Posts Tagged '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.

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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

All Alone Together- Reflections on the Lone Soldier and Tisha B’Av

About a month ago at the start of the Gaza conflict with Hamas I was in Israel for a conference on Israel Education. As part of the conference we had some meetings at the WZO offices on Har Herzl. At the end of the day found myself with about 30 minutes on my hands before my cousin Dubi was going to pick me up. So I decided it would be a good time to go visit Mike Levin’s grave. Mike was a Philly boy turned Chayal Bodeda lone soldier in the Israeli army. Mike was the only American born Israeli soldier who died in the Second Lebanon War.  Mike was also a camper of mine from Camp Ramah in the Poconos. At the bottom of his grave the stone read, ” AN AMERICAN OLEH [immigrant] WHOSE LOVE OF G-D AND ISRAEL IS ETERNAL”. As you can see in this picture here his grave is adorned  by his many visitors who connect to Mike’s love.

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While I was there paying my tribute to Mike and decided to take a picture of the sign indicated the section he was buried in so I could find it easier in the future (Area Deled Section 6). In so doing I noticed the empty plots near at hand. At the time it seemed sad to think that Israel needs to plan ahead for future casualties of those who would die in defense of the State. It is depressing to realize that as long as there are Jews in the world there will be antisemitism and we will need heroes to protect us.

 

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I think about Mike Levin every year on Tisha B’Av. He was most certainly one of those heroes. Now looking back at this picture I am filled with horror realizing just how many people have died this month.  How many people are now in Har Herzl?

Among them have been a number of other lone soldiers. One of these lone soldiers was Max Steinberg from Los Angeles who volunteered in the Israel Defense Forces. He was killed along with 12 other soldiers in the Gaza Strip, amidst an Israeli operation to quell rocket fire and destroy underground smuggling tunnels.  An estimated 30,000 people attended his funeral at Har Herzl  on July 23.  I cannot imagine more than a few actually knew Max. Why did so many people show up?

To some degree I think the answer to this is found at the beginning of the book of Lamentations which we read on Tisha B’Av. There we read:

How does the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! She weeps sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks; she has none to comfort her among all her lovers; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies. ( Eichah 1:1-2)

Hamas clearly lost the military war, but I am not sure their goal was ever to win. Their goal seemed to be to kill Jews or get Jews to kill Palestinians.  We have yet to see the full extent of damage and harm inflicted on their  people. No one else stepped up to neutralize Hamas and liberate the Palestinian people. Israel was alone. For these demented terrorists this as a victory. In terms of the media Hamas seems to have done very well. Israel is alone and there are none among all of the nations to comfort her . Zion is the city that sits in solitary יָשְׁבָה בָדָד- – yashvah badad. Badad is the same word as Chayal Boded– a lone soldier. The nation mourns the loss of the  Chayal Boded because together we are a nation that has experienced isolation throughout history. We are all alone together. May the memories all of our heroes be for a blessing.

Eicha: Questions to Consider

This coming week on Tisha B’Av we will commemorate the destruction of the Temple. Unfortunately this year it will be easy to connect to this holiday. Between the senseless missiles and attacks coming at Israel and the devastation of Gaza  it is all too easy to conjure up the images of destruction.  Glued to the news and Red Alert we all have these images of destruction and the sound of the sirens locked in our heads. When we finally achieve a lasting cease-fire we will have many questions to answer. Similarly, Lamentations is full of questions as to how this destruction came to be. There we read:

How has the Lord covered with a cloud the daughter of Zion in His anger! God has cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and has not remembered God’s footstool in the day of God’s anger. ( Eicha 2:1)

Between the senseless violence and hatred from Hamas, their desire to kill Israeli soldiers and citizens alike, their disregard for their own people, the rest of the Arab world being eager to let their children die in the name of their own media efforts against the Jewish State, the media giving legitimacy to the heinous inhumanity of Hamas, and the reemergence of Antisemitism in Europe, there is a lot of cause for anger.  It is easy to give into this self-righteous and all-consuming feelings of divine anger. We need to defend our own, but when this is all over we will need to wage peace. We need to withstand the temptation of acting out of anger.

This Shabbat we read the Haftarah of Hazon which describes the vision of the destruction of Tisha B’Av. In the Haftarah we read:

Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes, cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. ( Isaiah 1:16-17)

The only way out of this, that I can see, is that the Israelis and Palestinians have hope. We might be angry, but the Palestinians need to know that we are better for their future than Hamas. In the wake of the conflict in Gaza and in light of Tisha B’Av, we have a lot of questions to answer. There is no doubt that the Arab world also has many questions to deal with as well. Here is one: Where is the voice of the Arab moderates?

 

Too Soon

In the Gemara we read:

Rabbis  Gamliel, Elazar ben Azariah, Yehoshua, and Akiva were once walking along the road when they heard a great cry of joy coming from the Roman camp 120 miles away. They all cried and Rabbi Akiva laughed. They asked him, “Why are you laughing?” Rabbi Akiva responded, “And you, why are you crying?” The answered saying, “These heathens who bow down to idols, they sit safely and comfortably, and as for us, the house of God is burnt; should we not cry?” Rabbi Akiva said, “For that reason I am laughing. If for those that go against God’s will it is so, how much more so for those that abide by God’s will.”

On another occasion they went up to Jerusalem. When they got to Mount Scopus they tore their clothes and when they got to Mount Moriah, they saw a fox coming out of the Holy of Holies. They all cried, and Rabbi Akiva laughed. They asked him, “Why are you laughing?” He responded, “Why are you crying?” They said, “Foxes are now walking in the place about which it says, ‘the stranger that comes close shall die’ (Numbers 1:51), shall we not cry?” “For that reason I am laughing,” he ( Rabbi Akiva) said. “There is a verse that states, ‘I brought faithful witnesses, Uriah the Cohen, and Zechariah ben Berachiyah’ (Yeshayahu 8:2). What is the connection between Uriah and Zechariah? Uriah lived during the first Temple and Zechariah during the second, but the verse implies that the prophecy of Zechariah is dependent on the prophecy of Uriah. Uriah says, ‘Because of you, Zion will be plowed over like a field’ (Michah 3:12). Zechariah says, ‘Once again old men and women will sit in the streets of Jerusalem’ (Zechariah 8:4). Until the prophecy of Uriah was fulfilled, I was worried that the prophecy of Zechariah will never happen. Now that the prophecy of Uriah has been fulfilled it is certain that the prophecy of Zechariah will surely be.” They said to him, “Akiva, you have comforted us, Akiva, you have comforted us” (Makkot 24a-24b).

Quoted in the name of Carol Burnett, Steve Allen, Lenny Bruce, and Woody Allen, we all know that , “comedy is tragedy plus time”. Rabbi Akiva had the vision to see the comedy of the tragedy before his peers. You can almost hear Rabbis  Gamliel, Elazar ben Azariah, and Yehoshua saying, ” Too Soon”.

This is Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat preceding Tisha B’Av during which we will have the vision of our future destruction. We should all be blessed to have a Rabbi Akiva in our lives. He had a capacity to foresee a time in the future when we will be able to look back at the worst tragedy and laugh. Rabbi Akiva teaches us that laughing does not make it light and surely is not about forgetting. Life is too short. I enjoy laughing over crying any day.

– Have a meaningful Fast


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