Posts Tagged 'Tisha B’Av'

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.


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.



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

Restoring, Rebuilding,and Reconnecting

Recently I found myself thinking about the opening lines of Lamentations. There we read:
1 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! 2 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. ( Lamentations 1:1-2)
This is a vivid depiction of Jerusalem sitting in isolation with no one to comfort her. I know it is not Tisha B’Av. So, why am reading Lamentations?
Well I clearly have destruction on my mind. We have learned about the destruction of Hurricane Sandy from watching or reading the news media, talking to friends or relatives who have been effected, or from personal experience. In addition to all of this I have seen this unfold from the perspective of the synagogues.  My wife, Cantor Adina Frydman, is the head of  SYNERGY: UJA-Federation and Synagogues Together. She has been doing amazing work since the Hurricane working with synagogues. To ones that were not effected by the storm, synagogues like our own have served as amazing community centers giving relief and solace to community members. One exemplar of this has been Temple Beth Elohim in Park Slope which has been doing amazing relief work.In addition to this, there are around 50 synagogues which have been severely damaged or destroyed.
Last week Adina went to visit a bunch of these synagogues. She returned to share with me the horrible images. Here is a picture of one synagogue that was trying to dry out six Sifrei Torah  after a 14 foot wake went through their sanctuary.

The first thing she said to me when she got home was, “There really aught to be a blessing you can say for this.” And  there is one. It is the same blessing that you say when you hear that someone has died. We say, ” Baruch Dayan Emet -Blessed be the Judge of truth”.

And while Sandy has been a story laden with destruction, it has also been one of communities and the community as a whole coming together to rebuild. So what is the blessing we hope to say when we see a rebuilt synagogue? In the Talmud we read:

Our Rabbis taught: On seeing the houses of Israel, when inhabited one says: Blessed be God maziv gevul almana- who sets the boundary of the widow; when uninhabited, Blessed be the judge of truth. ( Berachot 58B)
What widow are we talking about? The widow from Lamentations is  the Temple and Jerusalem. And we are supposed to see our synagogue as a Mikdash Me’at– a small Temple. As Rashi explains it is written “as a widow”, not  a real widow, but as a woman whose husband’s has left her but intends to come back. When we see it restored we see that the long-lost husband has finally returned. We have a lot of urgent needs to meet. Eventually we will help these synagogues be rebuilt. We all need to do our part. One way is to contribute to UJA Federation of New York.
May we all be blessed to be restored, rebuilt, and reconnected with the ones we love.

Feeling Faint on Tisha B’Av

As we sat last night to read Eicha again it is impossible to get that pathetic voice out of my head. When I stop to think about it, Eicha has all of the neuroses of Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld with all of the self-deprecation and without any of the humor. If Woody Allen is right, that comedy is tragedy plus time, when it comes to Tisha B’Av thousands of years still seems too soon. Instead of assuming that all of these tragedies befell our people due to our  being in the wrong geopolitical place at the wrong time, we attribute it to some divine scheme of reward and punishment. The voice of Eicha ensures that we do not let it go or it blame it away.

A number of years ago I found myself listening to Faint by Linkin Park. In the spirit of the day I encourage you to listen to the lyrics of the song. I think it adds an interesting  twist to that voice of Eicha and a modern spin on Tisha B’Av. As absurd as it sounds ( pun intended), this song has helped me reframe many years of theological struggling.

Eicha starts out, “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!” ( Eicha 1:1) We too are supposed to feel a little bit of loneliness a little bit of disregard. We have the right to have a handful of complaints. But, can we help the fact that everyone can see these scars? Tisha B’Av is a day when our divine punishments are in full view.

We have grown to be  comfortable being ourselves with all of our scars, but ultimately what we really want is God’s attention. Tisha B’Av at its core is our dealing with Hester Panim, the temporary Eclipse of God. There are times when God is inexplicably absent from history. As we read: “I will surely hide My face on that day”( Deuteronomy 31:18)

Here is where I find the words and the anger of Linkin Park so liberating. As they sing:

So I let go, watching you, turn your back like you always do
Face away and pretend that I’m not
But I’ll be here ’cause you’re all that I got
I can’t feel the way I did before. Don’t turn your back on me. I won’t be ignored. Time won’t heal this damage anymore. Don’t turn your back on me. I won’t be ignored

Amidst all the screaming, I find it redeeming to find a new voice. Yes, we are hurt, but we are not pathetic. We cannot control the experience of pain, but we can transform the experience of suffering. We are not just taking it. We can demand that we will not be ignored.


The Fields of Av

In Devarim, this week’s Torah portion, we continue with  a recurring theme of the book of Numbers.  There we read:

26 Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God; 27 and you murmured in your tents, and said: Because the Lord hated us, God has brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. ( Deuteronomy 1:26-27)

There is nothing new, the Israelites are complaining. On this Rashi asks how the removal from Egypt could be understood as an expression of hatred. There we read:

It can be compared to a king of flesh and blood who had two sons  and two fields. One of these fields was easy to irrigate and other one was solely dependent on rain water. To the one whom  he loves he gives the field that is easy to irrigate and to the one whom he hates he gives the field which is dependent on rain. The land of Egypt is well irrigated because the Nile rises and waters the fields and the Land of Canaan is one that depends on rain. God took us out of Egypt to give us the Land of Canaan ( Rashi on Deuteronomy 1:27)

The Israelites experienced the exodus from Egypt as its own exile. This echoes the choice that Avraham gave his cousin Lot. There we read:

9 Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself, I pray of you, from me; if you will take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.’ 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of the Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as you go unto Zoar. 11 So Lot chose him all the plain of the Jordan; and Lot journeyed east; and they separated themselves the one from the other.  (Genesis 13:9-11)

Just like Lot before them the Israelites wanted the choice Egyptian style land. In their wandering in the desert they felt dispossessed of the opulence of the land of Egypt. And according to Rashi they felt relegated from the role of the chosen to hated son.

Parshat Devarim is always read the Shabbat Before Tisha B’Av. This is the yearly commemoration of some of the worst tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history. If we were to ever feel hated, it would be on Tisha B’Av.This is interesting in the larger context of the flow of the Jewish Calender. This month of Av comes right before Elul which leads into Tishrei. While we are judged by the divine King in Tishrei, in Elul we have a different imagination of the King.

The Baal ShemTov called the days of Elul the days when the King is in the field. To gain an audience with the King during Tishrei we must go through a lengthy procedure. We must travel to the capital city, arrange an appointment, and then get permission to enter the palace. And then even when permission is granted is may be days or weeks before we are finally allowed to enter. When we does finally get to see the King, the audience is likely to be short and very formal. Not used to the royal surroundings the High Holidays makes us feel out-of-place and by the time we got there we might even have forgotten why we came to seek the audience of the King.

Once a year, the King leaves the capital to visit the various constituents of the Kingdom. Now a King can’t just enter a city unannounced. When the reaches the outskirts of the city the King is to visit, the King’s entourage sets up a camp while a special delegation goes ahead to the city to make preparations for the King’s visit. While they are doing these preparations the King is in the field; relaxed and enjoying the early fall weather. Here formality is transformed into familiarity. Here in the field the common folk are allowed to come out to greet the King and receive blessings. During Elul, the King is in the field and is easily accessible. We need only make the effort to go out and greet the King.

And what does this mean for these fields and the King in this month Av? Is this time that the King is engaged in a war with our enemies? Is the King out there dispossession us his citizens of their choice fields? Is it just a time of reward and punishment?

I think we have to experience the pain and hatred of Tisha B’Av. But, we cannot get stuck there. We need to move past Anti-Semitism to a Jewish contribution to make the world a better place. During Av the King is also in the field, but during this time the King has rolled up the King’s sleeves and is joining us in irrigating the fields. The world is broken and there is a lot of work for us all to do to continue rebuilding the Kingdom.

Breaching the Tablets

It is so rare that Adina and I get a chance to sit down and watch a movie together. Recently we had the pleasure of watching  The Invention of Lying. While it did not have a compelling ending ( Adina fell asleep), the premise was brilliant. Imagine a world in which no one knows how to lie. Every just says what is on their mind and has limited filters. That all changes with the invention of lying.

At a critical moment in the movie the protagonist who invents lying is dealing with his mother’s pending death. Instead of just allowing her to believe that death will be a meaningless void, he tells her a lie. There is an afterlife which is filled with joy. This conversation is overheard and everyone wants to know about this  afterlife. At some points he decides to use his powers for good and lay out other information he has received from the ” Man in the Sky”. After staying up writing all night he rights down his top ten list of things that he thinks would make people better and would justify this “Man in the Sky” who told him about the after life. About to stand in front of the throng of people he takes two pizza boxes to hold up his top ten list.

I think it was a brilliant reframing of the revelation of the Ten Commandments as the revelation of  a much needed lie. Done for good purposes but not necessarily yielding the best results.

Today is the 17th of Tammuz. The day commemorates the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem during the destruction of the Second Temple. It has been forty days since Shavuot.  Moses ascended Mount Sinai and remained up there those forty days. Israel built the Golden Calf on the afternoon of the sixteenth of Tammuz when it seemed that Moses was not coming down when promised. Moses descended the next day (forty days by his count), saw that the Israelites were violating many of the laws he had received, and smashed the tablets. Poetically it also commemorates the the destruction of the Tablets of the Ten Commandments.

For many moderns it is hard to understand the ancient myth of revelation as something that actually happened. It is interesting to think of it as a lie. Modernity itself represents a breach in the wall of faith. Today is a day of fasting and prayer. It is important that we look at these lies in our life. Do we spend our time defending, rebuilding, or ignoring that wall? Can we ever return to life before the breach? How might we ever return to a time before that breach? In many ways I believe that these three weeks from now until Tisha B’Av are about a process of helping as achieve  a Second Naivete. At the end of Eicha we will read, “Turn us unto You, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old”  ( Lamentations 5:21) Just maybe we can return Gan Eden.

Maybe it is a lie, but maybe it creates a profound truth. As I write this I am at a summer camp. There is nothing real about camp. It is a completely artificial environment in which we experience some of the most profound, real, and authentic experiences in the world. Camp is really Gan Eden. There is a profound breach in that wall when get older and cannot go back or when we experience a tragedy in that community. All together we can strive to renew our days as of old.

For more on the idea of the Second Naivete and Camp


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