Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tisha B’Av Thoughts 2008

Once again I find myself sitting on the floor listening to the words of Eicha. Eicha Yashva Badad; how Jerusalem sits by herself with no one to save her as the destruction is described. As the pages turn, the depths of the disaster unfold.

The words of Eicha are immortal and transcend time. When hearing the Jews weeping on the night of Tisha B’Av, Napoleon Bonaparte commented that "any people that still feel strongly about events that occurred to them thousands of years ago, will surely survive as a people, and persevere."

But what to make of this? The fact that we’re still in mourning is a statement. What are we mourning? There is a statement that says: in every generation that the Holy Temple is not rebuilt is the same as if that generation had destroyed it.

Tisha B’Av is the Jewish day of national mourning. While in modern times we have established other days of mourning – Yom HaShoa/Holocaust Remembrance Day and Yom HaZikaron/Israel’s Memorial Day – Tisha B’Av encompasses all historical events which would need remembering in this way.

Tisha B’Av finds its origins originally in the destructions of the first and second Holy Temples, both occurring on the same day five hundred years apart. Since then many different disasters have been dealt to the Jewish People during the three weeks leading to Tisha B’Av as well as on Tisha B’Av itself.

I want to focus on the first Tisha B’Av for a moment, even before the destruction of the Temples. This occurred when the spies had returned from the Land of Israel telling the children of Israel that it was impossible to conquer the Land. The Israelites cried; and G-d told them that since they had cried for no reason that this night would be a night where there would be real occasion to cry out over the course of Jewish history.

One of the mistakes that the Israelites made at that time was they had become comfortable. They had G-d directing and protecting them in the desert, a great leader Moshe, and food delivered to them without having to run to the supermarket. They didn’t want to change the situation. Why should they?

We should recognize that mistake. I believe our generation has a similar challenge. The challenge that we are not in need of anything. We have homes and plenty of food. We have shoes that are not being worn through and beds to sleep on. We have more than just the basics. We have computers and internet and television screens. We honestly have everything we need.

We believe we have no need to pray. Prayer is for those who are in need. Prayer is our connection to G-d; but what do we need a connection to G-d if we have all we need?

In order to answer the question we will turn the question around and into a statement. It is specifically because we have all we need that we need a connection to G-d. The assumption that the question holds is that we have what we have without G-d’s help, but this is a faulty assumption. In truth we have what we have because of G-d, not because of our own hands.

It reminds me of this joke:

George is driving to work. He's late for a meeting, looking for a parking place and can't find one.

In desperation, he turns towards heaven and says, "G-d, if you find me a parking place, I promise that I'll eat only kosher, respect Shabbat, and all the holidays."

At that moment, a place opens up just in front of him.

He turns his face up to heaven and says, "Never mind, I just found a spot."

Prayer is one of our particular challenges. A second, more general challenge for our generation is Judaism itself. We like to fit Judaism into our lives - perhaps a minute here a few minutes there. A convenient Judaism.

What is Judaism? Judaism is a system of rules and ideas created by G-d for Jews to follow. It is a system of living. Let’s define “living”. “Living” is mostly recognized in advertising. You’re not really living until you have x, y, z. You’re not really living until you’ve done x, y, z. No surprises there.

What is “living”? If we know that G-d gave us the Torah with its system of living – we might want to take a look. Taking a look is our challenge. Whether Orthodox, Traditional, Conservative, Reform, Humanistic, etc etc. taking a look at our lives and challenging ourselves to take an honest accounting of it is of tremendous value.

What are we gaining by not participating in Judaism’s system of “living”? What are we losing? In the long run what do we imagine we have gained by adding to the toys we know we can’t take with us?

Every person is compared to a mini-Mikdash. The Holy Temple itself. The Temple was the place where G-dliness was revealed. We should ask ourselves: Are we a place where G-dliness is revealed?

At the end of Eicha we ask G-d to return us – to bring Moshiach, to make the world a place where we see G-d. We have to do our part as well. We have to want to be returned, we have to want to be a mini-Mikdash, we have to want to “live” in the truest sense of the word.

All of this is not so easy. This is why we ask G-d for help in being returned. We cannot do it all on our own. Tisha B’Av is a wake up call for us to realize how far away we are – to break the comfortable monotony of our lives. We have to pray, we have to act and we have to live.