Moon Over Maui

A Jewish Mystical Journey through the Year

Joy Ebbs for the First Nine Days of Av

Written By: Jueli Garfinkle - Jul• 19•12

The new moon of Av should crest in the sky tonight. I’ve anticipated its arrival since last month’s full moon. I always do. Part of my inners start to rumble with the pending intensity of Av, which is split almost equally into two halves.

The month of Av first focuses on consciously walking through the narrow straights of constriction and sorrow. Then at the full moon, power shifts abruptly toward comfort, vitality, and love.

In particular, the first nine days of Av, are a period of mourning. This is a time to grieve historical and present day experiences of hatred, death, destruction, and loss, both personal and universal. Most of the catastrophes in Jewish history—including the destruction of the First and Second Temples in 586 BCE and 70 CE—are said to have taken place in the month of Av.

To be honest, I can’t pretend to be an expert on the Av moon cycle. Certainly not. In fact, until my son was born on Rosh Chodesh Av 5767/2007, I tried to entirely avoid the first half of the month. But I acknowledge Av’s rightful place in the calendar, and I must confess: I don’t enjoy the focus of Av’s waxing moon, but I do value its place within my experience.

The first nine days of Av are set aside in the Jewish calendar to mourn what typically is ignored or dormant within us. Stay in steady contact with your inhalations and exhalations as you allow suppressed emotions to arise within you. What do you feel?  How you are affected? What are you reminded of?

Are you lamenting poor decisions? Feeling devastated by grief or betrayal? Is your mom ill? Did your partner leave? Is national morality shocking? Are you racked with angst about one of your children? Is the state of world religion horrifying?  Politics depressing? Perhaps job loss or physical pain overshadows you.

“As the month of Av enters, we diminish our joy” (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:6). Traditional practices suggest not only petitioning the depths of darkness within you, but also to intentionally shrink your joy in day-to-day living. This includes eliminating from your days pleasurable activities that are not a necessity, such as music, parties, shaving, bathing (for relaxation), giving gifts, consuming meat and wine, and more.

Set the stage and allow yourself to feel the depths of your emotions. Make time to feel, write, share, and shed tears. The Babylonian Talmud states, “Even when the gate of prayer is locked, the gate of tears is open” (Bava Metzi’a 59A). Make a listening date with a friend who will compassionately hear your cry. For 15 or 20 minutes a day, write down words flowing from your unedited stream of consciousness with a focus on your deepest feelings of loss, sadness, hatred, and betrayal. Read sacred poetry and lamentations. Be sure to only do these exercises if you feel relatively safe and stable in your life, and typically are in a state of strong emotional health.

Make the most of these first nine days of Av, if you can. The depth of penetration you experience may untangle and start to heal raw emotions festering within you. Be compassionate and brave. Nothing lasts forever. The growing Av moon is a harbinger of comfort and love that arises in just two weeks time, at the full moon of Tu b’Av.

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