah portion. The people seemed to be in the security of being with God in the desert. Moshe is complaining that he is alone in carrying the burden of the people. Isaiah is depicted the city as a harlot and she is seen in her recklessness. The city is exposed to not being alone at all. She is with her customers. And Jeremiah’s eikhah is what we learned above. The city sits alone as a widow morning the loss with no one to console her.

In thinking of this theme of isolation and Tisha B’Av I go back to what I wrote last week on the thinking of Jonathan Haidt. This will clearly be a longer effort in my life of exploring Tzniut as a 7th Moral Foundation.  We translate this word Tzniut as privacy or modesty. But modesty has a certain element of shame connected to it. Clearly we see this shame on Tisha B’Av. But, that is not the point. The question I ask is can we cultivate a value around creating moments of connection and intimacy between people? Not everything needs or should be done in public. Instead of running in fear from social media, we need to curate experiences of privacy and deep human connection to fortify ourselves. In these tender moments of intimacy we might be alone, but there is no shame or humiliation. Tisha B’Av seems to be an object lesson in the devastation of publicly being revealed to be alone. This commemoration of isolation makes us realize the value of connecting the rest of the year.

In this exploration of Tzniut as a 7th Moral Foundation as a counterweight to the destructive potential of social media it makes sense to look at it through the prism of the midrash quoted above. What can we learn from these three eikhahs?

How do we cultivate experiences that support our security? When we use these free platforms we have to understand that we are the product being bought and sold. They are not interested in our safety or security. These companies are only interested in the value we provide them and their share holders.

How do we leave room for us to do teshuvah when we are recklessness? Once we put something online it is there for everyone and for all of time. We all make mistakes. The permanence of this public record makes it very hard to ever recover and repair from our misdeeds.

How do we make sure that we are not party to platforms that work to disgrace people? There is so much clickbait in the world. Things get “likes” because it hurts people. The anonymity of the internet makes us a threat to ourselves and others. How do we condition ourselves to not fall into that trap? ( See here the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza)

Indeed the questions are eikhah– how? how? how? There might be hope for us as a society if we show a little Tzniut. Choose to send one less tweet, post one less FB update, and sit alone to reflect for a moment on ending senseless hatred. The world will only be rebuilt when we invest in actually finding ways to meet people privately one-on-one and face-to-face. This is a lesson of Tisha B’Av. The isolation of the day is supposed to motivate us to make connections every other day of the year.


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