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Forms of Mourning: Sackcloth & Ashes I: Lost Opportunities

When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.  But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:1-3).”


There are many forms of mourning in the Bible; fasting, crying, wailing/Misped, sackcloth and ashes, and, not mentioned in these verses, Kinah, or, lamentation. I intend to post a series of practical exercises for Tisha B’Av based on these different forms of mourning. We will now begin Sackcloth and Ashes:

“The word of God that came to Joel son of Pethuel.

Hear this, you elders; listen, all who live in the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your forefathers?

Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.

What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten.

Wake up, you drunkards, and weep! Wail, all you drinkers of wine; wail because of the new wine, for it has been snatched from your lips.

A nation has invaded my land, powerful and without number; it has the teeth of a lion, the fangs of a lioness. It has laid waste my vines and ruined my fig trees. It has stripped off their bark and thrown it away, leaving their branches white. Mourn like a maiden in sackcloth grieving for the husband of her youth (Joel 1:1-8).”

The maiden, literally a virgin, describes a woman who was engaged to be married, but her intended was lost or died. She was looking forward to a life of happiness and security, but she is left with nothing, no clothes, only sackcloth (Rabbi Baruch Epstein).

This is the sackcloth that expresses lost opportunities, lost dreams, lost hopes, and lost lives. It is a sense of having nothing other than our sadness. This is the sackcloth of Tisha B’Av, when we sit on the floor, lights dimmed, hungry and thirsty, having nothing. This is Tisha B’Av sackcloth of recalling our lost hopes and dreams. The sackcloth of wasted opportunities. All lost because we do not have the Beit Hamikdash.

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