It is not difficult in the way that it is supposed to be difficult. It is not that I am so overwhelmed by pain and grief that I sit in a kind of stupor, truly unhappy and saddened by our lot.
It is simply physically difficult. You are fasting, hungry and tired; you are crouched down on a cold floor trying to find a somewhat comfortable position in which to lean against a brick wall, which is impossible, this means that you stand up and squirm and sit down again on your stool or low chair and long for it to be chatzos so you can sit properly.
You try to pay attention to the kinnos but that, too, is difficult, because they are long and repetitive and many of them are simply lists of all the terrible things that have happened to us. Also, at least in my shul, they have speakers who talk about the kinnos before we actually get around to saying them. This means that I have to sit in this incredibly uncomfortable position, listen to a speech, try to keep up with everyone as they race through the Hebrew and simultaneously concentrate on the words, then begin this entire proccess all over again. It is not right of me and I admit that it is my own flaw, but after a time I simply wonder "How much longer?" and page through the machzor wondering how many more kinnos there are to say and how much longer davening will go on for. Because by that point, all I want is to be done, at which point I can go home and nurse my headache and perhaps go to sleep because I am feeling too sick to move.
It is not Tisha B'Av night that is difficult for me. Tisha B'Av night is filled with power. Megillas Eicha is haunting and beautiful. No, it is only the day.
So I have realized that it is best for me to admit that it is utterly impossible for me to concentrate upon every single kinnah and to feel pain based upon them. I simply cannot connect to the majority of them. I have realized over the years that there are particular kinnos to which I connect, but I have never really thought about why or even considered that there might be some common thread to them. This year, I was afforded an insight about myself by Yitz, who explained that I am a "story person." I had never really thought of it that way. It is true. I am a "story person." I understand the world through stories. And now, looking back on it, I am able to understand why these kinnot resonate with me, why I feel connected to them and why they move me to tears.
These are the Kinnot that truly move me:
- 21. The martyrdom of the ten great Torah sages
23. The brother and sister who were each sold as slaves, reunited because their masters desired to breed them together in order to create beautiful children, who spent the night weeping and bemoaning their fate and who died upon recognizing each other in the morning
34. The tale of Zecharia, cruelly murdered, and the boiling blood that will not be appeased
And then Eilee Tzion.
The similarity in kinnos 21, 23 and 34 is that they all tell stories. They are not simply lists, lengthy descriptions of the terrible events that have befallen us, events that I cannot even comprehend. These instead focus upon particular characters, particular individuals. These kinnos discuss stories that happened to particular people. I am most connected to the pain of an individual. It is difficult for me to imagine or understand the pain of an entire community, the suffering of the collective. But the pain of the individual stands out to me and haunts me; it is that pain that forces me to feel connected, that pain that I can understand.
Those kinnot are particularly beautiful. They are descriptive but they are also character-driven. We are horrified by the princess who finds a particular sage to be handsome and therefore requests that he be spared, only for the executioner to flay off his skin (granted, that is not in this version of the kinnah, but we know the story.) We are deeply disturbed by the intensely graphic but intensely visual (and I am a very visual person) images of death. We can imagine the terrible irony of the brother and sister placed within the same room, each weeping bitterly about their fate, only to discover that they have been reunited when dawn breaks and light touches their faces. And then, how horrible to discover that they had the whole night to have spoken and consoled one another, but instead they had taken refuge in their private griefs! They could not bear this and fell upon each others' necks, weeping, only to die.
And Zecharia! That bubbling blood that will not be appeased, that desires vengeance and nothing but vengeance, so similar in nature to the idea of Abel's blood calling out to God! I have always been fascinated by the idea of Nevuzaraddan testing the blood to identify it and finding that the Jews have lied to him, that it is human blood, not the blood of an animal, and then sacrificing them until finally he (and note the irony of this!) tells Zacharia to be satisfied. He, the butcher, he, the murderer, declares that there must be a limit! And this is much more powerful than it would have been had it been a Jew who declared the same...
These images are all brilliantly developed and very real; I can envision them totally, when I close my eyes, I am there. I can see myself at that arena, watching as these men are cruelly butchered; I am within that darkened room when the first brilliant rays of light fall upon the siblings' faces; I see Nevuzaraddan laying up corpse after corpse until finally he, yes he of all people, tells God that it is enough; "is it your intention to annihilate the remainder of the captivity?"
The plight of the individual presses upon me because I can identify with the individual, and from there I can extrapolate and apply that pain to the entire community. But I cannot connect with a simple list or flowery language, with mere categorization; none of this touches me. For me, the meaning of Tisha B'Av is bound up in the stories, these stories that are painted in jewel-colors and seared onto my mind.
As for Eilee Tzion...Eilee Tzion is an entirely different matter. The very melody haunts me. The melody is haunting, eerie and awesome at once. I cannot hear Eilee Tzion without crying; it hurts to listen to that song. For me, the song means pain.
"Wail, O Zion and her cities
like a woman suffering from birth travail,
and like a maiden girded in sackcloth
[lamenting] for the husband of her youth..."
Can you see that? I can. I see the woman screaming out in pain, the young maiden wearily walking through the streets, garbed in sackcloth, her eyes dull and glazed with the pain of loss and the inability to understand.
For me, Eilee Tzion is a true lament; it is the lament of all laments. The song is pain; it is pain that is sanctified and made holy, pain offered to God in order to force him to answer. The melody is beautiful in a very dark way. I don't think I can truly explain to you how it affects me, but it does; it is perhaps the most powerful part of the day for me.
So. What can I say? I am not a very good Jew. If I were, I would be able to connect to all the kinnos and I wouldn't get tired and I wouldn't concentrate upon the fact that I am hungry and these lists are neverending and the floor is very uncomfortable and I don't want to have to listen to another speech. But I do. So I serve as I can, and for me, that means paying particular attention and focusing upon the particular prayers that move me and cause me to feel. I think this is the best approach for me at this point in time. Perhaps one day I will even be able to find meanings in the other poems, but it is difficult for me...