For one thing, it teaches us that our sadness is not for naught. We learn in our tradition, “those who sow in tears, reap in joy.” (Psalm 126:5) There is a connection between our emotional labor, and the growing pains that accompany it, and the growth and satisfaction that comes as a result. When we do the work of teshuva, or repentance for our sins, we can rejoice in renewed intimacy with God and our better selves. When we give thanks and acknowledge the sacrifice of others, we can offer fuller gratitude for our independence. Without reflection and repair of broken relationships, our joy will always be poorer and diminished. When we do the work of teshuva, the love we show for others and our God is all the more luminous and nourishing.
It also teaches us that there is always a way back. In contemporary secular culture, we are quick to shame and exile without any mechanism for return to the community. Judaism does not allow for permanent scarlet letters or banishment without end. Rather, the genius of religious faith is that there are not only mechanisms for punishment, but there is also always a path back to God and community. In this respect, secular society has a lot to learn from our communal religious past. Without hope for future communion, punishment remains nothing other than pain and cruelty. It is only when there is a path provided back to friendship, love, and joy, that punishment and pain can have educational value. Let us take that message with us as we move from the 9th of Av to the 15th of Av and prepare for the coming Days of Awe.