Posts Tagged 'Tisha B’Av'

Afflicted Women: ReReading Lamentations Today as a Man

On Tisha B’Av we remember the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. It is a time of mourning for our exile from our political, spiritual, and ancestral homeland. On Tisha B’Av we spend a day collectively reflecting on the plight of our ancestors—who suffered at the hands of their oppressors. But only spending time reconnecting with our own long history of persecution, we are missing a profound lesson of the day. We also reconnect to these memories so that we can empathize with others who are experiencing pain and suffering. 
To these ends we will sit on Saturday night and Sunday morning and read Lamentations. There we will read:
Our fathers sinned and are no more; And we must bear their guilt.
Slaves are ruling over us, With none to rescue us from them.
We get our bread at the peril of our lives, Because of the sword of the wilderness.
Our skin glows like an oven, With the fever of famine.
They have afflicted women in Zion, Maidens in the towns of Judah. ( Lamentations 5:7-11)
In this time of darkness, we experienced pain, suffering, and degradation. In his explanation of “violated women in Zion” the Ibn Ezra says, “all sex that is against her will is called ‘affliction.'” It seems that ultimate expression of declaring the line between “us” and “them” is that they raped our daughters, sisters, mothers, and wives. While sex aught to be an expression of intimacy, love, and closeness, here it is violent, a means of subjugation and objectification, and represents a deep division.
I have been thinking about this the last two weeks as we have seen the unfolding of the case Israeli teenagers falsely accused of rape being released from a Cypriot jail returning to a heroes welcome back at home. In her compelling analysis of this case Chen Sror Artzi wrote:
But the culture of rape, which has been around for millennia, does not skip anyone. The story of what happened in Cyprus is just a distilled version of a rotten culture, in which consent is deemed to be the yardstick, not desire or active willingness. (The Lesson We Should All Learn from the Cyprus Affair, Ynet)
Artzi is correct, that this rape culture has existed long before it was even reported here in Lamentations. One of the challenges is our black and white thinking. Even if it was consensual and not rape, it does not mean that these teens were right.  It is not just two options of right or wrong. And we need to stop just thinking about us and them.
How can we immerse ourselves in Lamentations and Tisha B’Av and not look deep inside and recognize that our boys did wrong? While it was not rape, what they did was clearly not love or an expression of closeness. Sharing that video was clear objectification. Our giving them a heroes welcome  represented a deep division.  Surely this young degraded British woman did something wrong by accusing them of rape, but she too is someone’s  daughter or sister. She was not raped, but she was surely afflicted. She too demands our empathy.
As a man, father of daughters and sons, husband, son, and human being I feel compelled to do more. But what can I do?

As men, it’s time to say clearly that we do not condone any sex — or any other behavior — that humiliates women, whether it’s consensual or not. As men, it’s time to teach our boys that a higher moral law must guide our conduct. That we are watching. As a community of men, we must take full responsibility for individual acts of violence against women and for a culture that systemically abuses and takes advantage of women.

Consensual. Irrelevant. A loophole. When it comes to our behavior as men, what another might accept — or what we might get away with in secret or under the law — does not absolve participation. It’s a short slide down a moral ladder from gang sexual humiliation of a woman to becoming the next Jeffery Epstein.

Where are the men? Where are the men who — at the airport — would have clopped those boys on the head and told them that they are a moral disgrace and a disappointment to true masculinity? Where are the men who stand for integrity and accountability, the men who would have required each of these boys to do acts of community service and to learn about healthy sexuality?

The global ManKind Project has launched a campaign in response to the #MeToo movement called #IamResponsible. ( Times of Israel)

As a man reading Lamentations I must wrestle with these “sins of the father”. We do not need to be enslaved by toxic masculinity. If we want to see change we must commit to breaking this chain afflicting all women in our society. Solovy offers us the ManKind Project pledge:

As men, we are committed to individual and collective evolution, we take responsibility for creating the society we want to live in and share for the generations to come. We are responsible for the GOLD and the SHADOW of masculinity, for the gentleness, fierce caring, and protection, AND for the abuse, violence, and domination. We are responsible as creators and as role models. We are responsible as victims and as perpetrators. We recognize the pervasive systemic factors that promote abuse of power and teach harmful gender roles to both boys and girls.

This year when reading Lamentations I will have to interpret it anew in the context of this Cyprus Affair, Jeffery Epstein case, and the larger #Metoo movement. There is nothing to celebrate this Tisha B’Av. When I think about the “women in Zion, Maidens in the towns of Judah” and all women who have been afflicted I will meditate on the words of Rabbi A.J. Heschel when he said, “In a free society, some are guilty; all are responsible.” 

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The Kind of Story We Need Right Now: Love Without Cause

This year we will observe Tisha B’Av this Saturday night and Sunday. On Tisha B’Av we remember the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. It is a time of mourning for our exile from our political, spiritual, and ancestral homeland. On Tisha B’Av we spend a day collectively reflecting on the plight of our ancestors—now refugees who were forced to migrate. But only spending time reconnecting with our own long history of persecution, we are missing a profound lesson of the day. We also reconnect to these memories so that we can empathize with others who are experiencing pain and suffering. In the words of Dr.Brené Brown, “Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable choice. In order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.”

Maybe if we took some time to better understand why the Temples were destroyed we would empathize with other people who are currently suffering. While,the Rabbis provide us with a number of different rationales, the most famous of reasons for our destruction and exile was Sinat Chinam, hatred without cause. In the Talmud we learn:

But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, observing the laws, and giving tzedakah? Because therein prevailed Sinat Chinam,hatred without cause. That teaches you that senseless hatred is considered as of even gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together (Yoma 9b)

This is making a big claim as to the severity of Sinat Chinam, but what is hatred without cause? It seems to be groundless animosity brought on without provocation. I would not say that hatred as a response to something with a rationale is good, but at least in that situation there is a pathway to reconciliation. The challenge of Sinat Chinam is that it origin seems to be without cause and so it the recovery.

In many ways the paradigm of Sinat Chinam is found in the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. There in the Talmud we learn:

Jerusalem was destroyed on account of Kamtza and bar Kamtza. This is as there was a certain man whose friend was named Kamtza and whose enemy was named bar Kamtza. He once made a large feast and said to his servant: Go bring me my friend Kamtza. The servant went and mistakenly brought him his enemy bar Kamtza. The man who was hosting the feast came and found bar Kamtza sitting at the feast. The host said to bar Kamtza. That man is the enemy [ba’al devava] of that man, that is, you are my enemy. What then do you want here? Arise and leave. Bar Kamtza said to him: Since I have already come, let me stay and I will give you money for whatever I eat and drink. Just do not embarrass me by sending me out.The host said to him: No, you must leave. Bar Kamtza said to him: I will give you money for half of the feast; just do not send me away. The host said to him: No, you must leave. Bar Kamtza then said to him: I will give you money for the entire feast; just let me stay. The host said to him: No, you must leave. Finally, the host took bar Kamtza by his hand, stood him up, and took him out.After having been cast out from the feast, bar Kamtza said to himself: Since the Sages were sitting there and did not protest the actions of the host, although they saw how he humiliated me, learn from it that they were content with what he did. I will therefore go and inform [eikhul kurtza] against them to the king. He went and said to the emperor: The Jews have rebelled against you. The emperor said to him: Who says that this is the case? Bar Kamtza said to him: Go and test them; send them an offering to be brought in honor of the government, and see whether they will sacrifice it. (Gittin 55b- 56a)

Here is a great Bim Bam take on this classic story of hatred without cause.

For no obvious reason the host would not allow Bar Kamtza to stay at the party. And in response to this hatred without cause bar Kamtza helped set into motion the destruction of the Temple. What could have happened if bar Kamtza was allowed to stay at the party? Nothing bad and that is for sure.

Juxtaposed this story of someone not being allowed to show up at party I wanted to share with you a clip from Seth Meyers in a segment he calls, “The King of Story we Need Right Now.” This is an amazing story:

While bar Kamtza was told to leave the party, this guy showed up and showed up in a big way for a complete stranger. This is a story of love with no cause.  I share this with you because this is truly a story we need right now.

Unlike any time in recent history, we are living in a world of hatred without cause. We are seeing a tremendous spike in anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism, misogyny, incitement, acts of hatred, and a general lack of civility like no other time in recent American history. Right now, we are still reeling from the most recent wave of hate-fueled gun violence. It is especially clear that the toxic combination of hateful rhetoric and easily available weapons present a national crisis. Many of these shootings were influenced by white supremacist ideology, the aim of which is to annihilate “others”; in this case, immigrants and communities of color (or “invaders” as the El Paso perpetrator said). Hateful supremacist doctrine is an affront to us as Jews, who deeply empathize with the experience of being “othered.”

In the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” In this era of alternative-facts it seems that there is no real cause for any of this hatred. Before we react we need to ensure that we know the facts and that we act with due cause. Anything else runs the risk of being divisive and destructive. And since it has no cause it is not clear how we might address what happened and repair what gets broken. In the mean time it would never hurt for all of us to share our love without cause.

As a companion to the resource of text and discussion to reflect on the immigrant experience in the spirit of the Three Weeks in the context of today’s events me and my team wanted to share other modalities to help people explore issues of xenophobia and senseless hatred on Tisha B’Av.

Seen This One Before: The Border Crisis, the Three Weeks, and My Father

Tomorrow I will headed down to Philadelphia for my father’s unveiling. He passed away 11 months ago and I miss him. My missing him is not just the love of a son to his father. I also miss his expertise from a lifetime of experience as a highly regarded immigration lawyer. I have been thinking how livid my father would be if he was alive to see this administration’s callus expression of xenophobia. At this moment we are deep in the crises of ICE rounding people up, separating families, intentional administrative slow down, and the horrifying abuse at the detention centers. We could use my father’s wisdom and insight at this time.

When he passed away at 83 he was still working. In the week’s that followed my brother Daniel nobly went down to shut down his practice and pack up his office. There he found some interesting piece of art. One of pieces he found was this framed cartoon from 1946:

 

It is sad to say, but we have seen this before. How might we learn from history to ensure that we do better in the future than we have done in the past?

In my work with Jewish camps I have been thinking how we might help them prepare their camp programming in the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av. The refugee crisis is a continually evolving situation, and we recommend reading the most up-to-date information on detention and abuse of immigrants at the US border before this discussion. To supplement that information and provide a Jewish lens to help facilitate discussions around the topic, we offered camp the resources and discussion questions in this attached resource to reflect on today’s events in the spirit of the Three Weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av, Check out: Within the Borders: A Text Study & Discussion Guide on the Border Crisis

We have seen this before. We know better. Now, lets make it better.  Miss you Dad. 

Check it out on the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s resource bank :

BORDER CRISIS DISCUSSION GUIDE FOR TISHA B’AV

 

The Depths of Tisha B’Av

On Saturday night we will start the observation of Tisha B’Av, commemorating many other calamities that have befallen our people throughout history including the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. For thousands of years prior to 1948 the Temples represented the seat of the autonomous Jewish state. The Sages famously asked why were the Temples destroyed? The logical answer would have been that it met the needs of our oppressors subduing and conquering our ancestors, but our Rabbis went in another direction. In the Talmud we learn:

Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three evils in it: idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed . . . But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that during the time it stood people occupied themselves with Torah, with observance of precepts, and with the practice of charity? Because during the time it stood, sinat chinam, baseless hatred, prevailed. This is to teach you that baseless hatred is deemed as grave as all the three sins of idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed together. (Yoma 9b)

While the rites of the Temple and what it signified for our people seem very distant and irrelevant to modern life, strangely the issues of baseless hatred discussed in Tisha B’Av seem rather prescient to our current social and political environment.

Given our long history of struggling with issues of  baseless hatred, what might Jewish thought offer us today? To this I share the oft quoted teaching of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine. He wrote:

The depth of the evil and its greatness of its roots are found in the depth of the good, we find there that the depth of the hatred is commensurate to the depths of love. If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love.(Orot HaKodesh vol. 3, p. 324)

Our society in embroiled in a very dark chapter of baseless hatred, what does it mean that we need to face this with the depths of baseless love? Like many millions of people around the world I could not stop reading and watching the emergent story of rescue of the Thai soccer team and their coach.  They were literally stuck a mile underground and three miles through a flooded cave. People from around the world rushed to put themselves at risk in order to save these people who they never met. I think that the truth of Rav Kook’s comments comes from the literal meaning of his figurative flourish of the word “depth”. The measure of the communities we build are how we create environments where people regularly dig in deep, give of themselves, and share their baseless love with people the do not even know. We clearly have a lot of work to do. On this Tisha B’Av we need to reflect on how we need to invest in building  less walls and more communities.

Image result for new yorker cartoon thai rescue

Authentic Return

We find ourselves in the drive toward Tisha b’Av. Liturgically that translates into a series of sad Haftarot. The haftorah we read for Matot Masai, this week’s Torah portion, is full of Jeremiah’s condemnation of the Israelites for being backsliders. It ends on an encouraging note, assuring the people that if they return to God with sincerity, they will be restored to their full glory. There we read:

If you return, O Israel, says the Lord, to Me, you shall return, and if you remove your detestable things from My Presence, you shall not wander. And you will swear, “As the Lord lives,” in truth and in justice and in righteousness, nations will bless themselves with him and boast about him. ( Jeremiah 4:1-2)

What is the metric for sincere return? You could assume that God would know, but how would an individual let a lone the nation know if they had experienced authentic redemption?

This line of questioning reminded me of something I had learned in Rambam’s Mishnah Torah with my my son recently. In a discussion of cultivated good character Rambam writes:

… he shall not be one thing with his mouth and another with his heart; but his inner and outer being must be the same, for the subject of the heart is the matter of the mouth… But man must be of true lip, steadfast spirit, and pure heart, free from all travail and clamor. ( Sefer De’ot 2:6)

If nothing else Rambam provides a way of measuring when something is inauthentic. If the insides are not like the outsides it is not authentic.  There is no doubt that our current state of representing ourselves online and in social media makes this increasing difficult. There is just so much sizzle and so little steak in how we see others and how we see ourselves. It is so difficult to allow ourselves to show up, let alone “return”. Each of us and all of us should strive to return to an authentic state of being true lipped, having a steadfast spirit, and being pure of heart.

-See more on Authenticity in a post on Ugly Delicious

Tisha B’Av: Fast for Feast

I recently reconnected with near and dear friend of mine Rabbi Marc Gitler. Rabbi Marc and I share a unique bond of having spent prolonged periods living in Minsk, Belarus. When we were talking Rabbi Marc shared a great Torah with me and seeing that it is connected with Tisha B’Av I wanted to share it with you.  He wrote:

Mar Zutra in Mesechet Brachot states: אגרא דתעניתא – צדקתא the merit of a fast day lies not in the fasting, but in the charity dispensed. Rashi explains that towards the end of the fast day a person should seek out poor individuals and give them tzedakah. Presumably, without the donated dollars, the poor person would have no food to break his or her fast. Thus a person is rewarded for the charity.

Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, the Maharsha, raises a question about the statement. Jewish tradition doesn’t allow one to receive a tangible benefit from the performance of a mitzvah, yet on fast days a faster benefits in that he/she saved money that he would have otherwise spent on food. The Maharsha, answering his own question, recommends “calculating the money saved by fasting and giving the money to charity.”

The Maharsha’s idea is simple, yet extraordinary. Fast days are not intended as days to save money. They are opportunities for personal spiritual growth and communal connections, especially with those in need. By following the Maharsha’s idea with a minimal 10,18,25, or 36 dollar contribution to tzedakah, you have the opportunity to elevate your fast day, as well as provide much needed food to those in need.

I contributed and I would urge you to do the same. Have a meaningful fast. Here is the link:  http://www.fastforfeast.org

Shabbat Growth Mindset

Shabbat Nachamu – the Shabbat of Comforting  takes its name from the haftarah from Isaiah ( 40:1-26) that speaks of “comforting” the Jewish people for their suffering. There we read, “Comfort you, comfort you My people, said your God.” ( Isaiah 40:1) This haftarah is the first of seven haftarot of consolation leading up to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. It occurs on the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av. It is understood to be the start the national healing process. Like no time in recent history we really need this Nechemta- comfort.  But with such suffering now in the world how might we make that shift to comfort?

Recently I have been reading  Dr. Carol Dweck‘s Mindset. It is a wonderful book in which she uses her research in psychology to outlines two typological mindsets. Mindsets are beliefs  about yourself and your most basic qualities. Are these qualities simply fixed traits, carved in stone and that’s that or are they things you can cultivate throughout your life? People with a Fixed Mindset believe that their traits are just given. People with a Growth Mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Below you can see a great graphic explanation of these two mindsets. Dr. Dweck argues that having a Growth Mindset is the secret to being successful in everything including sports, parenting, business, school, teaching, coaching, and relationships.

As a nation if we had a Fixed Mindset and we experienced the set back of Tisha B’Av or the current attacks by Hamas in Gaza we would have just given up and been done. We would not have lasted as we have throughout history. But instead, we choose a Growth Mindset. With Shabbat Nachamu we are invited to work and developing our relationships with each other, the world, and God.

I was thinking about this when listening to John Newman ‘s song, “Love Me Again”. In this song he is trying to resolve the nature of a relationship in his life. Will the object of his affection love him again? The song goes:

Now I’m rising from the ground
Rising up to you
Filled with all the strength I found
There’s nothing I can’t do!

I think it is worth listening too.

If we have a Growth Mindset and we are trying to answer John Newman’s question after Tisha B’Av the answer has to be that there’s nothing we can’t do. With Shabbat Nachamu is seems that God is willing to love us again. And if we work on it,  in seven weeks we will be back in God’s good graces. When it comes to how we relate to each other, our neighbors, our friends, and  even our enemies there is much to do.  I hope we will recover a Growth Mindset regarding this crisis in the Middle East. It is time to repair,  prepare, and grow. With the right Mindset there is nothing we can’t do.

 

Another blog post on Mindset


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