Friday, August 8, 2008

Vihi Noam Nishbat...when Shabbat and Tisha B'av mourn

Every Saturday night, especially at camp, Havdalah is a very special time as we mark the conclusion of Shabbat through song and senses. Here at Ramah Nyack, we stand on the migrash (the central field) in a circle, surrounding a smaller circle containing the edah (division) designated to lead havdalah that week. Both the preliminary verses and b'rachot are done in song, and it's conclusion is marked by a sea of hugs, after which Amy, our director, wishes those present a shavua tov, and she and Mark, our business manager, make the relevant announcements.
This coming shabbat, none of these joyous images will occur (despite what I'm sure will be a lovely shabbat), as a result of it leading directly into Tisha B'av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. On one hand, public mourning is forbidden on Shabbat, which means that the consumption of meat and wine are permitted, as well as joyous singing during tefillot and meals. Yet, Tisha b'Av does inject itself into our shabbat experience, in the singing of L'cha Dodi to the mournful tune of Eli Tziyon, and the chanting of parts of the Torah and haftarah reading which are chanted to the melody of Eicha. As well, since Tisha b'av is a twenty five hour fast like Yom Kippur, it actually begins about fourty five minutes prior to the conclusion of shabbat.
But what happens to our beloved havdalah? The blessing over the flame is recited as we prepare to read the book of Eicha by candlelight, just like other years. While the havdalah candle usually represents the gift of fire to Adam, which the midrash says was given on Motzaei Shabbat, this week it also reminds of how fire can destroy. Not only did it destroy both Temples in Jerusalem, but throughout Jewish history, including burnings at stake during the inquisition and the tragedy of the shoah.
Besides for this small vestige of our normal ceremony, the liturgy causes us to quickly forget that Shabbat has just left us. In addition to the omission of havdalah, we do not recite the verses of Vihi Noam (Psalms 90:17 and 91), since they ask God to bless the work of our hands, thought to have originally referred to the Mishkan (tabernacle) when spoke by Moses. Instead, in the Ashkenazi tradition, a piyut (poem) called Vihi Noam Nishbat (Vihi Noam ('may our works be pleasant') is quieted), which instead describes the the unleashing of God's anger at his people.

Twenty-four hours later, a glimpse of havdalah returns. As we conclude the Arvit service that ends Tisha B'av, we recite the truncated form of havdalah as is recited at the conclusion of festivals on weekdays, containing just the b'racha over wine and the Hamavdil b'racha. Although this havdalah is distinct from that done at the end of a normal shabbat, it serves its own unique purpose. On Tisha B'av, we have spent a day mourning the saddest events in our history, including through the medium of kinot which expresses God's rejection of the Jewish people. The short havdalah blessing on Sunday night, with its praise for God "who distinguishes between holy and profane, light and darkness" reminds us that despite the destruction we have mourned, the Jewish people have a purpose to be a light unto the nations and bring holiness into the world. The sweetness of the wine, despite lacking the spices or singing of the usual havdalah reminds us of the light that Shabbat can bring to our week and the tragedy we have mourned, especially the coming shabbat known as shabbat nachamu, the shabbat of consolation.

May we all find comfort from the tragedies we mourn on Tisha B'av, from ancient times to our own day.

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