As a Maimonidean, I make no secret of the fact that I have no desire to resurrect a sacrificial cult. In this day and age, there are going to be few people who would spiritually benefit from the killing of animals. This does not mean that rebuilding the Temple has no value as a symbol of a spiritually renewed Jewish people nor does this mean we should not be sad on Tisha B'Av as we contemplate the fact that such renewal has not occurred this year. Every generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt it is like it is destroyed.
A reader recently asked me: "As a rationalist, what is the point of mourning? Instead of "crying over spilled milk", isn't a better use of our time to work on improving things?" This question gets at Zionism's fundamental critique of rabbinic Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism could cry over the Temple, wish for the Messiah and then do absolutely nothing for two-thousand years. Instead of attempting to restore Jewish power, the rabbis were content to live a Miss Havisham existence in the darkness of their study halls, brooding over the wrongs done to Jews as an excuse to never offer a positive program. I think there is an important distinction between a backward-looking mourning that uses mourning as an excuse not to get past itself and a forward-looking mourning that seeks to come to terms with something genuinely terrible happening precisely so that we can move forward. For this, I turn to Disney/Pixar's Inside Out.
Part of what is so impressive about Inside Out is that, like Lion King and Coco, it is one of Disney's few "conservative" films. The fundamental narrative of Disney is the main character being held back by their family and society and finding the courage to break away, be "true to themselves," and find happiness. There is even a trope in Disney where the characters sing about this precise dilemma. Think of Ariel breaking out into "Part of Your World" or Belle's "Provincial Life." If Inside Out stuck to the Disney script, Riley stealing from her parents to buy a bus ticket to run away back to Minnesota would be considered a good thing. Riley's primary duty is to herself to be happy. She would meet up with some funny hobo animal spirits (voiced by Eddie Murphy, Nathan Lane, and Billy Joel) who teach her to go her own way. Her parents would realize that it was wrong of them to move to San Francisco in order that the father could make more money. Instead, they would agree that Riley's happiness is more important and return to Minnesota so that by the time Riley's bus pulls up at her old house, her parents are there to greet her. I am sure this could have made for an entertaining movie and would have saved studio executives any sleepless nights trying to figure out how to make it work as a theme-park attraction.
What is really radical about Inside Out is that it is an apology for sadness. Joy wants Riley to be happy and she assumes that the best way to do that is to keep Sadness from infecting Riley. This makes logical sense. If happiness and sadness are opposites then the less sadness in Riley's life the happier she will be. This parallels the utilitarian dream to achieve the maximal preponderance of pleasure over pain. The problem is that Riley has real problems to deal with. The new house is a wreck, she is lonely and misses her old life. Joy is not able to change these facts. All that she can do is try to distract Riley, which only works for brief periods. The solution is to accept that Sadness has an important role to play that none of the other emotions can fulfill. Riley needs her moment to be openly sad so that she and her parents can be honest with the difficulties they are facing and do it together instead of slinking off to stew in their own heads.
It is important to note that Inside Out does not have a clear cut happy ending where the problems are solved. Instead, even after the truly poignant self-sacrifice of Riley's imaginary best friend, she is stuck in the difficult process of adjusting to living in a new city. But life moves on with new challenges and opportunities for joy.
Effective mourning benefits from strongly ritualized components. This accomplishes two things. First, it creates a space for other people to take part as they are able to recognize the motions of mourning and they can be given their particular parts to act out. Second, ritualized mourning has a set limit. There is going to be a time when, even though you can still be sad, you are expected to move on with your life.
Traditional Jewish mourning for the dead is a great example of this. Daily life does not prepare a person for the death of a loved one. How should one respond? There is no way to answer that question. In Judaism though, the moment a person dies, this detailed checklist kicks as to what their relatives should be doing over the next seven days. They sit shiva which demands certain moderate ascetic practices like tearing clothes even as it forbids extreme ones like cutting oneself. The community is brought in as people are supposed to visit and listen to the mourners talk about the deceased. Finally, mourning is supposed to end after a year. There is no playing Miss Havisham allowed.
Tisha B'Av is modeled after sitting shiva and it is our chance to mourn for Jewish History. This serves the purpose of not ignoring the real tragedies in our past. That being said, the purpose of mourning on Tisha B'Av is not to dwell in sadness for its own sake but to give it its place so that we can move forward. Parents know that it is frustrating when their children spill milk on the kitchen floor. One is allowed that sigh but then one needs to tell the kids that they need to own up to what they did and clean the mess they made.