A message for Tisha B’Av

The redemptive message of Tisha B'av, which we commemorate next week, must be ferreted from a thicket of woe. And even then, when we find the flower amid the thistle, relief is tempered by a renewed awareness not only of hope, but also of hope’s loss, a permanent fixture, so it seems, in the human condition.

Commemorating the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple in 586 BCE, the day, marked by its dirges and the chanting of the Scroll of Lamentations, has come to represent Jewish dislocation and destruction throughout history. But therein lies the paradox: had devastation and exile been one-time events in Jewish history, there would be no Jewish history. That destruction recurs inherently signifies the recurrence of renewal and rebirth. Defeat never is a permanent condition, nor is restoration. As in the seasons of nature, encoded within each is the potential of the other. Both are part of some grand design, a wheel of destiny to which our shoulders, as Jews, are permanently pressed.

As the grand cycle of poems comprising Lamentations implores, as individuals and as a people we are to look within ourselves, in our actions, in our relationships, to ask questions about our fidelity to principles, to determine our role in the cycle. The Jewish people, who throughout history have ascended to glory and descended to the pit, have much to reflect on as we contemplate, once again the strange cycle, at once ominous and exhilarating, that drives our history forward.

Where are we now in this cycle? Weren’t the 19th and 20th centuries tumultuous enough? How alarmed should we be that the eloquent message of the 5th BCE should resonate with such pain and passion today, in the 21st century?

Ours is not to see the future; even in Lamentations prophecy came in for its share of skepticism and critique. Ours is but to build, to do what we believe is right, and, in the words of the Prophet Micah, "to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with the Creator."

Heart of the Matter photo 2
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